Wanted: Your Best Potato Salad

It’s rare of me to make generalizations, but doesn’t everyone in America make potato (pronounced ‘puh-tate-uh” if you’re from Philly) salad for the Fourth of July? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve got a hunch that no matter where you live or how you celebrate Independence Day, there’ll be a bowl of boiled spuds on this weekend’s picnic table. It’s kind of like Thanksgiving stuffing that way; Fourth of July wouldn’t be the same otherwise.

From a cook’s point of view, boiled potatoes are like a blank canvas, an open invitation to play with color, texture and creativity. The possibilities are endless-- curry, anchovies, scallions, bacon, capers, yogurt, rosemary, roasted garlic, cider vinegar, hard-boiled eggs -- and yes, even mayonnaise. And as long as you season the spuds with plenty of salt, potato salad is difficult to screw up.

As many of you already know, I live a mayo-free life, which means my potato salad is usually vinaigrette based, with lots of herbs, a bit of Dijon mustard and a member of the allium family. (My trick -- season while potatoes are still warm and add 1 teaspoon salt to the cooking water for every 1.25 pounds.)

But enough about me and my mayo issues; I want to know how you do your potato salad. Let’s pretend we’re at the county fair and you’ve entered the potato salad-off. I want to know the kinds of spuds, the technique, the flavor profiles, the secret ingredients-- anything and everything that makes your potato salad a zinger and a keeper. Come on; gimme your best spud stylistics!

By Kim ODonnel |  July 2, 2009; 7:00 AM ET Backyard Cooking , Culinary Contests
Previous: For the Fourth, Color-Coordinated Sweets | Next: Help Fill My Vintage Picnic Basket


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My favorite potato salad uses mixed fingerling potatoes (red, yellow, purple) and a basil-walnut pesto which I thin with veggie broth. I toss in walnut pieces left over from the pesto and then add in whatever strikes me in the kitchen and is in season: cherry tomatoes, feta, blue cheese, caramelized onions, etc.

Posted by: 72091 | July 2, 2009 8:57 AM

My Grandmother's German potato style is the best! Like yous, it is also vinaigrette based with a heavy dose of dijon (i think she actually used mustard and white wine separately) with thick cut bacon and served slightly warm. So much better than those mayo based salads, probably because it was always so different.

I have never made it, but now that you have me thinking I will have to call up my mom and get the exact recipe for this weekend!

Posted by: The_Dude_Abides1 | July 2, 2009 9:05 AM

I have two favorite potato salads, one mayo based and one vinegrette.
Mayo based is red potatoes, boiled until slightly mushy, hardboiled egg, minced onion, mayo to taste, salt, pepper and a big spoon of sweet pickle relish.

The vinegrette is red potatoes boiled until just soft, green beans and/or wax beans, dark red kidney beans, chick peas, white wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and tarragon. After boiling the potatoes, strain the water off over the raw green beans. Mix the spices, oil and vinegar ahead of time and toss everything together in a big bowl. Be very liberal with the dressing. If you want to cheat, you can use tarragon vinegrette salad dressing, but it doesn't taste quite as good as fresh

Posted by: veginchantilly | July 2, 2009 10:26 AM

I love potato salad, and I also do NOT like mayonnaise so mine take various forms. One is Roasted Potatoes with a tarragon vinegar and oil dressing, another has pressure cooked potatoes and green beans in a garlickly dressing, another uses silken tofu as the dressing with potatoes and beets -- tasty and beautifully pink but my favorite is my red, white and blue potato salad made with a light lemony dressing. They all vary a bit according to my mood, herbs available, vinegars or oils on hand, etc. I've rarely met a potato that I didn't like but there have been plenty of potato salads that haven't cut the mustard for me. (Oh, did I say that I like to add Dijon?)

I actually had to take a few potato salads of my book The Veggie Queen: Vegetables Get the Royal Treatment because there were so many.

Kim, I'll enjoy my mayo-free potato salad with you, separately, this 4th Have a great weekend.

Posted by: theveggiequeen | July 2, 2009 10:29 AM

We're so fond of potato salad that we could eat it every week of the year, not just relegate it to this upcoming holiday. One of my favorite mayonnaise-free potato salads is one with morel mushrooms, asparagus, and a basil vinaigrette. Everything tastes lovely together:


Posted by: glutenfreegirl | July 2, 2009 10:29 AM

Veggiequeen, the silken tofu dressing sounds intriguing. I think a recipe might be in order!

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | July 2, 2009 10:45 AM

Yes! Potato Salad, I like green olives and boiled eggs in mine. Red potatoes, mayo, minced onion, vinegar, sugar, salt--what am I forgetting? Viva la pomme!

