Thursday, July 12, 2012

Classic Potato Salad

Plate of Potato Salad on Red Leaf Lettuce
Classic Classic: Served on Lettuce Leaf

Recipe by Mom

In most parts of the US, it’s rare to have a summer party without potato salad. Finding two or three varieties at a potluck isn’t unusual. Everyone seems to have a favorite recipe, and mine comes from my mom. She started training me in potato salad prep at age 10, not a bad tradition.

Demo of How to Peel and Slice Potatoes
Mom's Take on Potato Prep
Mom’s potato salad was largely put together “to taste,” and I encourage you to use this method and adjust her recipe as you like. (Her recipe, which my sister Chris gave me in The Cooking Decade, lists no quantities.) My mom’s salad contains lots of eggs, cut into rather large chunks, enough finely-cut celery and bell pepper to provide crunch, a little onion, and carrot curls. As a kid I was partial to the carrot curls, and even now I add twice the amount that my mom did. Scale it back to the ½ cup if you like.

My mom used either red onion or scallions in the salad. I tried a bit of shallot in my latest version. Just like in coleslaw, onions in potato salad will get very strong if there are leftovers. So if you anticipate leftovers, you can add onions just to the portion that you’ll eat right away.

Cutting Board with Carrot, Chives, Celery, Onion, Bell Pepper
Veggie Additions to the Potatoes
The favorite potatoes for salad these days are Yukon Golds (which I used) and small red potatoes. Any slightly waxy variety will hold its shape and not be too grainy. Back in Mom’s heyday, only russets were available, and they will still work in a pinch, if not too old or overcooked.

Mom used a very specific method to prepare the potatoes, because she disliked salads with big chunks of undercooked potatoes. IMHO, squishy potatoes can be even worse, and Mom’s method of cooking potatoes whole reduces the risk of overcooking. When cooked, the whole unpeeled potatoes are plunged into cold water, which makes the skin easy to remove. Mom instructed me to cut the potatoes into small (½ inch) slices or chunks. Some of the potato crumbles in this process, and when mixed with the mayonnaise makes the salad creamy.

Bowl of Sliced Potatoes with Carrots and Bell Peppers Being Added
Mix in as Many Veggies as You Like
My mom always used Hellmann’s Real Mayonnaise, known as Best Foods on my side of the Mississippi. Its perfect balance of creamy-salty-sweet-vinegary gives Mom’s salad its characteristic flavor. You can substitute other mayos, like the Spectrum Light Eggless Vegan mayo I used this time, but the results will not be quite as spectacular. I used ¾ cup of this vegan mayo, thinned with about 3 tbsp. water, to cut down on calories…but next time will use Real Mayo to acknowledge the summertime indulgence that good potato salad is.

Plate of Potato Salad with Chives in Background
Garnished with Garden-fresh Chives
Classic Potato Salad
serves about 6

2 lb. potatoes (I used Yukon Golds)
4 – 5 hard-cooked eggs, cut into ~1-inch pieces
½ - 1 cup carrot curls
½ cup thinly sliced celery
½ cup finely chopped green bell pepper
2 tbsp. chopped onion, or larger pieces to taste
¾ - 1 cup mayo
Salt and Pepper
Chives for garnish

Prepare the hard cooked eggs, plunge into cold water, peel, and refrigerate till cool.

Scrub the potatoes and cut in half if large. Place in a pot and cover with water. Bring water to boil and salt the water generously. Reduce heat and cook potatoes at a gentle boil until just fork-tender but not squishy, about 9 – 15 minutes, depending on size and type if potato. Don’t overcook! Remember that hot potatoes will continue to cook a little more after they’re drained.

Drain potatoes and plunge into cold water. Spread potatoes out on baking sheet to cool. When cool enough to handle, remove skin (if desired) and cut into small (~ ½ inch) chunks or slices. Put pieces into a bowl, cover, and transfer to refrigerator. To chill faster, stir occasionally.

Chop up and measure (or estimate) carrots, celery, bell pepper, and red onion or scallions. Chop up the chives if you’re using them for garnish.

When eggs are completely cool, cut into largish chunks (~ ¾ - 1 inch).

When potatoes are chilled, stir in carrots, celery, pepper, and onion. Add a bit more of whichever veggies you like if it looks like too many potatoes or you’d like more color. Lightly stir in chopped eggs.

Add mayonnaise to taste. If mayo is very thick and you want to use less, stir in up to 1 tbsp. water per ¼ cup mayo. Add about ¾ cup mayo to salad and stir around. Add ¼ cup more if it doesn’t seem creamy enough.

Stir in salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with chopped chives.


  1. Looks yummy~Great tip to cook the potatoes whole! I always try to make potato salad half as good as my German relatives. I can't even come close. They often use small,thin slices of apples :)

  2. Thanks for the comment...potato salad with thinly sliced apples is such an intriguing idea!