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11 Ways to Make a Better Potato Salad

Small changes can improve this classic dish


spinner image A bowl of potato salad
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No picnic or barbecue spread is complete without potato salad. Many people think of the dependable crowd-pleaser as the simplest of recipes, but it’s easy to make little changes that create big flavors. We spoke to three chefs, who shared their secrets for taking your potato salad from humdrum to “oh yum!”

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1. Pick the right potato

Waxy potato varieties have lower starch levels, helping them retain their shape when cooked. Jeff Armstrong, executive chef of Goldfinch in San Diego, is a fan of fingerling potatoes, though Red Bliss or baby Yukon Golds work equally well. Cut them into uniform bite-size pieces to ensure chunks cook evenly and are easy to eat.

2. Think beyond taters

Kristin Beringson, executive chef of Henley in Nashville, likes mixing potatoes with other root vegetables, such as parsnips, sweet potatoes and rutabagas, which add different flavors and colors to the salad. Make sure to steam each vegetable separately, as each will have a different cook time.

3. Try skin-on potato salad

“The skin adds something pretty to a potato salad, as well as chew and toothsomeness,” says Beringson, who likes using red-skinned potatoes to incorporate a pop of color. “Plus, you save the time you would have spent peeling them,” notes Armstrong.

4. Steam your spuds

Beringson recommends steaming potatoes because you won’t have to undertake the potentially hazardous task of lifting a weighty pot of scalding water and pouring it out in the sink. And steaming doesn’t waterlog potatoes, allowing their natural flavor to shine, adds Armstrong. Steam them on the stove top in a large pot filled with roughly one inch of water and fitted with a steamer basket.

5. Temperature matters

If you’re making mayonnaise-centric potato salad, let the spuds cool before adding mayo to prevent it from becoming an oily mess. Conversely, vinegary potato salads should be mixed while the potatoes are still warm to allow the acidic flavors to permeate the potatoes completely.

6. Make it with mayo

Kelsey Barnard Clark, chef-owner of KBC Eatery in Dothan, Alabama, likes using mayonnaise because it adds viscosity, helping hold the potato salad together. She prefers Duke’s or Hellmann’s brand mayonnaise. “They both have a very clean, pure flavor,” she says. Armstrong says to steer clear of homemade mayo, since it relies on raw eggs, which could pose a food safety issue.

7. Add vinegar

While mayonnaise works as a binder, vinegar works as a flavor enhancer. Clark recommends using red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar or rice wine vinegar to add acid into the equation. Another option is to use freshly squeezed lemon juice to insert a bright, citrusy tone into your potato salad.

8. Consider a dash of mustard

That’s why he adds a small spoonful of it to his potato salads, giving the overall flavor a slight edge without being too intense.

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9. Amp up the mix-ins

People typically use celery, red onions or hard-boiled eggs in potato salad, but adding more unexpected mix-ins provides a bit more personality. Clark advises folding in chopped fresh herbs, such as dill, parsley, tarragon or cilantro. Conversely, Beringson likes incorporating a pickled element to add acidity. This can be as simple as dill relish or chopped-up bread-and-butter pickles, or it can be a specialty component, such as pickled beets or okra.

10. Top it off with something special

Classic garnishes include slivered hard-boiled eggs, chopped chives or parsley sprigs, but Beringson likes to make it fancy by finishing potato salads with sprouts: alfalfa, radish or sunflower. When Armstrong wants to upgrade his creation, he will top it off with crispy shallots, grilled green onions or pickled garlic scapes. “Or you can double up on the potatoes and put on really thin shoestring French fries,” he says. “They will add a nice texture.”

11. Focus on food safety

Ensuring potato salad stays cold for as long as possible is key, says Beringson, who advises placing your bowl of potato salad inside another bowl lined with ice cubes, then storing both in a cooler until it’s time to eat. Once the bowl is out in the summer heat, Armstrong says it should be there for only 90 minutes; after that it may be unsafe to eat. To make this easier, he labels the container the potato salad is in with the time he put it out, so he knows when to take it out of circulation.

Here are two potato salad recipes to try:

Papa Karl’s German Potato Salad

Excerpt from Southern Grit by Kelsey Barnard Clark

Serves 4 to 6

When Clark’s great-great-grandparents immigrated from Germany over 100 years ago, they arrived in Mobile, Alabama, and opened their family restaurant, Karl’s Café. They were known for this potato salad.

Ingredients  

  • 5 pounds new potatoes, quartered
  • 2 tablespoons salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoons stone-ground mustard
  • 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon horseradish
  • 1 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 cup chopped green onions
  • ½ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh dill
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Directions

Place the potatoes and salt in a large pot and cover with cold water so all the potatoes are submerged. Over high heat, bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until the potatoes are barely tender when pierced with a knife. Drain potatoes in a colander, then place the colander with the potatoes over the empty pot and cover with a clean, dry kitchen towel. Allow the potatoes to steam and drain for 15 to 20 minutes.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, mayonnaise, mustard, pepper, horseradish, celery seed and garlic powder. Fold in the onions, parsley, and dill. Season with salt and set aside. 

While the potatoes are still warm, toss them in a large bowl with the dressing to coat, then cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Season with salt. Serve cold or at room temperature. Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Dilled Potato Salad

From Jeff Armstrong, executive chef of Goldfinch in San Diego

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients

  • 1½ pounds small Yukon Gold potatoes, washed and scrubbed
  • 1 pound Persian cucumbers, diced
  • ½ cup diced red bell pepper (optional)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • ½ cup chopped dill
  • 1 cup labneh (a soft, Middle Eastern cheese similar to cream cheese)
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 bag dill-pickle-flavored chips, lightly crushed

Directions

Place potatoes in large saucepot, cover with water, and cook over medium-high heat for 20-30 minutes, until tender.

Let potatoes cool, then smash the potatoes flat with your hand.

In a large mixing bowl, gently combine with a spatula or wooden spoon the Persian cucumbers, red bell peppers (if using), garlic, dill, labneh and apple cider vinegar. Add the potatoes and gently combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish the potato salad with crushed dill-pickle-flavored chips.

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