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Perfect Potato Salads

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Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

perfect-potato-salads

Baseball, and Summer, and...Potato Salad?

When baseball season is here, that means that Summer is not far behind right? With that happy thought, allow me to extrapolate. If Summer is near, we must have potato salad. Perfect potato salad.

But what is the “perfect potato salad”? Is it tangy with vinegar, or bright with yellow mustard? Perhaps the contrast of textures is what you love—creamy potatoes and crunchy vegetables. Or do your thoughts go to something even more exotic?

I can and will help you find your perfect potato salad Muse.

The Key Players

What are the components of a basic potato salad? Well, potatoes of course (duh!), a dressing, and flavorings.

Sounds simple enough. So let’s look at each of the components.

Potatoes

Gertrude Stein said that “a rose is a rose is a rose”, but a potato is not always a potato. They are not all the same. Allow me to explain:

  • Starchy—these are the bakers, the ones that are high in starch and low in moisture. When cooked they become fluffy, creamy, and absorbent. They are great for boiling, baking, and frying, but they don’t hold their shape when cooked and diced. However, that absorbent aspect makes them a possible candidate if you want a potato salad that is creamy and full of flavor.
  • All-Purpose—On a scale of 1 to 10, with ten being the potato with the most starch (this means sticky), starchy bakers are 10, all-purpose are a 5 (medium starch). In the words of Martin Luther “What Does This Mean?” Well, it means that like starchy potatoes they cook up tender, but they also hold their shape. The all-purpose potato is your perfect choice for preparing just about any potato dish. However, the skins can be a bit tough, so if you use them for potato salad, you might want to remove the skins.
  • Waxy Potatoes—They have a low starch content, so they cook up firm and moist. If you remove the skin they will absorb more dressing, but leaving the skin on adds a nice color to what might be an otherwise monochromatic salad.

How to Cook Potatoes...Perfectly

  • Place your potatoes in a large pot and cover with cold water—the water should be one inch (more more) above the potatoes.
  • Add a liberal amount of salt (about 2 teaspoons). This won’t make your potatoes taste “salty”, it will just make them taste like amazing potatoes.
  • Bring the potatoes covered in water to a boil, and then reduce the heat to simmer. (Don’t boil them—if they bang and crash into each other they can break).
  • Use a sharp paring knife (not a fork) to test for doneness. Use the tip of the knife to poke the potato—if it pierces easily and does NOT cling to the knife when you lift upward, the potato is done.
Yukon Gold potatoes cooked, sliced, and turned into perfect potato salad

Yukon Gold potatoes cooked, sliced, and turned into perfect potato salad

Types of Potatoes

StarchyAll-PurposeWaxy

Idaho Russet

Yukon Gold

Red Bliss

Katahdin

Purple Peruvian

New Potatoes

Jewel Yam

Kennebec

Adirondack Blue

Rose Finn Apple

All Blue

Fingerling

Russian Banana

Rose Gold

Dressing

Dressing is the glue that binds together your potato salad. Mayonnaise, sour cream (or yogurt), and vinaigrette all impart special flavors to your salad. I like to use a combination of all three. Mayonnaise lends a silky creaminess, sour cream is tangy, and the vinaigrette reduces or eliminates the need for additional salt. (OK, I know that potato salad isn't meant to be a health food, but reducing sodium is never a bad thing).

Using a Vinaigrette?

Hot potatoes absorb liquid, so add your vinaigrette while the potatoes are still warm. The flavor will penetrate deep into your potatoes, making every bite tangy and tasty.

Flavorings

There are so many options. My mother always added finely diced dill pickle and red radish, chopped hard-cooked eggs, and a dash of dried dill weed (or fresh dill weed when available). In the recipes that follow I will provide suggestions for using those and other additions.

Basic Potato Salad

This recipe is adapted from the “Classic Potato Salad” by Betty Crocker. I have included the sour cream, dill pickles, and minced radishes that my mom always used in her potato salad.

