Using the Right Potato is the Secret to a Great Potato Salad

As with most things, you have to start with a good foundation to create something really great.

A popular and flavorful companion to picnic and barbecue menus is potato salad. Easy to make and easy to transport, the flavor of potato salad can be adjusted with the addition of stir-ins like boiled eggs, olives, dill pickle relish, or fresh vegetables. All the extra stir-ins won't matter one bit, however, if you don't have a good foundation. Using the right potato is the key to making a good potato salad.

Sour Cream Potato Salad

Photo: Iain Bagwell; Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas

Choose the Right Potato

If you usually just grab a bag of potatoes at the store without really paying attention, you may be unfamiliar, and a bit overwhelmed, by the many varieties that are available. Reds, New, Yukon, Baking, Fingerlings, etc. Which is best for what you need? Potatoes can be divided into three categories - starchy, waxy, and all-purpose. Once you understand the difference in the three categories, you will be able to choose the perfect potato for your dish every time. Starchy potatoes, like Russets, don't hold their shape very well during cooking and will sometimes even falling apart. This makes them ideal for dishes such as smooth and creamy mashed potatoes, but not potato salad. Waxy potatoes, such as Red Bliss, New, or Fingerling, have the least amount of starch and will retain their shape while boiling, giving you a pretty bowl of potato salad. All-purpose potatoes like Yukon Gold can be substituted for both starchy and waxy varieties. Remember: for potato salads, choose a waxy potato.

Start with Cold Water

Place your diced potatoes in a pot of cold water and then bring it all to a boil. If you add potatoes to already boiling water, the outside of the potatoes will get overdone and too soft while the inside will still be undercooked. While it is fine to add pasta and frozen vegetables to boiling water, always start with cold water when boiling potatoes.

Season When Hot

A plain potato can be somewhat bland. Add a pinch or two of salt to the boiling water; the potatoes will soak up some of the saltiness while they cook, becoming thoroughly seasoned from the inside out.

Dress Your Salad Wisely

Once your foundation is set, you can dress your salad and add stir-ins. For many of us, it's almost second nature to stir mayonnaise into a bowl of boiled potatoes but, if the potatoes are still hot, the mayonnaise will become an unappealing oily mess. Let the potatoes cool 20 to 30 minutes before adding the mayonnaise and other ingredients. If you are using a vinaigrette dressing, however, dress the potatoes while they are still hot. They will absorb some of the vinaigrette and be even more flavorful.

You may like your potato salad plain and simple with diced boiled eggs and mayonnaise, or you may enjoy a little more taste and texture by adding ingredients such as dill pickles, green beans, or bacon. Stir-ins are important, but remember - for a great potato salad, always start with a waxy potato.

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