Potato salads come in one of two categories: creamy or vinegar-based. Once you understand a few basics, you'll be ready to create your own famous recipe!
Creamy potato salads almost always have a mayonnaise-based dressing but can also include sour cream, yogurt, and creamy-style salad dressings. Creamy potato salads are served cold.
Vinegar-based potato salads (frequently called German-style potato salad) are dressed with a mixture of cider vinegar, vegetable oil, and sugar. This style of salad is often served warm.
Pick a Potato
Don't overlook the most essential part of your potato salad: the spuds!
Among the best varieties for potato salad are Yellow Finn, Yukon Gold, and red potatoes. Their high moisture content will give them a more pleasant texture when cold, and their waxier flesh holds up better to chopping and to tossing with dressing than drier, more mealy potatoes, like Russets.
If you wish to add a little extra color and texture to your salad, leave the skins on. Just be sure to scrub them thoroughly before you begin; "gritty" is one texture that nobody likes! Once you've either scrubbed or peeled your potatoes, cut them into bite-size chunks, place them in a pot, and cover them with water. Bring them to a boil, then generously salt the water. Reduce the heat if necessary to keep the pot at a gentle boil.
Depending on your definition of "bite-size," the potatoes will take between 8 and 15 minutes to cook. As soon as they're tender enough to bite through easily, drain them. Remember that the potatoes will continue cooking a little bit even after they've been drained.
If you're making a hot potato salad to be served immediately, have your dressing ready and standing by. Otherwise, spread the potatoes out on a baking sheet in a single layer to cool. This is a good time to add some seasonings, since potatoes are at their most absorbent when they're still hot. Add salt, pepper, dried herbs, and a sprinkle of your favorite vinegar.
When the potatoes are no longer steaming, transfer them to the refrigerator to chill.
Mixing the Salad
While your potatoes cool, mix the rest of the salad ingredients together.
Some people prefer the simple route, with just a few additions; others like as many extras as they can pack into the bowl while still leaving room for the taters!
Whether you're making creamy or vinegary potato salad, some favorite choices for seasoning the dressing are cider vinegar, lemon juice, pickle juice, horseradish, paprika, hot pepper sauce, dried and fresh herbs, and any variety of prepared mustard from plain yellow to stone-ground or Dijon-style to extra spicy.
Dill, chives, and parsley are especially good partners with potato salad, but some other potato-friendly herbs are sage, tarragon, basil, thyme, and rosemary.
Apart from herbs and spices, there are many other delicious additions:
- Tomatoes, cucumbers, apples, bell peppers of any color, pickles, capers, chiles, peas, celery, red onions, green onions, shallots, olives, fennel, pimentos, watercress, and artichoke hearts
- Crumbled cheeses including Gorgonzola, blue cheese, smoked cheddar, or feta
- Toasted nuts and seeds, especially sunflower seeds, almonds, walnuts, sesame seeds, or pecans
- Tidbits of cooked or cured meats like salami, ham, prosciutto, smoked salmon, shrimp, chicken, or bacon
- And, of course, hard-cooked eggs
Once you've chosen your ingredients, mix everything together well, and take a taste. Need more salt? Vinegar? Spice? Adjust seasonings before you start tossing the dressing with the potatoes; the less you stir, the prettier your salad will look. And remember, the potatoes are much blander than the dressing; a spoonful of strong-tasting dressing may be just right once it's mixed with the potatoes. Also, the flavors will intensify with time. If you can manage it, make your potato salad a day ahead to achieve optimum flavor.