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 medium stalk celery, diced (about 1 cup)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely minced (about ½ cup)
  • ¼ cup finely diced dill pickle
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced red radish
  • 4 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and chopped

Instructions

  1. Cook potatoes according to directions given above.
  2. Combine mayonnaise, sour cream, vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Add potatoes, celery, onion, pickles, and radish. Toss to combine and coat evenly with mayonnaise mixture. Stir in eggs and toss gently. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours for flavors to blend.

Carb Diva’s Light Lemon/Herb Potato Salad

perfect-potato-salads

Here we abandon mayonnaise and sour cream, but gain tons of bright flavor from lemon and fresh parsley.

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes
  • 4 scallions, sliced
  • 2 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1 tsp. dry mustard
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced

Instructions

  1. Place potatoes in a large pot with a lid. Cover with water and bring to a boil over medium heat. Turn heat to low and simmer until potatoes are tender (a sharp knife inserted in the middle of a potato will enter easily).
  2. Drain the potatoes and place them on the chopping board. Let sit a few minutes until cool enough to handle.
  3. Remove the skins from the potatoes. They should slip off easily with the tip of a knife. Chop the potatoes and place them in a large bowl.
  4. Whisk together the lemon zest, dry mustard, olive oil, and lemon juice. Drizzle over the still-warm potatoes. Toss to coat. Add salt and pepper and toss again.
  5. Just before serving stir in chopped parsley. Salad can be served chilled or at room temperature.

Loaded Baked Potato Salad

This recipe contains all of the ingredients we love in a fully-loaded baked potato—bacon, sour cream, and chives. Despite my warning that russet potatoes are not the best choice for potato salad, you really need them for this recipe. Russets have a unique flavor that is unmatched by other potatoes.

Ingredients

  • 4 pounds russet (baking) potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound bacon, cooked, cooled and chopped
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • ¾ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup chopped chives or minced green onion
  • 1 cup sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Scrub the potatoes with a vegetable brush then pierce each several times with a fork or sharp knife. Coat each potato with olive oil. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake in preheated oven for about 1 hour or until tender. Remove from oven and set aside until cool enough to handle.
  3. While the potatoes are baking, cook the bacon in a skillet until crisp. Remove from skillet, drain, allow to cool, and then crumble.
  4. Remove the skins from the potatoes and then chop into 1-inch size chunks. Place in a large mixing bowl and sprinkle with vinegar.
  5. Combine the mayonnaise and sour cream in a small bowl, season with the black pepper, and then add to the potatoes, tossing gently to coat. Stir in bacon, chives, and cheese. Stir again to combine. Cover and refrigerate.

Italian Pesto and Potato Salad

Basil pesto

Basil pesto

This next recipe is an homage to the pasta/potato/pesto dish my family and I enjoyed on the western coast of Italy. I wrote of that amazing meal in my article "Northern Italian Pasta with Pesto, Potatoes, and Green Beans". Yes, this is a bit out of the ordinary, but the combination of soft potatoes, crisp green beans, and garlicky basil pesto is a perfect side dish for a warm summer evening with chicken or seafood from the grill and a bottle of crisp white wine.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, cooked, peeled and diced
  • ½ pound fresh green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths (about 1 cup)
  • ½ cup basil pesto (deli purchase or homemade)
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional garnish)

Instructions

  1. Cook potatoes according to directions above. Two minutes before potatoes are done, add green beans—you want them to be crisp-tender.
  2. Drain potatoes and green beans and place in a large mixing bowl. While still warm, add pesto and stir gently to coat.
  3. Serve potato salad warm or at room temperature. Top with grated cheese (if desired) just before serving.

Sweet Potato Salad With Bacon and Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts

Brussels sprouts

Please don’t leave! I recognize that unconventional doesn’t begin to describe this “salad” but I make it every year for my family at Thanksgiving.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed and cut in half (see note below)
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 4 cups peeled, diced sweet potato
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • ½ pound bacon cooked crisp and crumbled
  • 2 cups pecan halves
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 teaspoons fresh finely minced rosemary (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper
  3. Place Brussels sprouts in medium bowl; add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Toss to coat. Spread out in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast for about 15 minutes. Stir and then return to the oven. Continue to bake about another 5 to 10 minutes or until sprouts are tender and slightly browned on the edges. Remove from pan and set aside.
  4. In the same mixing bowl combine diced sweet potato, remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the maple syrup. Reline the baking sheet with a clean sheet of parchment paper. Spread the diced potato out in a single layer; bake for about 20 minutes, stirring once, until tender and caramelized. Remove from pan.
  5. In a large bowl combine Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, bacon, pecan halves, and dried cranberries. Add rosemary (if desired) and gently toss to combine. Add salt and pepper as needed.

