My father loved potato salad. More importantly, he loved my mother’s potato salad. This is the way she made potato salad and she made it well. This is the way she taught me to make potato salad. There’s not much better with a hot dog, and yes, Virginia, that’s ketchup on the hot dog…get over it! Mother didn’t follow a recipe. She tasted and adjusted, then tasted again, and smiled when she knew it was “just right”. She knew just what the dressing should look like, just how much diced celery and onion she needed, just how it should taste when she first made it, because then she knew what it would taste like when she served it. That’s experience.
Since she never measured, I did. Now, when I’m asked for the recipe, I no longer have to say, “I just eyeball everything, you know”, because obviously they don’t know or they wouldn’t be asking! I hate when recipes don’t work, so I measured. BUT, depending on the variety of potato, water content in the celery and onions, planetary alignment and kitchen gnomes that lurk under my sink and cause all sorts of cooking calamities, you may have to make minor adjustments.
On other thing I wish to pass on that I learned while making potato salad was, “Once the water boils, turn the heat down to just maintain the boil. There is no need to keep the burner that high; it won’t make the potatoes cook any faster!” Can you hear my mother’s voice, too? This advice translates to almost anything you cook.
The method is my adaptation, but this adaptation (unlike many The Goddess makes!) has my mother’s seal of approval. I put the onions and celery in the bottom of the bowl, then the sliced, cooked potatoes on top. I add salt to the vinegar (NEVER white vinegar, remember?) and heat until the salt dissolves. Then I douse the potatoes with the hot vinegar/salt mixture and toss; set aside to cool. We never use red skinned potatoes; we use russets or Yukon gold or a combo of the two. I know many people like the red skinned potatoes, but for me, they are too firm and dense and don’t absorb the dressing well enough. I prefer the more floury russets or Yukon gold. I think they absorb the flavors better. But if you prefer red skinned potatoes, then you should use those. I do use them for German potato salad (that’s a later post).
I have found that mashing a very small amount of the potato helps absorb the liquid that will be released by the onion and celery. This seems to prevent watery potato salad. If for some reason your salad becomes a bit watery, add some dry potato flakes, stir them in and let the salad chill for about 30 minutes. That’s another option; there are usually options for most things.
I mix the dressing ingredients together in a separate bowl and pour it over the potatoes. Stir just until the potatoes are well coated, but be careful not to over-mix or you’ll end up with potato salad-flavored mashed potatoes, which is not our goal here. I’ve actually already added the eggs and diced pimentos in this picture. I guess it’s time I actually give you the recipe, huh?
Classic Potato Salad
This can easily be doubled to serve a crowd. The flavor improves significantly when you allow it to chill for at least 3 hours before serving, but I think it tastes better if refrigerated overnight.
- 2 1/2 pounds russet or Yukon gold potatoes (about 4), cooked and peeled
- 1 cup diced onion (may substitute all/part red onion and scallions)
- 2-3 ribs celery, cleaned and diced
- 1/4 cup finely diced dill pickle (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/3 cup cider vinegar
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 4-6 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
- 2-3 tablespoons finely diced pimentos or roasted red peppers
- 2-3 tablespoons snipped fresh chives or 2-3 teaspoons dried chives
- 2 tablespoons dried parsley flakes or 2-3 teaspoons minced fresh dillweed
- 3/4 cup mayonnaise (see COOK’S NOTE)
- 3-4 tablespoons sour cream
- 1-2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 3-5 teaspoons prepared mustard (you know, the bright yellow stuff)
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/3-1/2 teaspoon ground celery seed
For the Salad: Toss the diced onion, celery, chopped dill pickles, if using, into a large bowl (wider is better than deep and narrow). When the potatoes are at room temperature (or cold), dice or slice them into smallish, bite-sized pieces. With a fork (or your fingers), mash about 2 tablespoons of the potato bits. Gently mix the mashed potatoes into the remaining potatoes; sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper.
Combine the vinegar and salt in a microwaveable dish (I use a Pyrex measuring cup) and heat for about 20 seconds. Stir until the salt is dissolved. Pour over the potato and vegetables. Gently (a rubber spatula works well, but hands are even better) mix everything together. Taste the potatoes; they should be just slightly salty and a bit too vinegary. Let this mixture sit for about 10 minutes; toss gently 1 more time (gently because you don’t want to break up the potatoes too much). Let stand until the potatoes reach room temperature; sprinkle with the chives and parsley flakes. Make the dressing.
For the Dressing: In a medium bowl, combine the dressing ingredients.
Pour the dressing over the salad. Gently mix, and taste. You may need to add additional mayonnaise & sour cream to suit your taste. Add more salt, pepper, if needed. Finally, gently stir in the eggs and pimentos. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight. To serve, sprinkle with smoked sweet paprika and few snipped chives or chive blossoms, if desired.
COOK’S NOTE: Many times my mother used 2 parts Hellman’s mayonnaise and 1/2 part Miracle Whip or “boiled dressing”. She like the touch of sweetness the latter 2 options gave the dressing. If you choose this option, omit the sugar in the recipe.
Classic Potato Salad Recipe©Marcia Lahens 2015. All rights reserved.
If you can’t find ground celery seed, it is available at The Spice Mill. It’s a great thing to have on hand, and a little goes a long way.
As I’ve mentioned ad nauseam, this is the basic recipe. But there are times, depending on what I’m serving this with, or just what I feel like adding, that I might add some diced radishes or cucumber (salt first, rinse and drain well) or partially cooked carrots or blanched green beans. Sometimes black olives, very finely minced sun-dried tomatoes, chiffonade of basil and artichokes hearts. Sometimes hearts of palm, lemon zest and cooked chicken. The Latin Lovers madre (I’m keeping with the linguistic theme) added an unpeeled, diced Red or Golden Delicious apple and 1/2 cup frozen (thawed) peas to the basic mixture. She garnished the salad with strips of roasted peppers and blanched asparagus spears. I always liked the sweetness and crunch of the apple, particularly with ribs or BBQ pork of any kind. So yet again, we have options….
To add dill or not to add dill; that is the question that’s up to you to answer. When I’m serving this with hot dogs or grilled sausage, I like to add dill. When I serve this with fried or grilled chicken, I use Dijon mustard and tarragon. (My mother would be turning blue about now…”Goddess Daughter, this is not how WE make potato salad”. My mother was an incredibly flexible person, except when it came to potato salad. I guess there are just some things you just don’t mess with!