Make a potato salad everyone will love with this handy guide.

By Tiffany Stevens
February 25, 2020
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Potato salad is one of those dishes that you wholeheartedly dive into, or that you reject on sight. If you’re in the South, and not a fan of mayo, you probably hate the ubiquitous potluck dish. Luckily, however, potato salad doesn’t have to be covered in mayonnaise. In fact, it can contain anything you want; the only real defining attributes of a potato salad are potatoes (naturally) and some sort of dressing. The dish comes in a wide array of styles and can be customized to your taste using any type of spices, flavorings, or mix-ins you favor. You can even use an unconventional spud, like sweet potato or taro, to make a delicious potato salad. So if you’re not a fan of mayonnaise-glazed potatoes, or if you’re just wanting to shake it up from your usual recipe, this guide is for you. By exploring potato salads outside the conventional ones you’re used to, you’ll be able to find a side dish that pleases everyone in the family, even the pickiest of eaters.

Photo: Iain Bagwell; Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas 

Step One: Choose Your Potatoes

Obviously, in regards to this dish, the type of potato you intend to pick is among the most important choices you can make. That doesn’t mean you have to stick with the conventional potato salad choices, however. You can, of course, use Yukon Gold or Russet, but there’s also new potatoes, fingerling potatoes, sweet potatoes, red potatoes… Given that there are literally 4,000 known varieties, the list goes on and on. Feel free to shake up your potato choice now and again, just to add some variety to your plate. If you’re not feeling like spending much time/effort on chopping your potatoes, then feel free to go with the smaller, bite-sized varieties for a simple to throw together salad.

Once you’ve decided on a potato variety, you’ll want to go ahead and cook them. You can do this either by cooking them in boiling water for about 25 minutes, or until tender, or by roasting them in the oven for 30 minutes, turning them halfway through cooking.

Photo: Caitlin Bensel; Styling: Blakeslee Giles and Audrey Davis 

Step Two: Choose Your Mix-Ins

 Now that you’ve decided on a potato type, it’s time to figure out what kinds of vegetables, meats, or other mix-ins would work best in your finished dish. This is where you can get particularly creative; any savory ingredient you favor can work well here. You can use a grain or seed, like lentils, quinoa or amaranth, or you can roast green beans, peppers and other vegetables along with your potatoes. Cheese—either shredded cheddar, or fancier varieties like feta, Parmesan, or blue cheese crumbles—can all be used to gussy up what might otherwise be an unremarkable dish. If you’re a big fan of bacon or pancetta, feel free to fry some up and toss it in. Bits of rotisserie chicken could also go fantastically in a potato salad if torn up into bite-sized pieces. And of course, if you’re making a classic potato salad, you may just want to use common add-ins like celery, boiled egg or pickle relish.

When you’re choosing your mix-ins, make sure to consider the textural balance you’re looking to achieve in the final dish. That’ll determine whether you need to cook certain ingredients or not, or whether you want to add certain elements in at the last minute vs. letting them marinate in the dressing for a while. Raw veggies can obviously be leveraged for crunchy contrast to the tender potatoes, while roasted or cooked veggies will generally meld more cohesively with the potatoes.

Photo: Iain Bagwell; Stylist: Cindy Barr

Step Three: Choose Your Dressing

So you’ve got your potatoes and mix-ins all ready to go. Now you just need to finish the dish off. To do that, you’ll want to decide what final, binding flavor(s) you want to use. As mentioned earlier, the classic choices are salt, pepper, mustard, vinegar, a splash of pickle juice, and a heap of mayonnaise (preferably Duke’s). There’s no reason to limit yourself to those ingredients though, especially if someone in your house can’t (or doesn’t) eat dairy or animal products. Vegan mayo, a custom Dijon vinaigrette, or even a simple mixture of olive oil and seasonings can all tie together this potato based dish. If you’re looking for something tangy and creamy without the mayo flavor, sour cream or Greek yogurt might be preferable choices. Pesto could even be used, if you wanted to go for a truly unconventional potato salad, or bacon drippings if you’re looking for a slightly meatier finish. And, if you’re looking for a shortcut that’ll help you skip a custom sauce, feel free to simply pick out a dressing or vinaigrette at the grocery store. As long as it coats the potatoes and mix-ins, and delivers a punch of flavor you enjoy, it can probably be used as a potato salad dressing.

Caitlin Bensel

How to Make a Warm Potato Salad

In the South, most of us are used to eating our potato salad chilled. After all, the dish is rather refreshing, especially on a hot summer day. But if cold potatoes aren’t your thing, then you don’t have to avoid potato salad all together. Instead, try using one of the recipes cited above, which serve the potatoes while they’re still warm from the oven. For the hot potato salad recipe above, which mimics a gratin and traditional salad at the same time, you’ll want to freeze some cheese before you grate it. That’ll make it easier to get uniform shreds that’ll melt in perfectly with the rest of the dish.