NOTE: When selecting Brussels sprouts, be sure to select sprouts that are all about the same size so that they will cook evenly.

I'm Curious

© 2016 Linda Lum

Comments

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on July 23, 2019:

Linda,

How incredibly kind of you. I would be so grateful if you could find one. You are awesome.

Blessings,

Denise

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 23, 2019:

Denise, for about a year my younger daughter was vegan. I'll dig back into the archives (picture the final scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark) and see if I can find a reasonable egg-free mayonnaise recipe for you.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on July 23, 2019:

Yum, Thanks for the recipes. The basic is just like my mother used to make. Since I've been vegetarian I leave off the eggs but I still like the mayonnaise. I tried making it with the Vegan Mayonnaise but it just lacked something tangy and smooth. I'll have to keep experimenting with just the right thing. The basil pesto looks like a really good alternative. I think I'll try that. Thanks for sharing.

Blessings,

Denise

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on July 08, 2018:

Stacey Harrison, I always love to hear from other foodies--your ideas, family favorites, passed-down-thru-the-generations recipes. Yes, please!

We gain when we share with one another.

Stacey Harrison on July 08, 2018:

I’d love to give you my recipe. If you’d like?

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on May 13, 2016:

We very well could be, Diva. My family is large enough that I wouldn't be surprised to find a long ago connection!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on May 13, 2016:

Thank you Bravewarrior - I agree that store-bought potato salad is too soupy--it tend to be more mayo than potato. Mom always sprinkled paprika on top of her salad--and if one of the kids was "helping" she would always caution us to "be sure you use the paprika and not the cayenne pepper." OK, but I never understood why we even HAD a shaker of cayenne. We never used it for anything.

Oh well!

I think the more and more that you and I exchange ideas and memories, it seems that you and I must be distant cousins. We're a lot alike.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on May 13, 2016:

I love potato salad (as long as it's not store bought). Your light lemon version sounds delicious.

I always use red potatoes and leave the skins on. I add hard-boiled eggs, scallions, green pepper, celery, dill and sometimes red radish. I don't like my potato salad real wet, so I just add enough mayo and a touch of brown mustard to allow the ingredients to stick. I like to sprinkle paprika on top and let it sit in the fridge for a while before serving.

I'll hang on to this hub and give a few of these recipes a try!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on April 25, 2016:

Flourish - That sounds good. Do you serve it hot like a German potato salad (I am remiss in not including one in this hub) or is it chilled?

FlourishAnyway from USA on April 25, 2016:

I like that loaded baked potato salad! I have a honey mustard bacon potato salad that I put together and it's always well received.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on April 14, 2016:

They're called a 'sweet potato' but they aren't all that sweet, just enough to add depth to a dish.

Lawrence

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on April 14, 2016:

Lawrence - I tend to be a "savory" person, but I know the rest of my family would probably love a combination of white and sweet potatoes in their salad. You might want to give the Brussels sprouts/bacon salad a try. Thanks for stopping by and for your kind words.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on April 14, 2016:

Linda.

Only one word to describe this hub. YUMMY!!

We often cook a Kumara (New Zealand's sweet potato) with the 'spuds' as it gives a slightly different taste to the salad.

Now I'm hungry :-)

Lawrence

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on April 06, 2016:

Eric - Inquiring minds want to know--is one of these salads in your future?

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on April 06, 2016:

Wow I sure learned alot about potatoes. These sure sound good to eat. Thanks for another outstanding hub.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on April 05, 2016:

Wow you have some great ideas here! Sweet potato and Brussels sprouts? I would have never guessed it but imagining those flavors together with bacon; I would love to try it.

Shared!