Ham salad, a retro throwback, keeps its cool by losing the mayo
Picnic salads, such as egg salad and ham salad, tuna salad and chicken salad, are welcome bring-alongs to office lunches, outdoor get-togethers and cookouts. Perfect for sandwiches or on crackers, and easy to serve, they're the salads of my childhood, packed in lunchboxes or wrapped in wax paper and taken to the beach. At today's potlucks, these salads may seem retro, yes, yet they are always welcome.
There is, however, one controversial element, and it is key in salads: mayonnaise. The world is divided along the mayonnaise line and the feelings are intense. I share a household with a mayo-hater, so I know. I don't get it: I think mayo is an ideal condiment, improving nearly everything it touches.
Rather than draw battle lines, when I make a summer salad for a crowd, if a recipe calls for mayonnaise, I have a workaround that satisfies both camps. Kitcheneering is all about workarounds. Entire cookbooks have been written about hiding vegetables in a child's food. We've found gluten-free options for celiac sufferers. We've substituted plant-based choices. And we've embraced sweeteners that replace high-fructose corn syrup. Against these weightier challenges, mayonnaise seems like an easy lift.
In this recipe for ham salad, I've used a kitchen hack (and I realize it's one employed by many experienced cooks) to provide an option to mayonnaise-avoiders. They're missing out on so many classics of the summer potluck. I can't imagine summer without potato salad or a deviled egg.
Classic mayonnaise recipes combine fats (eggs and oil) for silky texture, tang from acid (vinegar or lemon juice), and brightness (mustard). I keep the lemon juice and mustard, and replace the eggs and oil with Greek yogurt; the resulting combination is creamy and satisfying. Mayonnaise lovers will not complain.
Ham salad is a natural byproduct of a ham dinner, but there's no need to wait to enjoy it. Grocery-store ham, stirred together with mayonnaise and relish, celery and a whisper of onion makes up the classic list of ingredients. I tried it with three different hams, readily available at the deli counter: Virginia Cured and Smoked Ham made for a smokier salad, Brown Sugar or Maple Cured Ham for a sweet salad, and uncured Black Forest Ham was the hammy-est of all (and my personal preference.) Ask the butcher for a small taste of each if you are not familiar with the differences, and then, once you have decided, ask for a nice thick slice.
A meat grinder is the tool of choice to create the classic texture. Fresh out of meat grinders? I used my food processor to chop the ham and celery into small bits. The pickle relish is key, bringing a sweet-and-sour punch to the ham, then the triad of mayonnaise-replicators - yogurt, mustard and lemon juice - gather it all together.
Ham salad makes for a delicious sandwich filler, particularly on soft white bread with a piece of iceberg lettuce. Or bring it to your next potluck, piled on crinkle-cut potato chips and set out on a platter like something fancy. In very short order, that platter will be clean as a whistle and mayo haters may even contemplate a similar hack for deviled eggs.
8 servings (makes 2 cups)
MAKE AHEAD: The shallot needs to soak in an ice-water bath for 30 minutes; this will lessen its bite and keep the shallot crisp. The salad should be refrigerated for at least 4 hours before serving (so the flavors meld) and up to 3 days; it does not freeze well.
From Bring It! columnist Cathy Barrow.
12 ounces cooked ham, coarsely chopped (see headnote)
1 celery rib, coarsely chopped
1 small shallot, minced and soaked in ice water for 30 minutes, then drained (see headnote)
[1/2] cup sweet-pickle relish
[1/4] cup plain, full-fat Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons brown mustard or Dijon mustard
[1/2] teaspoon celery seed
[1/4] teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt (optional)
Combine the ham and celery in a food processor. Pulse several times until the mixture is in very small, uniform pieces, about the size of lentils. Do not overprocess or the mixture will get pasty.
Scrape the ham and celery into a mixing bowl and add the soaked/drained shallot, relish, yogurt, lemon juice, mustard, celery seed and pepper. Stir together until uniform and creamy. Taste and season lightly with salt, if needed. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours to let the flavors combine.