Potato salad is a potluck favorite for a reason. It’s indulgently creamy, crowd-pleasing, and fairly easy to whip up in the hour before heading off. But maybe that’s why the humble potato salad has become a bit of a humdrum option.
You see, many potato salads fall victim to one of two cooking crimes: underseasoning the spuds or improperly cooking them. Luckily, the Cook’s Country test cooks have made enough potato salads to know that it’s critical to season them both while they’re cooking and immediately after you drain them (before they’re dressed).
Here’s our technique for perfectly seasoned potato salads, every time.
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10 ingredients. 45 minutes. Quick, easy, and fresh weeknight recipes.
In the test kitchen, Ashley Moore found that the first round of seasoning happens before the potatoes even hit the heat. She started the spuds of her Potato Salad in cold, salted water and then brought it up to a gentle simmer to ensure that the potatoes cooked gently and evenly throughout. A high, rolling boil would cook the outsides of the potatoes before the interiors became tender and result in torn-up, rather than tidy, potatoes.
But it was the next step that was crucial: drizzling the cooked, drained, still-hot potatoes with a quick dressing of mustard and salty dill pickle brine. This—you guessed it—is the second phase of seasoning. As the potatoes cool in the refrigerator, they absorb these savory flavors, clinging onto them for dear life and taking your potluck salad to the next level.
Potato SaladWe packed these potato salads with as much flavor as possible by seasoning them in three different stages.
And the flavor doesn’t stop there. Once the potatoes are cool, Ashley has you mix some mayonnaise with celery, red onion, and more pickle brine. Some celery seeds boost that fresh, grassy celery flavor, and some chopped dill pickles and white vinegar add punch. Finally, you season this mixture with salt and pepper before stirring it into the potatoes for the final seasoning step.
Worried About Potato Salad Going Bad?
Though mayonnaise is often blamed for spoiled potato salads, it’s actually rarely the problem. In fact, it’s the potatoes that are more likely to go bad. The bacteria usually responsible for spoiled potato salad are found in soil and dust, and they thrive on starchy foods such as potatoes. No matter what kind of dressing you use, don't leave any potato salad out for more than 2 hours (or 1 hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees), and promptly refrigerate any leftovers in a covered container.
This winning technique ensures the most flavorful potato salad to impress even the most dedicated enthusiasts, but if you’re after a different approach or a few more unexpected potato salad flavors, here are a few of our other favorite recipes.
In our Ranch Potato Salad, we toss hot potatoes with vinegar and Dijon mustard to ensure a deep and flavorful seasoning. In our homemade dressing, the Cook’s Country test cooks improved on bottled ranch by doubling the amount of cilantro and adding fresh garlic and scallions for a welcome bite.
Ranch Potato SaladBottled ranch dressing sounds like a quick way to dress up potato salad, but most versions are dull and bland. We fix that with a homemade dressing and a novel approach for flavoring the spuds.
How about revitalizing the overall texture of your potato salad? In our recipe for Torn Potato Salad, rather than slicing and boiling our potatoes, our test cooks boiled them whole in generously salted water (which gave them skins that “pop” and supercreamy interiors) and then tore them into craggy, irregular pieces.
Tearing the potatoes gave them lots of surface area to absorb a creamy toasted-garlic dressing, and a handful of fresh herbs gave the salad a burst of fresh flavor.
Torn Potato Salad with Toasted Garlic and Herb DressingA fresh approach to a familiar dish.
Finally, if you love the richness of a traditional potato salad, you can amp it up even more in our Oil-Poached Tuna and Potato Salad, which uses flavorful tuna poaching oil as a base for the dressing in this indulgent dish.
This gently oil-poached tuna is fall-apart tender and a perfect mix to the starchy potatoes and fresh frisée to completely reinvent this staple salad.