Posted by: davemarks | July 2, 2009 11:07 AM

I'll ditto the Dude on German potato salad.

It's a little off topic, but I hit upon my favorite salad by accident awhile ago. I was due to bring salads to a group picnic and so made a standard salad. Not having much experience with salads, I tossed it with the vinaigrette the night before and put it in the fridge. I came back home in the morning to pick up the salad and discovered that the lettuce had completely wilted. Fortunately, I lived near a supermarket so I bought a couple of fresh heads of lettuce and tossed them into the salad. You get a lot of flavor in the wilted lettuce and crunch from the fresh. Since then, my wilted lettuce salad is a go to for gatherings.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | July 2, 2009 11:16 AM

My boyfriend prefers German potato salad. I like both the classic with mayo and the warm German potato salad:- ) So, here is both; the one my boyfriend and I have tweeked to what we like and my Ma's. Enjoy and happy 4th to everyone!:

German Potato Salad

2 lbs red potatoes, all the same size to cook evenly
1/2-cup chopped celery
1/2-cup chopped red onion
2 T Ingelhoffer Stone Ground mustard w/seeds
1 T parsley
3 T sweet pickle relish
Salt & pepper to taste

Boil potatoes in pot for 25 minutes w/ enough water to cover them. Remove potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces & place into large bowl. Toss with celery, red onion, mustard, parsley & relish; add salt & pepper to taste. Serve hot or cold.

Ma’s Potato Salad

1 cup mayonnaise
2 caps either white or cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tsp sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
6 medium new potatoes, peeled (2 lbs), all the same size to cook evenly
1/3 cup chopped onion
Parsley (optional)

In 4-quart saucepan, cover potatoes w/ water to boil. Cook 30 - 35 minutes or until tender; drain. Refrigerate for an hour; peel when warm & add onions. Place in colander overnight in frig. Slice in AM. Mix first five ingredients in large bowl. Add potatoes & onion; toss. Cover & refrigerate at least 4 hours until chilled.

Posted by: jafaroo | July 2, 2009 11:26 AM

Ugh, mayo. (Good on you if you like it; I never have.)

Most of my potato salads end up looking like pasta salads with the base changed; this year since I have someone coming to my picnic who does mayo but doesn't do vinaigrettes (not a fan of vinegar flavoring), I'm experimenting with lemon juice and oil for my dressing.

The rest of it involves string beans, potatoes, corn, peas, and bell peppers. :)

Posted by: forget@menot.com | July 2, 2009 11:56 AM

I tried this mustardy grilled potato salad at a potluck picnic a few years ago, and decided to try to duplicate it. It's not your mother's potato salad. It's great made ahead and served alongside a grilled steak -- makes for an elegant and easy meal.

Cut some red potatoes into bite-size pieces (large bites), and toss w/ a little olive oil. Season w/ salt & pepper. Do the same with a couple of red onions. Grill them (or roast in the oven) until tender (keep potatoes and onions separated; the onions obviously cook faster).

Meanwhile, make a vinaigrette w/ olive oil and red wine vinegar. Season w/ a little S&P, add a big dollop of grainy Dijon mustard, and a good teaspoon or so of Colman's English Mustard (the powdered stuff). When the potatoes and onions are done, let them cool a few minutes, then toss them w/ the vinaigrette to coat. Add lots of chopped flat-leaf parsley. You can eat this warm, at room temp, or right out of the fridge. As I said, very mustardy...but yummy!

Posted by: popcornvie | July 2, 2009 2:21 PM

My Noni's italian potato salad is the best but hard to get just right :).

cook whole & cut up potatoes after they cool
add steamed fresh green beans
salt and pepper
some crushed raw garlic cloves
olive oil
lemon juice

allow to rest, tossing now and then. it's good warm or cold. Warning, if you keep it over night you may want to remove most or all of the garlic or it overwhelms.

Another favorite;

cook whole red potatoes & DICE after they cool
MINCE EVERYTHING ELSE (eggs olives & onions are the primaries & use a knife!):
boiled eggs
dill pickle
red onion
green pepper
pimento stuffed olives

Use large bowl or pot, you are going to mix this with your hand so you don't end up with mush. Toss everything well before you add the eggs, add salt and pepper and toss again.

Now you can add the Mayo and a little mustard. Use your hand, be slow about adding the condiments so you don't over do it. Let it rest in the fridge for a few hours or overnite so everything melds happily.

PS: can you do a request like this for cole slaw?

Posted by: datdamwuf2 | July 2, 2009 2:21 PM

Mayo or not, the trick is to add the vinegar first, while the potatoes are still hot.

