My Grandmother’s Potato Salad Is Constantly Requested, And This Is Her Secret Ingredient
Don’t be afraid of a little extra tang.
There’s a reason that so many people swear that their grandmothers have the best recipes, and it’s not just because just one bite of her pimiento cheese or squash casserole brings back core childhood memories. It’s also because grandmothers somehow know all the tricks. They know how to make the crispiest fried chicken and fluffiest biscuits, no recipe needed. It’s quite impressive, albeit frustrating when you grow up and realize you desperately need the intel.
That’s how I eventually learned the secret to my grandmother’s raved-about potato salad. Potato salad is a classic for a reason, and despite seeming like it would be an easy recipe to master, there’s a big difference between a great one from a ho-hum one. For as long as I can remember, my grandmother’s potato salad has been specially requested by more than one family member—the most excited of which is my dad—at every Easter, Memorial Day, and the Fourth of July. (Neighbors even ask for the recipe in passing on the street.) Just by looking at it, it appears to be simple and old-fashioned, but the flavor goes beyond just mayonnaise and mustard. So, I had to ask her.
There’s a tang to her potato salad that everyone can’t get enough of, and until recently, I thought it was just attributed to old-school yellow mustard. I was wrong. Her mystery ingredient is, in fact, pickle juice. The briny bite of pickles lends the perfect amount of acidity and saltiness to the dish, and the soft potatoes just soak up all of the goodness, which also answered my question on why it always tastes even better the next day. That is, if there happens to be leftovers, which is rare.
It’s to be expected that each person might have their own family potato salad recipe, but that doesn’t have to stop you from trying this version. You can simply start with your own recipe and incorporate pickle juice when adding the other ingredients. Start with around 5 to 7 tablespoons of dill pickle juice, my grandmother recommends, for a small batch, and you can even double that amount for a larger batch.
The flavor mingles well with the typical ingredients of mayonnaise and mustard, but if your recipe already contains vinegar, consider swapping it out for pickle juice instead. You can even add chopped-up dill pickles in addition to the juice for extra tanginess. Surprisingly, I’ve even put in as much as one-fourth cup of chopped pickles in addition to the pickle juice for a large batch, and the flavor remains complimentary, not overwhelming. Now, I'm tempted to try adding a little bit of jalapeño juice next time for heat.
And if you don’t already have a go-to potato salad recipe, try one of our 23 Tasty Potato Salad Recipes. Then, consider pulling out the pickle jar!
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