Potato salad is essential to just about any summer blowout. When done right (i.e., not slathered in gloopy mayo), it's one of the most satisfying side dishes around, playing well with almost anything grilled or chilled.
In order to make the ultimate potato salad, we experimented with a variety of potatoes and techniques. Here are the most important things to keep in mind:
Wax on; wax off: When making potato salad, use a waxy variety, such as red bliss, fingerling or Yukon Golds, which will keep their shape while cooking.
The slice is right: Cut your potatoes into uniform pieces, so they cook evenly—the last thing you want is a hunk of undercooked potato here and a bite of starchy mush there.
Season liberally: Cover the evenly sliced potatoes in cold water, bring the pot to a simmer and then add the salt, so it dissolves and enhances the natural flavor of the potatoes from the inside out.
The basic potato salad recipe is as follows: Cut two pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes into half-inch pieces. Place the potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Season aggressively with salt and simmer until just tender, 18 to 20 minutes. Remove the potatoes using a slotted spoon and season again with salt while they're still warm.
Got that? Great. Now mix it up with one of these five variations on the summer classic.
2 lb cooked potatoes + 1 tbsp olive oil + 1 tbsp lemon juice + 2 c cucumber slices (from 1 Persian cucumber) + 1½ c thinly sliced red onion (from ½ small onion) + 2 c sliced fennel (from 1 fennel bulb) + 2 tbsp fennel fronds + 1½ c crumbled feta cheese + ¼ c chopped fresh oregano
In a large bowl, gently fold together the potatoes, cucumbers, red onion, fennel and fennel fronds. Add the olive oil and lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper. Add the feta and the oregano, gently mix and adjust the seasoning as necessary.
2 lb cooked potatoes + ½ c mayo + 1½ tbsp red wine vinegar + 2 tbsp Dijon mustard + 6 dashes Tabasco sauce + 2 dashes Worcestershire sauce + 6 hard-boiled eggs (cut into ½-inch slices) + ¼ c chopped chives + ¼ c, plus 2 tbsp, thinly sliced scallions + ¾ c diced celery + ½ c loosely packed celery heart leaves
In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, mayo, and red wine vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Gently fold in the remaining ingredients and adjust the seasoning as necessary.
2 lb cooked potatoes + ¼ c bacon fat + 2 tbsp cider vinegar + ½ lb bacon, cooked and cut into ¼-inch pieces (reserve bacon fat after cooking) + ¼ c chopped parsley leaves, loosely packed + ¼ c chopped dill fronds, loosely packed + 2 tbsp finely minced shallot + 2½ tbsp whole-grain mustard
Preheat the oven to 400°. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and cook the bacon for 15 to 18 minutes. Reserve the rendered bacon fat. Cut the bacon into small strips and set aside. In a large bowl, gently toss the potatoes, bacon fat and cider vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Gently fold in the reserved bacon and remaining ingredients, and adjust the seasoning as necessary.
2 lb cooked potatoes + ¼ c, plus 1 tbsp, olive oil + 2 tbsp lemon juice + 2 med yellow onions, cut into ½-inch thick rings + 1 bunch Swiss chard leaves, destemmed + 2 tsp smoked paprika + ¼ cup, plus 2 tbsp, toasted sunflower seeds + ½ c loosely packed chopped cilantro
Set a grill pan over high heat and wait 5- to 10 minutes for the pan to get very hot. Dress the onion very lightly with 1 tbsp olive oil and grill 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Remove the onion from the grill pan and roughly chop. Season the onions with salt and pepper, and set aside. Toss the Swiss chard leaves in 1 tbsp of olive oil and grill until beginning to wilt and slightly charred, about 1 minute. Remove the chard, finely chop, season with salt and pepper and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, add the potatoes, remaining olive oil and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Add the onions, chard, paprika, sunflower seeds and cilantro, and gently fold together all the ingredients. Adjust seasoning as necessary.
2 lb cooked potatoes + ¼ c olive oil + 2 tbsp ras el hanout + ½ c yogurt + 2 tbsp + 2 tsp sherry vinegar + 1 c loosely packed chopped mint +1 tsp lemon zest (zest of one lemon) + 2 tsp orange zest (zest of one orange) + 1 c chopped dry cured black olives
Set a small skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil and the ras el hanout. Cook until fragrant and set aside. In a large bowl, combine the potatoes and the ras el hanout-infused olive oil. Add the yogurt, sherry vinegar and season with salt and pepper and toss. Add the mint, lemon zest, orange zest and black olives. Gently combine and adjust the seasoning as necessary.
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