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Potato Salad Recipe: Create Your Own

Learn the basic method for creamy or tangy potato salad and you have thousands of recipes at your fingertips.

by Allison Ehri Kreitler

from Fine Cooking
Issue 106

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:

  • anchovies
    Finely chopped anchovies: up to 2 tsp.
  • chipotles in adobo
    Puréed chipotle in adobo:  up to 2 tsp.
  • horseradish
    Grated fresh horseradish (or strained jarred): up to 2 Tbs.
  • ginger
    Finely grated fresh ginger: up to 2 tsp.
  • lime zest
    Finely grated lime zest: up to 2 tsp.
  • lemon zest
    Finely grated lemon zest: up to 2 tsp.
  • orange zest
    Finely grated orange zest: up to 2 tsp.
  • turbinado sugar
    Turbinado sugar, light brown sugar, or honey, up to 1 tsp.
  • garlic
    Mashed garlic: up to 2 large cloves
  • fennel seeds
    Fennel seeds, lightly toasted and ground: 1-1/2 tsp.
  • nutmeg
    Freshly grated nutmeg: 1/4 tsp.
  • oregano
    Chopped fresh oregano or marjoram: 2 tsp.
  • rosemary
    Chopped fresh rosemary: 1 Tbs.
  • tarragon
    Chopped fresh tarragon: 1 Tbs.
  • sage
    Chopped fresh sage: 1 Tbs.
  • red pepper flakes
    Crushed red pepper flakes: 1/2 tsp.
  • cumin seeds
    Cumin seeds, lightly toasted and ground: 1-1/2 tsp.
  • coriander
    Coriander seeds, lightly toasted and ground: 1-1/2 tsp.
  • smoked paprika
    Smoked paprika: 1/2 tsp.
  • curry powder
    Curry powder: 1/2 tsp.
  • ground turmeric
    Turmeric: 1/2 tsp.
  • caraway seeds
    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)

  • artichoke hearts
    Frozen artichoke hearts, thawed, patted dry, cut into 3/4-inch wedges, and browned in olive oil with a sprinkle of salt
  • bell peppers
    Bell pepper, any color, diced
  • celery
    Celery, stalks thinly sliced (about 1/8 inch) and leaves roughly chopped
  • dried apricots
    Dried apricots, finely diced: up to 1/4 cup
  • peas
    Peas, fresh or frozen, blanched or thawed
  • chickpeas
    Chickpeas, canned, rinsed: up to 1 cup
  • red onion
    Red onion or shallot, small diced: up to 1/2 cup
  • Cucumber, halved, seeded, and thinly sliced
  • radicchio
    Radicchio or Belgian endive, thinly sliced
  • apples
    Granny Smith apple, small diced: up to 1 cup
  • sugar snap peas
    Sugar snap peas, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and blanched
  • mushrooms
    Mushrooms, thinly sliced and sautéed until very brown
  • sweet onion
    Sweet onion, small diced: up to 1 cup
  • fennel bulb
    Fennel, quartered, cored, and thinly sliced crosswise
  • raisins
    Raisins (golden or dark) or currants: up to 1/4 cup
  • radishes
    Radish, thinly sliced or diced
  • green beans
    Green beans, trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces and blanched
  • corn kernels
    Sweet corn, fresh, blanched
  • scallions
    Scallions, thinly sliced: up to 1 cup
  • cherry tomatoes
    Tomatoes, cherry or pear, halved or quartered
  • pine nuts
    Toasted pine nuts: up to 1/2 cup
  • almonds
    Toasted slivered almonds, toasted: up to 1/2 cup
  • walnuts
    Toasted coarsely chopped walnuts: up to 1/2 cup

Meat, Cheese & Eggs

  • bacon
    Bacon, cooked and crumbled: up to 3/4 lb.
  • eggs
    Eggs, hard boiled and diced: up to 4 large (about 1-1/2 cups)
  • cold smoked salmon
    Cold-smoked salmon, diced: up to 1 cup
  • pancetta
    Pancetta, small diced and cooked: up to 1/2 lb.
  • cheddar
    Grated Cheddar: up to 3/4 cup
  • gruyere
    Grated Gruyère: up to 3/4 cup
  • gouda
    Grated aged Gouda: up to 3/4 cup
  • feta
    Crumbled feta: up to 3/4 cup
  • blue cheese
    Crumbled blue cheese: up to 3/4 cup
  • trout
    Hot-smoked trout or salmon, shredded: up to 1/2 cup
  • lobster
    Shrimp or lobster, cooked and diced
  • smoked chicken
    Smoked chicken or turkey, shredded: up to 1/2 cup
  • cornichons
    Pickles (dill, sweet, or cornichon), small diced: up to 3/4 cup
  • capers
    Capers, rinsed, chopped if large: up to 3 Tbs.
  • basil
    Chopped fresh basil: up to 3/4 cup
  • mint
    Chopped fresh mint: up to 3/4 cup
  • parsley
    Chopped fresh parsley: up to 3/4 cup
  • chives
    Thinly sliced fresh chives: up to 3/4 cup
  • cilantro
    Chopped fresh cilantro: up to 3/4 cup
  • dill
    Chopped fresh dill: up to 3/4 cup
  • pepperoncini
    Pepperoncini, chopped, up to 2 Tbs.
  • jalapeno
    Jalapeño, jarred or fresh, chopped, up to 1 Tbs.
  • olives
    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.

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