How to make a classic potato salad

07/15/2014 1:15 PM

07/15/2014 3:34 PM

I’ve never met a potato salad that I didn’t like. Use mayo or Greek yogurt, season it with dill or throw in some Kalamata olives and sundried tomatoes – they’re all good.

And since no cookout, picnic or backyard party is complete without a giant bowl of potato salad, there are ample opportunities this summer to try them all.

Today, let’s pare it down to the basics and talk about how to make an easy, classic, all-American potato salad. Serve this just as it is or use the recipe as a jumping-off point for the potato salad of your dreams.

The No. 1 concern when making potato salad is picking and cooking the potatoes. Waxy potatoes are the best choice; they hold their shape after cooking and have a soft, creamy texture. Red-skinned potatoes like Red Bliss are my stand-by for salads. For a slightly softer “mashed” texture in your salad, you can also use any all-purpose potato.

Chop the potatoes and simmer them in water until tender. I usually leave the skins. I like the spots of color they add, plus they’re usually tender. If you’d prefer to peel your potatoes, it’s easiest to boil them whole and then peel and cut them into chunks.

Classically, mayonnaise and mustard are used to bind together those tender chunks, while celery and shallots add crunch. Fresh herbs or diced green onions give the salad fresh flavor. Many traditional recipes also fold in diced hard-cooked eggs; personally, I keep things focused on the potatoes and save the eggs for egg salad. Of course, all these ingredients can be tweaked or toyed with.

If you serve potato salad outdoors, keep it out of sunshine and don’t leave it out for longer than 2 hours. It’s not the mayo that goes bad (commercial mayonnaise is acidic enough to prevent bacteria from growing) but the other ingredients that have been handled. If you introduced bacteria, hot temperatures give it a chance to grow.

Emma Christensen is recipe editor for TheKitchn.com, a website for food and home cooking.

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