The difference between good food and great food is often the little things. Here, then, are a few little things you can do to take this summer’s potato salads from good to great.
1. Cut the potatoes into same-size pieces.
This insures they’ll all be perfectly cooked at the same time, with no crunchy or too-mushy bites in the bunch.
2. Start the potatoes in cold water.
Dropping potatoes in already-boiling water can mean their outsides are done while the insides are still al dente. Instead, put them in a pot, cover with cold water by about an inch, and place the pot over high heat. The potatoes will come up to a boil slowly and each piece will be perfectly cooked inside and out.
3. Season the water.
Between adding the water and putting the pot on the stovetop, don’t forget this critical step—season the water with salt. Why? Because no matter how much salt you add later, when you toss your cooked potatoes with other ingredients, the potatoes’ insides will still be bland. Cooking them in salted water—just like when you cook pasta—will help make each bite flavorful through and through.
How much salt? Make the water as salty as the ocean, about 1 tablespoon of coarse kosher salt or 1 1/2 teaspoons of table salt per quart.
I know—that’s a lot of salt. But most of it gets poured off with the cooking water. And it really does take that much for enough to get into the potatoes and flavor them.
4. Stir in the dressing while the potatoes are still warm.
Right after you drain the potatoes, while they’re still warm, they’re most able to soak up your potato salad dressing. So add it now—again to help each bite be flavorful through and through.
5. Venture beyond the basics.
If you feel all warm and fuzzy making potato salad with mayonnaise and celery just like mom used to, by all means you should absolutely make it that way. Seriously. One of the biggest benefits of cooking is how it connects us to loved ones and memories and I’d be the last person in the world to suggest missing out on those connections.
If, however, mayonnaise and celery don’t elicit fuzziness, consider getting a little creative. Try adding seasonal veggies or herbs. Try different dressings. Try my Summer Potato Salad with Green Beans, Corn, Lemon, and Olive Oil.
Potato salad isn’t rocket science, and it’s certainly not anything to stress over. But since you’re making the effort, why not make it really pay off?
It could be the difference between good and great.