A picnic, barbeque, or potluck menu is just not complete without a big, crowd-pleasing bowl of potato salad. These top tips will help you make the best potato salad every time. But watch out -- you might be asked to bring the potato salad from now on.
How to Make the Best Potato Salad
There's more than one formula for a great potato salad. There are creamy potato salads, vinegar-based potato salads, warm potato salads, cold potato salads, and a world of add-ins to flavor up the mix. And then there are the potatoes: Russets, reds, Yukon Golds. We'll take you through the different styles of potato salads, we'll show you how to cook the potatoes, and we'll suggest top recipes to try.
1. Picking the Right Potatoes
The potatoes you use will make or break your salad. The best potatoes for potato salad are waxy potatoes such as Yellow Finn, Yukon Gold, and red potatoes that hold their shape when they're cooked and keep their firm texture in the salad when you chop them up and toss them with dressing.
Russet or Idaho potatoes have a drier, starchier texture and tend to break down during cooking, chopping, and tossing with dressing. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. This kind of potato soaks up dressing like a sponge and tends to yield a softer, creamier potato salad. Read up on how to choose the right potato for the recipe.
Pro Tater Tip: Potatoes can add color highlights to your salad. Red potatoes are red on the outside and creamy white on the inside, while purple potatoes hold their color all the way through. You can also use sweet potatoes to add a cheerful touch of orange, as in this Caribbean Sweet Potato Salad.
2. Prepping and Cooking Potatoes
To peel or not to peel? If you'd like to add a little extra color and texture to your salad, leave the skins on. Just be sure to scrub them thoroughly with a vegetable brush before you cook them. Once you've either scrubbed or peeled your potatoes, cut them into bite-size chunks, place them in a large 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 cut through easily, drain them and let them sit in the strainer for a bit to let the steam evaporate excess moisture. Remember that the residual heat will continue cooking the potatoes a little bit even after they've been drained.
Hot or not? If you're making a warm potato salad to be served immediately, prepare your dressing before you cook the potatoes. If you're cooling the potatoes before adding dressing, 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.
Beyond boiling. Boiling's not the only way to cook potatoes for potato salad. Try some of these other methods:
- Grill: Grilled Potato Salad
- Microwave: Colorful and Easy Potato Salad
- Slow cooker: Slow Cooker German Potato Salad
- Pressure cooker: Pressure Cooker Potato Salad
- Oven: Loaded Baked Potato Salad
3. Adding Ingredients
Some people like to let the potatoes take the lead with just a few additions for flavor and texture, while others pack as many extras as they can into the mix. It's your potato salad; you make the rules.
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, sweet bell peppers of any color, pickles, capers, chiles, peas, celery, green beans, red onions, green onions, shallots, olives, fennel, pimentos, watercress, and artichoke hearts
- Crumbled cheeses including Gorgonzola, blue cheese, smoked Cheddar, or feta
- Raw or 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
4. Choosing a Dressing
Are you a creamy potato salad person? Or do you prefer tangy vinegar-based dressings? Time to choose!
Creamy potato salads almost always have a mayonnaise-based dressing, but can also include sour cream, yogurt, and creamy-style salad dressings. This style of salad is often served cold, although there are many warm variations.
More creamy potato salad recipes to try:
- Warm Dijon Potato Salad is made with boiled red potatoes and thinly sliced red onions tossed with a creamy mix of mayo, Dijon mustard, vinegar, and Parmesan cheese.
- Bacon and Eggs Potato Salad is a creamy, hearty mix of red potatoes, bacon, eggs, and peas tossed together and cooled for an hour to let the flavors meld.
- Amish Potato Salad has a sweet and sour cooked dressing to coat the potatoes, eggs, celery, and onion before chilling in the fridge for a day.
- Baked Potato Salad is "like a baked potato in a bowl" with creamy sour cream, bacon, Cheddar cheese, and just a titch of mayo.
Get more recipes for creamy potato salads.
Vinegar-based potato salads are sometimes called German-style potato salad. This style of potato salad is dressed with a mixture of vinegar and vegetable oil, with a little sugar sometimes to balance the vinegar, and is often served warm.
More vinegar-based potato salads to try:
- Picnic Potato Salad with No Mayonnaise gets its tangy edge from balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, fresh basil and chives, and crumbled blue cheese. You'll toss the warm potatoes with the dressing, and let the salad chill before folding in the cheese and chives.
- Light and Easy Greek Potato Salad features a zippy dressing of olive oil, red wine vinegar, fresh lemon juice, a touch of sugar, and dried rosemary. Serve this warm or cold.
- Warm Green Bean and Potato Salad with Goat Cheese includes roasted red peppers and a balsamic vinaigrette dressing.
5. Mixing It All Up
Once you've chosen your dressing ingredients, mix well and take a taste. Need more salt? Vinegar? Spice? Adjust seasonings before you start coating the potatoes with the dressing; 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.
Finally, flavors will intensify with time. If you can manage it, make your potato salad a day ahead to let the flavors meld and blossom.