I like using fingerling or red potatoes. After adding the vinegar, cover for a minute or two and let it soak in -- good time to chop celery. Stoneground mustard, celery salt, salt & pepper to taste. Hard boiled egg, chopped parsley. Options: mayo, paprika. No measuring required -- you just know.

Next to it serve the spicy cole slaw -- nice thin hand-julienne of cabbage, half as much in carrot (roughly 2:1 ratio), white vinegar, salt & pepper, touch of sugar or honey, mayo until creamy (err on the side of less -- it always gets creamier as it sits). When you think it is done, add a little cayenne pepper to give it a kick.

Posted by: wdrudman | July 2, 2009 3:25 PM

OK.. maybe 2:1 cabbage:carrot is a bit high -- but don't skimp on the carrots -- it should look like a lot. Enough so that after it sits for a couple of hours, the dressing has a definite orange hue.

Posted by: wdrudman | July 2, 2009 3:28 PM

I know mayo is uneccesary fat but it's a holiday! A real creamy cole slaw is so much tastier than those "health" slaws -- it's a texture thing. Also, the dressing needs to run all over that paper plate.

Moderation is the key. NO FAKE FOODS (butter, real sour cream, real mayo).

Have a happy fourth!

Posted by: wdrudman | July 2, 2009 3:32 PM

One more thing: real mayo = Hellman's/Best Foods. Nothing else will do (don't even get me started on Miracle Whip).

Posted by: wdrudman | July 2, 2009 3:36 PM

Red Hot & Blue

Simply the best...

Posted by: kedavis | July 2, 2009 3:44 PM

yukon gold potatoes (in 1 inch cubes)
Red onion (minced)
mixed olives
Flat leaf parsley (a large handful)
Lemon juice
Olive oil
Salt & pepper

boil the peeled cubed potatoes in salted water. In a bowl, add the lemon juice, paprika, cumin and olive oil and blend with a folk. When the potatoes are done (but still warm), add to the bowl and fold to coat. Add the onion and olives. When everything has cooled, mix in the parsely (it will cook if you add it when everything is still hot) and adjust the salt and pepper. If you need more dressing, add some olive oil.

Posted by: YourBoy | July 2, 2009 3:45 PM

I grew up on an Aroostook County, Maine potato farm in the early 50's. We grew Kennebec potatoes that were more waxy than russets, but I've found they work for this, too. This was my mother's favorite. We made it year-round.

Boiled Potatoes - mashed
3-4 hard boiled eggs - mashed and mixed with the potatoes.
Finely chopped raw onion
Kraft Miracle Whip Salad Dressing
Salt and ground white pepper
1 hard boiled egg - thinly sliced

Mix amounts that meet your taste expectations and make the mashed potatoes-eggs-onions moist.

Fill a bowl with the potato-egg-onion-dressing mixture. Top with the egg slices and sprinkle with paprika or cayenne pepper for color. Add a couple small sprigs of parsley for more color.

Posted by: DavidCurrier1 | July 2, 2009 3:45 PM

Miracle Whip = yuk!

Posted by: princeleo | July 2, 2009 4:24 PM

@princeleo: there's a special level of Hell reserved for whoever came up with that midwestern abomination -- tuna/chicken + Miracle Whip + pickle relish + white bread

Posted by: wdrudman | July 2, 2009 4:35 PM

Red potatoes are a must for potato salad. Throw in Miracle Whip or Hellman's (depends on my guest list), yellow (not Dijon) mustard, sweet gherkin pickles, yellow (not red) onions, celery hearts, a bit of Accent and finally cayenne pepper.

I have a girlfriend who doesn't like potato salad, but loves mine and whenever she comes over she wants to know if I am making my famous potato salad.

Posted by: gladiatorgal | July 2, 2009 4:39 PM

kids like me dont like yucky celery pieces either so mom puts the celery in the blender with water and whishes it up and then strains the water out and then adds what used to be celery to the potato salad.

Posted by: inletjoe | July 2, 2009 4:39 PM

Here's my favorite potato salad recipe. It's from Southern Living magazine.

Roasted New Potato Salad

If you like your potatoes crispier, bake about 10 minutes longer, stirring once. Don't forget to schedule the extra time when planning your meal.

Makes 4 to 6 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds small red potatoes, diced
1/2 medium-size sweet onion, chopped
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
8 to 10 cooked crisp bacon slices, crumbled
1 bunch green onions, chopped
3/4 cup prepared Ranch dressing
Salt and pepper to taste
Place oil in a 15- x 10-inch jellyroll pan; add potatoes and the next 4 ingredients, tossing to coat. Arrange potato mixture in a single layer.

Bake at 425° for 30 to 35 minutes or until potatoes are tender, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a large bowl.

Toss together potatoes, bacon, green onions, and dressing. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately or cover and chill until ready to serve.

