Everything I Know About Potato Salad

Jul 5, 2019 | Cooking Tips

Potato salad is one of those ubiquitous barbecue and potluck sides that everyone makes. And somehow, everyone thinks they make the best version of it. But if we’re being honest, a lot of versions of potato salad are completely terrible. All too often it just tastes like mayonnaise with a bit of raw onion and potato mixed in. Not very appetizing.

Today we’re going to talk in depth about what makes a good potato salad and what makes a bad one. Why? Because it is time that we put an end to this mediocrity that has been plaguing potlucks and backyard barbecues for far too long.

This is…

Everything I know about potato salad


Just to clarify, I am only talking about traditional North American style potato salad today. I will do post about French, German, and other version of potato salad at another time.


The do’s and don’ts of potato salad.

When making potato salad there are a handful of things that people often get wrong and also a handful of things that people often get right. Let’s take a look.


The potato –

Arguably the most important part of a potato salad is the potato. All too often people will use a variety of potato that is watery or mealy. These have a tendency to become waterlogged if overcooked. They also fall apart easily leaving you with a bowl of mashed potato salad which most people don’t want.

Generally, a waxy variety of potato is best for potato salad. Potatoes like Yukon gold, fingerlings, new potatoes or red bliss are all examples of this. All of these hold their shape well when cooked. This gives texture and body to potato salad.


Eggs –

Should there be eggs in potato salad? In all honesty, this comes down to taste rather than right or wrong. I think yes, but that’s because I really like eggs. I find that they add a nice textural change to the potato salad. Also, the yolk, even when hard-boiled can help to thicken the sauce.


Onions

If you generally add chopped white or red onion to your potato salad, that’s fine. But, maybe mix it up once in a while. Chopped green onion or chives make a great addition to any potato salad. Their flavour is more mellow than white or red onion and so they have less of a tendency to overpower the other ingredients in the salad.

If you do choose to add red or white onion to your potato salad dice them as fine as you can. This will lower their impact and make for a more pleasant eating experience.


Herbs

Adding fresh herbs to your potato salad is an easy and delicious way to elevate it a little bit. A little parsley, dill, and even tarragon and mint can go a long way. This simple act of adding a few chopped fresh herbs will have such a massive impact on the overall flavour of the salad. I’m serious, you won’t believe the difference a few herbs can make.


Bacon

Should you put bacon in a potato salad? It depends.

I am absolutely not opposed to putting bacon in potato salad as long as it is done for the right reasons. Are you putting bacon in the salad because it adds a smoky, salty element that the salad is missing? Does it add a little crunch that would add to the textural experience? Does it add to the nuance of the potato salad? Or, are you adding bacon to the salad because it’s bacon and bacon is supposed to make everything better?

Over the past decade or so there has been a trend to add bacon to everything. You’ve heard that bacon makes everything better, right? Wrong! Don’t get me wrong, I love bacon. What I don’t love it adding unnecessary ingredients to dishes just for the sake of adding them.

Also, adding bacon to a mediocre potato salad does not make it better. It just makes it a mediocre potato salad with bacon in it.

Use bacon when it adds to the potato salad, not just because it’s bacon.


Peas

I really like adding peas to potato salad. This is in part because my mother always did and partially because I love peas. Should they be in every potato salad, no! I usually only use them when I am recreating my mother’s potato salad, or if I am making a version that has mint and/or dill in it. Peas go really well with both of these flavours.

I do find that peas add a nice fresh sweetness to the salad. It is just very important that if you are going to use peas, not to overcook them. When done right, they add a vibrant green colour with a fresh sweet flavour that pops in your mouth. When done wrong, they add a greyish green colour and bland flavour along with mushy texture.

Like bacon, add peas when it makes sense. Not just because they are peas.


The Sacue

If the potatoes are the most important part of a potato salad the sauce comes in at a very close second.

There are many variations on potato salad dressing. Mine changes, as I’m sure yours does, based on the other ingredients present in the salad. But mostly I use a mayonnaise base. Sometimes vinegar or mustard as the base as well, but most often it is mayo.

I will often take let’s say 1/2 a cup of mayonnaise and add 1 tbsp of mustard. This could be a regular yellow mustard, Dijon, or grainy mustard. I add 1-2 tbsp of vinegar. This could be red or white wine vinegar, white distilled vinegar, sherry vinegar, or even cider vinegar. I add 1-2 tsp of sugar or honey. And I finish it with a little paprika, either smoked or sweet. I taste and adjust the seasoning as needed with salt and pepper and add it to the salad.

I just remembered that I will often add a couple of chopped gherkins or other pickles to the sauce as well. It adds a nice crunch and a a nice flavour.


Potato Salad

I’m not going to give you an actual recipe for this because you don’t need one. But here is a rough idea, Boil about 1 lb of waxy potatoes. Let cool. Dice the potatoes and combine with a couple of boiled eggs, chopped green onions, 1-2 tsp chopped fresh dill, 1-2 tsp chopped fresh parsley, 1-2 chopped gherkins. Add in some just boiled and cooled peas, along with the dressing I described above. Done and done.


Conclusion

I know that someone out there is going to message me to say that they have been making their potato salad the same way for 30 years and they’ve never had a complaint so they aren’t going to change. My response to that will be this; Okay, don’t.

No matter what I say in my posts I am never trying to tell you what you have to do or even should do. I am simply trying to suggest an alternative way to do things. One based in almost 20 years of professional cooking experience. Take what you want from this post and leave the rest behind. That’s up to you. But, if you are that person who hasn’t changed their potato salad recipe once in 30 years, maybe it’s time to give something new a chance. At least now you have a few ideas if you do want to.

Thanks for reading everybody.

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