My mom doesn’t cook much, but she makes a mean potato salad—it’s the dish everyone in my family talks about. It’s a classic, with mayo, hard-boiled eggs, and the perfect balance of acidity. Unfortunately, she makes it only for special occasions. Maybe that’s why I make potato salad for every occasion.
The beauty of this popular summer side dish is that your ingredient options are virtually endless, and that’s because potatoes mix well with just about everything, from ordinary Cheddar and onions to fancy smoked salmon or lobster. And whether dinner is all-American or inspired by an exotic cuisine, potato salad can easily adapt; just customize your salad’s flavors to go with whatever’s on the menu.
Here’s how: First, choose your ingredients. Next, make a tangy or creamy dressing, adjusting it with different vinegars, dairy options, aromatics, herbs, and spices. Toss your warm, cooked potatoes with salt and vinegar, which infuses them with flavor right from the get-go, and all that’s left is to fold in the rest of the ingredients. Now you’re ready to create a potato salad worth talking about.
Serves 8 as a side dish
Cook the potatoes
Combine 1/4 cup plain rice vinegar and 2 tsp. kosher salt in a large bowl. Let sit to dissolve the salt. Put 3-1/2 lb. medium waxy potatoes, such as Yukon gold or red, and 2 Tbs. salt in a 6-quart pot and add enough cold water to cover by 1 inch. (You can also substitute 3-1/4 lb. baby potatoes for the large ones.) Bring to a boil over high heat and reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Cook the potatoes until barely tender when poked with a fork or skewer, 20 to 25 minutes. If the potatoes aren’t all the same size, remove them as they are cooked. (Baby potatoes will take 5 to 10 minutes.)
Gently drain the potatoes in a colander and set aside until just cool enough to handle. Using a paring knife, peel the potatoes by scraping off the skin. (Skip this step if using baby potatoes.) Cut the potatoes into 3/4-inch chunks. Add the potatoes to the bowl with the vinegar and gently stir with a spatula to coat. With your fingers, pull apart any pieces that are stuck together.
Make the dressing
While the potatoes are cooking and cooling, make the dressing. You can choose a creamy dressing or a vinaigrette.
For a creamy dressing
In a small bowl, whisk together 2/3 cup mayonnaise OR 1/3 cup mayonnaise plus 1/3 cup sour cream, crème fraîche, buttermilk, or plain yogurt; 3 Tbs. vinegar (red or white wine, Champagne, balsamic, or cider), 1 tsp. kosher salt, and 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper. Add your choice of dressing add-ins (see options below) and whisk to combine.
For a vinaigrette
In a small bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup vinegar (red or white wine, Champagne, balsamic, or cider) OR 1/4 cup fresh lemon or lime juice; 2 tsp. Dijon mustard OR 1 Tbs. grainy mustard; 1 tsp. kosher salt; and 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper. Slowly whisk 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil until combined. Add your choice of dressing add-ins (see options below) and whisk to combine.
Choose up to six dressing add-ins for either type of dressing:
Finely chopped anchovies: up to 2 tsp.
Puréed chipotle in adobo: up to 2 tsp.
Grated fresh horseradish (or strained jarred): up to 2 Tbs.
Finely grated fresh ginger: up to 2 tsp.
Finely grated lime zest: up to 2 tsp.
Finely grated lemon zest: up to 2 tsp.
Finely grated orange zest: up to 2 tsp.
Turbinado sugar, light brown sugar, or honey, up to 1 tsp.
Mashed garlic: up to 2 large cloves
Fennel seeds, lightly toasted and ground: 1-1/2 tsp.
Freshly grated nutmeg: 1/4 tsp.
Chopped fresh oregano or marjoram: 2 tsp.
Chopped fresh rosemary: 1 Tbs.
Chopped fresh tarragon: 1 Tbs.
Chopped fresh sage: 1 Tbs.
Crushed red pepper flakes: 1/2 tsp.
Cumin seeds, lightly toasted and ground: 1-1/2 tsp.
Coriander seeds, lightly toasted and ground: 1-1/2 tsp.
Smoked paprika: 1/2 tsp.
Curry powder: 1/2 tsp.
Turmeric: 1/2 tsp.
Caraway seeds, lightly toasted and ground: 1-1/2 tsp.
Make the salad
Gently fold your choice of salad mix-ins (see options below) into the potatoes. A vinaigrette salad can be dressed while the potatoes are warm. For a creamy salad, let the potatoes cool to room temperature first.
If using a vinaigrette dressing, whisk it back together. Fold in enough vinaigrette or creamy dressing to generously coat the potatoes. Depending on the ingredients you choose, you may not need all of the dressing. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Choose up to 6 salad mix-ins for no more than 4 cups total (unless otherwise indicated, you can use up to 2 cups of any single ingredient)
Frozen artichoke hearts, thawed, patted dry, cut into 3/4-inch wedges, and browned in olive oil with a sprinkle of salt
Bell pepper, any color, diced
Celery, stalks thinly sliced (about 1/8 inch) and leaves roughly chopped
Dried apricots, finely diced: up to 1/4 cup
Peas, fresh or frozen, blanched or thawed
Chickpeas, canned, rinsed: up to 1 cup
Red onion or shallot, small diced: up to 1/2 cup
Cucumber, halved, seeded, and thinly sliced
Radicchio or Belgian endive, thinly sliced
Granny Smith apple, small diced: up to 1 cup
Sugar snap peas, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and blanched
Mushrooms, thinly sliced and sautéed until very brown
Sweet onion, small diced: up to 1 cup
Fennel, quartered, cored, and thinly sliced crosswise
Raisins (golden or dark) or currants: up to 1/4 cup
Radish, thinly sliced or diced
Green beans, trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces and blanched
Sweet corn, fresh, blanched
Scallions, thinly sliced: up to 1 cup
Tomatoes, cherry or pear, halved or quartered
Toasted pine nuts: up to 1/2 cup
Toasted slivered almonds, toasted: up to 1/2 cup
Toasted coarsely chopped walnuts: up to 1/2 cup
Meat, Cheese & Eggs
Bacon, cooked and crumbled: up to 3/4 lb.
Eggs, hard boiled and diced: up to 4 large (about 1-1/2 cups)
Cold-smoked salmon, diced: up to 1 cup
Pancetta, small diced and cooked: up to 1/2 lb.
Grated Cheddar: up to 3/4 cup
Grated Gruyère: up to 3/4 cup
Grated aged Gouda: up to 3/4 cup
Crumbled feta: up to 3/4 cup
Crumbled blue cheese: up to 3/4 cup
Hot-smoked trout or salmon, shredded: up to 1/2 cup
Shrimp or lobster, cooked and diced
Smoked chicken or turkey, shredded: up to 1/2 cup
Pickles (dill, sweet, or cornichon), small diced: up to 3/4 cup
Capers, rinsed, chopped if large: up to 3 Tbs.
Chopped fresh basil: up to 3/4 cup
Chopped fresh mint: up to 3/4 cup
Chopped fresh parsley: up to 3/4 cup
Thinly sliced fresh chives: up to 3/4 cup
Chopped fresh cilantro: up to 3/4 cup
Chopped fresh dill: up to 3/4 cup
Pepperoncini, chopped, up to 2 Tbs.
Jalapeño, jarred or fresh, chopped, up to 1 Tbs.
Olives, halved or quartered, up to 1 cup
Serve vinaigrette salads warm or at room temperature and creamy salads at room temperature or cold. These are best served the day they are made but will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.