Posted by: Tarrazu | July 2, 2009 4:47 PM

I'll be the second to say that the key is vinegar and salt on the potatoes while they are still hot. Everything else is secondary.

Posted by: edbyronadams | July 2, 2009 5:24 PM

For years I've made variations on an old Sunset Magazine recipe from the 1960's (not mayo-free). As I recall, it's:

Potatoes (couple of pounds, peeled, boiled, cut into 1-inch chunks)
Couple of hard-boiled eggs, sliced
Celery, sliced
Onion (not red), sliced
Green pimiento-stuffed olives (couple of ounces, sliced)
Pickle relish (couple of tbsp)

Mix together and pour over salad:
Mayo (about 1/4 cup)
Mustard (yellow, several tbsp)
Red wine vinegar (ditto)
Bit o' paprika
Salt/pepper to taste

I rarely have leftovers. I think it's the olives.

Posted by: PLozar | July 2, 2009 5:43 PM

I like mayo (as long as it's Hellman's, if not - no thanks), but some family members don't, so I don't use it in either the potato salad or the coleslaw. And absolutely no eggs!

As for the salad itself -

Redskin potatoes, boiled and cubed, and tossed with a little fresh lemon juice while still warm
chopped sweet onion
16-ounce container of sour cream
a tablespoon of horseradish
fresh dill
Old Bay

Posted by: belladonna0425 | July 2, 2009 7:08 PM

My Mom's Mayo potato salad...

5 lbs yukon gold taters peeled, cubed, boiled in salted water
Mayo to moisten...not overpower
mustard to give it just a yellow tinge
Sweet pickle relish
celery diced small
yellow onion diced small
eggs diced small
1 package good seasons salad dressing mix
salt & pepper to taste

Posted by: dmahon | July 2, 2009 8:10 PM

I found this recipe for cooked salad dressing many years ago and have made this salad to raves in any number of combinations. There are always potatoes, seldom onions, always celery. From there you can add anything that suits you (even adding cooked beets with a bit of the cooking water to make the salad pink!) I like olives, cherry tomatoes, asparagas tips (blanched) in season, hard boiled eggs, radishes, jicama, etc. If this dressing is too assertive, you can tame it with some mayo (1/2 & 1/2).

Cooked Salad Dressing

1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp paprika
2 T flour
4 eggs
1/2 c vinegar
1/2 c water
3 T butter or oil

Blend sugar, salt, mustard, paprika and flour. Add eggs and beat until smooth and well
mixed. Add the vinegar and water and cook over hot water* until mixture is thick
and smooth. Add butter, incorporate well, remove from heat and chill.

* Use a double boiler or a bowl resting on the edges of a saucepan so its bottom doesn't touch the water beneath. Water should only be at a simmer, not a full boil.


Posted by: tresa_mie | July 2, 2009 11:15 PM

A potato salad that I developed for my book, "Backyard Deer Hunting: Converting deer to dinner for pennies per pound," is Dill Deer Potato Salad. For this recipe cook about a cup full of granulated deer sausage. Use unpeeled red potatoes, crushed sweet pickles, boiled eggs and about a quarter teaspoon of dill weed. Both the dill and the caroway seeds that I use in my deer sausage give the salad a distinctive flavor and the peppers in the sausage provide a mild amount of heat. I use deer sausage because it is as nearly fat free as meat can get because I do not add fat to the mix. Employ only just enough mayonaise to lightly stick the ingredients together. A scoop of this on a bed of lettice with some tomato slices becomes a cold one-meal dish that is ideal for the summer. For more on the book go to my website, hoveysmith.com. or blog hoveysmith.wordpress.com.

Posted by: hoveysmith | July 3, 2009 4:12 AM

I don't like a vinegar based potato salad!

My mother's potato salad was simple but delicious and yes it contains Miracle Whip (yum):

Joan's Potato Salad

2 pounds Red skin potatoes, boiled until just cooked through and firm, cooled and and peeled
2 boiled eggs chopped
1/2 chopped green onion (2-3 sprigs) (a MUST HAVE)

1/2 to 1 cup Kraft Miracle whip, enough to moisten to taste.
Season with salt, black pepper, a little celery salt. Sprinkle salad on top liberally with Paprika.

Refridgerate several hours for flavor to develop.

Posted by: MsLady58 | July 4, 2009 2:19 PM

I agree with all the thumbs down regarding Miricle Whip. Yuk. But I must tell all the Hellmans loyalists that Krogers Real Mayo tastes (to me) exactly the same at much less cost. I bet it's made by Hellmans

Posted by: buckrock | July 4, 2009 6:25 PM

Here is my favorite, non mayo, potato salad:



Posted by: groover016 | July 5, 2009 2:31 PM

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