How often do you make potato salad just for yourself?  There’s something about the “picnic” aspect of potato salad that makes me want to make it in huge quantities —  perhaps an underlying desire to use up all the potatoes I bought because I might forget the leftovers until they take on a life of their own.  I ALWAYS make too much.  At Book Club this week, everybody was delighted when potato salad appeared at the pot luck pre-summer celebration, but I noticed no one actually consumed more than about half a cup.  So from the single-serving point of view, why would you go to “all that trouble” for half a cup of potato salad?  I think I can offer an easy way.

There are a couple of things about potato salad that I should get out of the way right from the get-go.  If you like your potato salad to have a nice, relatively firm texture, with recognizable pieces of potato in it, you need to buy a “waxy” potato.  What’s that you say?  Well, there are two kinds of potato, “waxy” and “starchy”.  Waxy potatoes have thin skins (whether red or yellow), lots of water in them, and hold their shape when cooked to the point of tenderness.  They are often called “new potatoes”.  If you mash them, they usually turn to glue, so don’t mash them.  Those “little potatoes” are waxy.

Starchy potatoes, on the other hand, like your baker potato (which is usually a Russet), are drier, have rougher, thicker skins, and break down more when boiled, making them perfect for baked or mashed potatoes.  If you like your potato salad to be softer, with some of the potato almost mashed, use a starchy potato.

Yukon Gold potatoes are somewhere in the middle — they make nice mash, but they don’t fall apart.  As switch-hitters, they work nicely in potato salad, and you know how much I love a multi-tasker.

Which potato is the right potato?  Do you remember my rules — NO RULES!  The potato you choose will determine the texture you get, so choose wisely and you’ll never be disappointed.

Do you like your potato salad runny, creamy, or dry?  Don’t laugh — people DO have firmly held preferences. Potato salad is not a “health food”, but it can be in the “eat less often” or “eat more often” column depending on how you dress it, and how much you choose for a portion. Do you like it eggy?  Would you prefer more veggies in there for a bit of crunch?  Pickles or no?  The choices are limitless, but a basic recipe is a good start.  Here’s what I do.

Potato Salad

This makes enough for 1 big dinner, or 2 light lunches or side servings

  • 3 – 4 of those “little potatoes” or one yellow or red-skinned waxy potato or baker potato, about the size of a small apple
  • 2 Tbsp Vinaigrette (recipe here, or you can use bottled dressing in any flavor you love: Italian, Sundried Tomato…)
  • 2 Tbsp Greek Yogurt (or mayonnaise, or a combination)
  • Some kind of onion flavor — chives, shallot, green onions, red onion, even dried onion/garlic/herb seasoning or a little onion powder (not onion salt — throw that away, and add your own salt)
  • 1 hard boiled egg (optional)
  • Additional protein of choice (like ham or smoked chicken or salami) (optional)
  • Finely diced vegetables of choice (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

1. Dice the potato(es) into bite-size pieces.

2. In a small saucepan, cover the potatoes with cold water, and add a teaspoon of salt.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until tender, about 15 minutes, depending on the size of the cubes.

3. Drain the potatoes, and return them to the still-warm pot.

4. Add the vinaigrette.  Toss or stir the potatoes to make sure they all get their share.  Why are you doing this?  The vinegar and spices in the vinaigrette will season the potatoes in a most delicious way, and the oil carries flavor to your tastebuds.  You could stop right here and eat your potatoes right out of the pot while they’re still hot.  If you’re going to make potato salad, however, let the potatoes sit for about 10 minutes to absorb the dressing.  Put them in the fridge or freezer (set a timer), and they’ll cool at the same time.

5. Add the yogurt (or sour cream and/or mayonnaise) and whatever onion variant you choose, and stir to combine.  If you want that nice, runny potato salad, add pickle juice or even cream until you see the texture you want, and don’t forget some dill.  German potato salad?  Make sure you add some bacon, and use sour cream in place of yogurt.

Now you can add your personal touches.  I like to grate in a hard-boiled egg.  I’m not a lover of pickle in my potato salad, but lots of folks are, so here’s where you would put in a spoonful of relish or chopped pickle.  Radishes are lovely in potato salad, and celery is almost required. Grated carrot lends color and a nice sweetness.  Bell peppers may be to your taste.  I tend to avoid adding anything that brings a lot of moisture, like cucumber, but suit yourself. If you’re fond of a Salade Niçoise, add some tuna, black olives, green beans and a couple of grape tomatoes.   If you’re going to add some dark greens, like arugula or (shudder) kale, give them a good chop before you add them in.  (Now that I think of it, you could make a perfectly acceptable potato salad with freshly boiled potatoes and leftover spinach dip — I must try that

My favorite, with ham and egg

German-ish, with sour cream, dill pickle and green onion

Once you’ve added all your personal choices, stir it up and give it a little taste.  It will benefit from pepper for sure, which could be in the form of a shot of hot sauce.  Salt is up to you, but if it’s a little bland, chances are it needs a sprinkle.

With the addition of an egg, this is almost a meal in a bowl.  I really like to add crumbled cooked bacon, or chopped ham, and now that I have a smoker (thanks, boys) I can add in some smoked chicken or trout to flesh out the dish (yes, that was a pun).  I once made a memorable pot-luck dish with bacon AND cheese, mayonnaise AND sour cream … but that’s a story for another time.