Few things rival the classic potato salad when it’s made right. But sadly, most homemade versions can be lackluster. The process seems easy enough, so what’s the issue?
Truth is, when crafted at home, there are many ways potato salad can go sideways. Hiccups run the gamut from over- or under-cooked potatoes to under-seasoning. These missteps lead to potato salads that are mushy or too firm, bland or oily — not what you want when making America’s favorite spring and summer side dish.
The best and easiest potato salad you'll ever make starts with buttery-soft potatoes that are laced with a satiny mayo dressing and studded with smoky bacon, crunchy celery, fresh green onions and sweet pimentos.
It's a completely foolproof recipe I know you'll keep coming back to.
Follow my suggestions below to create the perfect potato salad every time.
The best types of potatoes for potato salad
Let’s start with the potatoes. What type should you use? Not Russets. Potatoes are divided into three general categories based on their texture: starchy, all-purpose and waxy.
Russet potatoes are starchy, which means they’ll likely fall apart during cooking or when you’re combining ingredients.
All-purpose potatoes, like white and Yukon Gold, are less starchy than Russets and will work. But the absolute best potatoes for potato salad are the low-starch, waxy varieties, because they hold their shape during cooking.
For the best results, use New (also called Baby) potatoes, Red Bliss or Fingerling.
How to prep potatoes for potato salad
Consider prepping your potatoes the day before. To save time, cut your potatoes up to one day in advance and place the cut potatoes in a large bowl with enough cold water to cover. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill until you’re ready to cook.
When cutting your potatoes, make sure they are uniform sizes. It doesn’t matter if you start with tiny baby potatoes or medium-size Yukon golds, just be sure to cut them so every piece is about two inches. That might mean some potatoes are halved, while others are quartered or cubed.
When sizes and shapes are similar, the pieces will finish cooking at the same time.
Never drop your cut potatoes in boiling water as it promotes uneven cooking and often leads to potatoes becoming mushy on the outside by the time the center gets soft.
Start the potatoes in a pot of cold water and bring the water to a boil over high heat. Then reduce the temperature to medium-high and gently boil the potatoes until fork-tender. Keep in mind that cooking time can be as short as five minutes.
And be sure to season your water. A respectable potato salad is seasoned from the very beginning, so add about a teaspoon of salt to your boiling water to season your potatoes from the inside out. Wait until your water is at a rolling boil so your salt will dissolve quickly, rather than adding it in the beginning.
And you can go ahead and leave the potato skins on for color, flavor, and nutrition. If you use New, Red Bliss, or Fingerling potatoes as suggested, you’ll find that the skins are delightfully thin and tender and add great texture to the salad. Plus, there are nutrients and fiber found in the skin that aren’t found in the flesh.
How long to boil potatoes for potato salad
Cook your potatoes until they’re just right, not over or under cooked. Start checking your potatoes after they’ve been boiling for five minutes by piercing the potatoes with a fork. If the prongs enter cleanly with a little resistance, the potatoes are finished cooking. This can take anywhere from five to eight minutes, depending on the size of your potato pieces. Wait any longer and the potatoes will fall apart.
Dress your potatoes while they are warm
This might be the most important tip of all, and one that may be new to you, but dressing potatoes while they’re still warm is the key to flavor. When the spuds are warm, ingredients can penetrate the flesh.
Keep in mind, you should only add vinaigrette-based dressings while warm. If you add a mayo-based dressing, the hot potatoes will melt the dressing and the salad with be oily.
To add flavor to the potatoes while they’re still warm, toss them with apple cider vinegar and spread them out on a baking sheet to cool for at least 30 minutes before adding the creamy sauces and remaining ingredients.
This step guarantees great flavor, a buttery-soft texture and allows any excess water to evaporate, which ensures that the creamy dressings will cling to the spuds.
How to make potato salad light and creamy
Mayonnaise-based dressings can be heavy, so instead, use equal parts mayonnaise and sour cream for a dressing that's delightfully light and extra creamy.
For the best marriage of flavors, let your potato salad chill before serving, preferably for a minimum of one hour and up to a day.
How to make potato salad a little fancy
Consider adding fresh herbs to “brighten” the salad and add a clean, peppery bite and vibrant splash of color. Try parsley, fresh basil, chives, oregano or any fresh herb you have on hand.
A fun and easy way to serve your potato salad at picnics and barbecues is to spoon the salad into little cups and serve with plastic forks.
Store the cups in sealable containers that fit nicely inside your cooler and your potato salad will be ready to serve when you are (without you having to dish it out).
Recipe: The ultimate potato salad
This is my go-to potato salad recipe. Feel free to make adjustments to seasonings and mix-ins to suit your taste.
Servings: Six to eight
2 pounds New/Baby potatoes, Red Bliss, or Fingerling potatoes, cut into two inch pieces
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
⅓ cup mayonnaise, regular or light
⅓ cup sour cream, regular or light
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Freshly ground black pepper
½ pound bacon, about 6 to 8 strips, cooked until chewy-crisp and chopped
½ cup chopped green onions
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
4-ounce jar pimentos, drained and chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Paprika, for serving
Place the potatoes in a large pot and pour over enough cold water to cover by about two inches. Set the pan over high heat and bring to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and reduce the heat to medium-high. Gently boil until the potatoes are just fork-tender, checking for doneness after five minutes of cooking.
Drain and transfer the potatoes to a large bowl. Add apple cider vinegar and toss to coat. Transfer the potatoes to a large baking sheet and spread out in a single layer. Let cool for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, Dijon mustard, ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper.
When the potatoes have cooled completely, add them to the mayonnaise mixture and stir gently to coat. Fold in the bacon, green onions, celery, pimentos and parsley. Season to taste with additional salt and black pepper.
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of one hour, and up to 24 hours, before serving. Finish with a sprinkle of paprika, if you like.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Easy potato salad recipe is the last one you'll ever need