A great American potato salad recipe can go a long way to ensure your barbecue fame! But this seemingly simple salad, with so few ingredients, can end up quite ordinary, or an unappetizing mess.
Our best potato salads have always been our Mom's basic recipes, with "secrets" that made the difference between mundane and extraordinary. What are the secrets? Well, let's start with the humble potato...
The "Cookin' Cousins" prefer low starch potatoes because they hold their shape after cooking. For our best potato salad recipes the Yellow Finn, new potato, red-skinned potato, white round potato, purple potato, or Yukon Gold, are sure-fire winners. But what about the Russet (Idaho potato)?
Russet potatoes are a very bland, starchy variety. During cooking they can turn too soft quickly, and there goes the salad; an unappetizing mess. But, they are an old time classic, and work well if you do not over cook them, and you use a vinegar (or pickle juice) based recipe.
Boiled whole, or cut into bite-sized cubes? Boiled whole is the best for flavor, and absorbs much less water. It is your choice. It is much easier, and faster, if they are cut up prior to boiling, but you must watch the pot!
Use a large saucepan and cover the potatoes with at least an inch of water, add 1 teaspoon of salt. Bring them to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat and...
Don't over cook! Gently boil (simmer) the potatoes. Cook the potatoes until still a little firm, but not mash-potato soft. Test for doness by inserting a fork, or paring knife, into the potato. If it inserts easily, they are done.
Skin on, or off? Again, your choice. We prefer the skin on for all, when boiled whole, as the potato absorbs less water. However, the skin on the Yukon Gold has a tendency to fall off when mixed with the salad. So, when finished cooking, and still fairly hot, remove the skin with a dry, clean dishtowel. Presentation = appetizing.
If you wish to skin them, do it when they are hot. We know that this is a pain, but it is important to the next secret!
Add the vinegar, or vinaigrette dressing, when the potatoes are hot (hotish?). Salt and pepper them at this time also. Any variety of potato can use some help in the flavor area, and this provides maximum absorption of two principal American potato salad ingredients. Be generous with the vinegar as it will flavor the potatoes wonderfully, with no "vinegary" taste. Honest.
Now you can let them cool for 20-30 minutes before adding the remaining ingredients. In fact (and we highly recommend this if you have the time), let them stand in the refrigerator (covered tightly) over night, before adding the other stuff. It's magic!
This "secret" will make the difference between an "O.K." potato salad recipe, and a great, "go back for more" salad!
Instead of straight vinegar, a favorite trick of our mothers was to use the pickle juice from the jar of pickles we were charged with dicing. It softens the vinegar taste, and contains just the right blend of spices and sugar!
The best potato salad recipe is only as good as the ingredients. Because potato salad is highly perishable, fresh veggies (yes, potatoes too), are a must. Use the freshest spices you can get, and check the Mayo!
If you can see the mayonnaise has a yellow color, or crust, don't save money at the expense of folks getting sick. Get another jar of high quality mayo (think Hellmann's, Best Foods, Kraft) before you begin.
Now, here's a couple of the "Cookin' Cousins" crowd pleasing favorites.