For seasoned chefs and kitchen novices, cookbook author and nutritionist Robin Miller goes back to basics with great, family-friendly recipes worth making again and again.
Few things can rival the classic potato salad when it’s well made. But unfortunately, most homemade versions can be bland. The process seems simple enough, so what’s the problem?
The truth is that when potato salad is made at home, there are many ways potato salad can go sideways. The hiccups range from over- or under-cooked potatoes to under-seasons. These missteps lead to potato salads that are mushy or too firm, bland or greasy — not what you want when making America’s favorite spring and summer side dish.
The best and easiest potato salad you’ll ever make starts with buttery soft potatoes laced with a satiny mayonnaise and studded with smoked bacon, crispy celery, fresh green onions, and sweet allspice.
It’s a completely foolproof recipe that I know you’ll come back to again and again.
Follow my suggestions below to make the perfect potato salad every time.
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The best varieties of potatoes for potato salad
Let’s start with the potatoes. Which kind should you use? Not reddish brown. Potatoes are divided into three general categories based on their texture: starchy, universal and waxy.
Russet potatoes are starchy, which means they are likely to fall apart during cooking or when you combine ingredients.
All-purpose potatoes, such as white and Yukon Gold, are less starchy than Russets and will work. But the absolute best potatoes for potato salad are the low-starch, waxy varieties, as they hold their shape while cooking.
For best results, use New (also called Baby) potatoes, Red Bliss or Fingerling.
How to prepare potatoes for potato salad
Consider preparing your potatoes the day before. To save time, slice your potatoes up to a day in advance and place the sliced potatoes in a large bowl with enough cold water to cover. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let cool until ready to cook.
When slicing your potatoes, make sure they are uniform sizes. It doesn’t matter if you start with small baby potatoes or medium Yukon golds, just be sure to cut them so that each piece is about two inches. That may mean cutting some potatoes in half, while others are quartered or diced.
If the sizes and shapes are similar, the pieces will finish cooking at the same time.
Never drop your sliced potatoes into boiling water as this promotes uneven cooking and often leads to potatoes becoming mushy on the outside by the time the center softens.
Start the potatoes in a pan of cold water and bring the water to a boil over high heat. Then reduce the temperature to medium-high and gently cook the potatoes until tender. Keep in mind that the cooking time can only be five minutes.
And be sure to flavor your water. A respectable potato salad is seasoned from the start, so add about a teaspoon of salt to your boiling water to flavor your potatoes from the inside out. Wait for your water to come to a boil so that your salt dissolves quickly, rather than adding it at the beginning.
And you can go ahead and leave the potato skins on for color, flavor and nutrition. If you use New, Red Bliss or Fingerling potatoes as suggested, you will find that the skins are wonderfully thin and soft and add great texture to the salad. In addition, there are nutrients and fiber in the skin that are not found in the meat.
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How long to cook potatoes for potato salad?
Cook your potatoes until they are just right, not overcooked or overcooked. Start checking your potatoes after they’ve cooked for five minutes by piercing the potatoes with a fork. When the teeth go in neatly with a little resistance, the potatoes are done. This can take anywhere from five to eight minutes, depending on the size of your potato pieces. Wait a little longer and the potatoes will fall apart.
Dress your potatoes while they are warm
This may be the most important tip of all, and one that may be new to you, but cooking potatoes while they’re still warm is key to flavor. If the spuds are hot, ingredients can penetrate the meat.
Keep in mind that you should only add vinaigrette-based dressings when they are warm. If you add a mayonnaise-based dressing, the hot potatoes will melt and the salad will become greasy.
To add flavor to the potatoes while they are still warm, toss them with apple cider vinegar and spread on a baking sheet to cool for at least 30 minutes before adding the creamy sauces and remaining ingredients.
This step guarantees great taste, a buttery texture and allows excess water to evaporate, which helps the creamy dressings to stick to the puds.
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How to make potato salad light and creamy
Mayonnaise-based dressings can be heavy, so use equal parts mayonnaise and sour cream instead for a dressing that’s deliciously light and extra creamy.
For the best marriage of flavors, let your potato salad cool before serving, preferably for a minimum of an hour to a maximum of a day.
This is how you make potato salad a little fancy
Consider adding fresh herbs to “brighten up” the salad and add a clean, peppery bite and vibrant pops of color. Try parsley, fresh basil, chives, oregano, or any fresh herb you have on hand.
A fun and easy way to serve your potato salad at picnics and barbecues is to scoop the salad into small cups and serve with plastic forks.
Store the cups in sealable containers that fit nicely in your cooler and your potato salad is ready to serve when you are (without having to hand out).
Recipe: The ultimate potato salad
This is my favorite potato salad recipe. Feel free to make adjustments to spices and mix-ins to suit your taste.
Servings: six to eight
- 2 pounds new/baby potatoes, Red Bliss or Fingerling potatoes, cut into 2 inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- ⅓ cup mayonnaise, regular or light
- ⅓ cup sour cream, regular or light
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- Freshly ground black pepper
- ½ pound bacon, about 6 to 8 strips, cooked until chewy-crispy and chopped
- ½ cup chopped green onions
- 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
- 4-ounce jar allspice, drained and chopped
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- Paprika, to go with it
- Place the potatoes in a large saucepan and pour over enough cold water to cover about two inches. Place the pan on high heat and bring to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and reduce heat to medium-high. Cook gently until the potatoes are just tender, check for doneness after five minutes of cooking.
- Drain the potatoes and put them in a large bowl. Add apple cider vinegar and toss. Place the potatoes on a large baking sheet and spread them out in a single layer. Let cool for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, Dijon mustard, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon black pepper.
- When the potatoes are completely cool, add them to the mayonnaise mixture and stir gently. Fold in the bacon, green onions, celery, chilli and parsley. Season with additional salt and black pepper.
- Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour and up to 24 hours before serving. Finish with a pinch of paprika if desired.
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