No picnic or barbeque is complete without a bowl of creamy, tangy potato salad. Whether you prefer a nostalgic version with a healthy dose of mayonnaise and chopped pickles or you toss your potatoes in a mustardy vinaigrette and lots of fresh herbs, there are a few rules that can be applied to every variety. Master these five pro tips and turn out a flawless potato salad every time.
Pick the Right Potato
It all begins with the potato. Not every potato can be turned into a good salad. When planning out your dish, opt for a waxy variety like fingerling, Yukon Gold, or new potatoes. These potatoes have a firmer flesh with more moisture, resulting in a creamier cooked potato that holds its shape. Starchy potatoes like russets will fall apart, leaving you with cold mashed potatoes (no one wants that). Also, by picking a waxy potato with more delicate skin, such as new potatoes, you can skip the pesky peeling step and eat the skins.
Cut Potato Pieces Evenly
If you are using a smaller variety like new potatoes, you can often skip this step entirely because all of the potatoes are small enough to be eaten in one perfect bite. However, if you are using Yukon Golds, the size of each potato can vary from a ping-pong ball to a baseball. Be sure to cut all of your potatoes into relatively similar-sized pieces so that they cook evenly. Otherwise, you will end up with one potato that is overcooked and falling apart and one that is still raw in the middle.
Season the Water
Before you even add your potatoes, be sure to generously season your water. A lot of the flavor in your potato salad will come from this step, so don’t shy away from the salt—the water should taste salty like the ocean. This will ensure that your potatoes are seasoned to their core. Also, many believe that adding vinegar to your water will not only help with flavoring the potatoes, but that the natural pectin in the vegetable will break down slower in an acidic environment. This will help you avoid the risk of overcooking your potatoes. A tablespoon of vinegar for each quart of water should do it.
Cook from Cold Water
Whether you are cooking potatoes for a salad or a mash, always start your potatoes in a pot of cold water. From there, bring the water up to a boil. This helps guarantee even cooking from the core of the potato to the exterior. If you plunk your potatoes down into a pot of boiling water, the exterior of your potatoes will be mealy and overcooked by the time the inside is cooked through.
Dress Potatoes When They’re Warm
After cooking and draining your potatoes, toss them with half of your dressing or vinaigrette while they are still warm. A warm potato will absorb the flavor better than one that is already cooled. Since the potato will absorb a lot of the moisture of the dressing while it’s hot, hold off on tossing the salad with the remaining dressing until it is cooled completely. Also, if you’re adding fresh herbs or snipped chives to your salad, wait to fold those in until the potatoes have cooled and you’re ready to serve. This will guarantee max color and herbaceous flavor.