The main elements of classic potato salad—potatoes, mayonnaise, and seasoning—are about as basic as they come, so it’s tempting to adopt a devil-may-care attitude, tossing boiled potatoes with a dollop of this and a squirt of that. But I can always tell when potato salad has been improvised, because the flavor is out of whack: too sweet or acidic, underseasoned or overseasoned.
Our All-Time Favorite Potato Salad
Here, then, are the simple keys to our recipe for All-American Russet Potato Salad, a test kitchen favorite in which we’ve figured out all of the details for you.
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What Type of Potato Is Best for Potato Salad?
Recipe writers and home cooks are divided on which potatoes are best for salad. Many insist on waxy Red Bliss, which hold their shape well during cooking. Some like golden-fleshed, moderately starch Yukon Golds, while a minority maintain a preference for starchy russets.
While developing other potato salad recipes, we determined that seasoning the spuds with acid while they’re hot maximizes flavor. After splashing all three types of potatoes with white vinegar just after boiling, we found that the russets, being the driest, sponged up the vinegar and tasted great, whereas the Red Bliss and Yukons were still mild.
The russets’ capacity to soak up vinegar makes them our spud of choice for our All-American Russet Potato Salad, as it allows their flavor to shine through the mayonnaise. Yes, they do crumble a bit when mixed, but we find this quality charming, not alarming.
How Long to Boil Potatoes for Potato Salad
For our All-American Russet Potato Salad, we want the potatoes to be tender but not mushy. We cut them ¾-inch cubes, place them in a large saucepan, add water to cover by 1 inch, and bring them to a boil. We then boil them about 8 minutes.
How to Make All-American Russet Potato Salad
In addition to mixing the cooled, vinegary potatoes with mayonnaise, we think a little crunch is a must, and celery fits the bill. Among alliums, we recommend red onion for its bright color and taste.
We also think pickles are mandatory. Different types have their devotees, but we settled on sweet pickle relish since it requires no preparation and gives the salad a subtle sweetness.
Dry mustard powder, ground black pepper, and chopped fresh parsley add pungency and freshness.
Finally, potato salad made without celery seed tastes hollow in comparison to one that includes it. The seed of a type of wild celery known as smallage, celery seed doesn’t merely add strong celery flavor, but it also provides underlying complexity.
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Boiled Eggs for Potato Salad
Hard-boiled eggs are controversial in potato salad, considered obligatory by some and a mistake by others, so we leave the choice to the cook. If you do choose to include them, we recommend our revolutionary steaming technique, which makes the eggs super-easy to peel.
Boiled eggs that start in cold water are hard to peel because the proteins in the egg white set slowly, which gives them time to fuse to the surrounding membrane. When you try to remove the shell, parts of the white cling to the membrane.
We place cold eggs directly into hot steam, which rapidly denatures the outermost egg white proteins, causing them to form a solid gel that shrinks and pulls away from the membrane. The shell slips off easily to reveal smooth, unblemished hard-cooked eggs.
Click here for our full recipe for Easy-Peel Hard-Boiled Eggs.
How Long Does Potato Salad Last?
The answer depends on what style of potato salad you’re making. In the case of our All-American Russet Potato Salad, since russet potatoes are so absorbent, they will continue to soak up mayonnaise as the salad sits in the refrigerator. For this reason, we don’t recommend making it more than a day in advance. If you feel that the salad is a little dry for your liking, add up to 2 tablespoons more mayonnaise.
Get ready for your next barbecue, picnic, or potluck: Click here for the full recipe for our All-American Russet Potato Salad.