As the weekend approaches with July 4th on the horizon, I have been thinking about summer picnics and, of course, Potato Salad!
For me potato salad is not only iconic as an American picnic food — it is by far my favorite mayo-based side dish.
Now I know that everyone claims their family potato salad recipe is the best, but my Dad’s potato salad really was amazing. What made it so “amazing?” I think it comes down to a simple combination of quality ingredients, in the right proportion, with the right blend of flavor, color and texture.
When it came to cooking, Dad tended to lean toward the uncomplicated. Most the recipes and techniques I learned from him were simple, tried and true, versions of the dishes many people over think or over embellish. Take potato salad for example, Dad allowed the potatoes to be the star by only adding hints of other vegetables and not a lot of spices or other flavors.
So, let’s talk a little about ingredients:
First, you need good potatoes. Most salad recipes will call for a thin skinned, waxy potato such as New Potatoes, Red Bliss or Yellow Finn. However, Dad used the starchy, thick skinned Russet potatoes at Lista’s. (Primarily because that’s what was on hand since we had cases of them for baked potatoes.) At home we most likely used all purpose potatoes like Yukon Gold. While it’s true that waxy potatoes hold their shape better when cutting and boiling — the secret to great potato salad is to cook the potatoes whole with the skin on. And choose potatoes that are all about the same size so they cook evenly. Cook the potatoes in salted water until just tender – make sure they are tender since crunchy potatoes are a big no-no in potato salad. Make sure you allow the potatoes to cool thoroughly before mixing the salad to avoid breaking down the mayo.
Second, you need real mayonnaise (think Hellman’s). Years ago mayo was much better than today. It was heavier (thicker or more viscous) and contained fewer ingredients (oil, eggs, vinegar, lemon, salt, spices) which gave it a cleaner flavor. While you may choose to use fat free or light mayo for other purposes, stick with the real deal for this salad. (If you must make your own mayo for health reasons try to use a neutral flavor oil rather than olive, coconut or avocado for this recipe.)
Finally, you want fresh, mildly flavored vegetables to enhance the taste of the potatoes. Celery should be fresh, crisp and preferably taken from the more tender stalks between the outer stalks and the heart. Onions should be a sweet summer variety like Vidalia. (Note: Onions should be cut with a very sharp knife to avoid releasing the more pungent flavor that comes from the cells being crushed by a dull blade.) You’ll want a nice medium sized carrot that doesn’t have a woody inner core. And although we used dry parsley flakes at the restaurant — you will want to use some well washed fresh flat leaf parsley. Okay, now for the recipe.
Vinnie Lista’s Amazing Potato Salad
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 30-45 minutes
Yield: 8-12 servings
5 lbs Whole Russet Potatoes – well scrubbed and rinsed
5 large Eggs – hard boiled & chopped
2 1/2 cups Good Quality Mayonnaise (such as Hellman’s)
1 cup Finely chopped Celery (about 3-4 stalks)
1/2 cup Finely chopped Vidalia Onion
1 medium Carrot – shredded with a box grater
2 TBSP Fresh Flat Leaf Parsley – chopped
1 tsp Salt (or to taste)
1/2 tsp Ground Black Pepper
Ground Paprika – for garnish
1. In a large pot add potatoes and cold water to cover – add 2 TBSP salt. Bring to a full boil, turn heat to med-low and simmer until just tender but not mushy — a paring knife should pierce the center easily (about 20-40 minutes). Be sure to test the potatoes a few times toward the end so they don’t overcook. Carefully drain potatoes and place on a tray to cool completely. When cool, scrape off the skins with a knife (you should remove very little flesh) — remove any “eyes” or dark spots. Cut the potatoes into 1″ chunks and place in a large mixing bowl.
2. Place the eggs in a small pan with a lid, cover with cold water, add 1 tsp salt, and bring to a full boil over high heat. Once boiling turn off heat, cover pan and set a timer for 12 minutes. After 12 minutes, drain the eggs and rinse with cold water until cool enough to handle. Peel and chop eggs — add to potatoes.
3. Chop celery, onions, and parsley; and shred the carrot on the large holes of a box grater — add all vegetables to potatoes.
4. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper and gently toss together to combine.
5. Add the mayonnaise all at once and fold into the potato mixture until completely coated (add a bit more mayo if needed). Taste and adjust salt if needed.
6. Transfer the finished salad to a serving bowl and garnish with paprika. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
And there you have it… Vinnie Lista’s Amazing Potato Salad. I really hope you like this potato salad as much as I do and I hope you make it for your next picnic or summer get together.
I titled this post “One Potato, Two Potato” because I also want to share a new favorite potato salad that I created for a catering job recently. I needed a menu that was vegan, gluten and dairy free — so I decided to make a Roasted Potato & Grilled Vegetable Salad dressed with a simple olive oil vinaigrette. Give this one a try next time you are using your gas grill.
Roasted Potato & Grilled Vegetable Salad
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Yield: 6-8 servings
2 lbs Tiny Whole Potatoes (white, yellow or red)
1 lb Fresh Asparagus (try to get the thicker stalks) — trimmed of woody ends
2 large Red Bell Peppers — seeded and cut into thirds
2 large Vidalia Onions — peeled, ends trimmed flat, cut in half cross ways
2 TBSP Flat Leaf Parsley — Chopped
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil — plus more for preparations
2 TBSP Raw Apple Cider Vinegar (like Bragg’s)
1 TBSP Mild Dijon Mustard
1 TBSP Wildflower Honey
1 tsp Sea Salt
1/2 tsp Fresh Ground Black Pepper
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
2. Place well washed and dried tiny potatoes in a large bowl and toss with a little olive oil and sea salt. Put on a foil lined rimmed baking sheet and place in preheated oven. Roast until lightly browned, starting to wrinkle, and fork tender — about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool to room temperature.
3. Preheat gas grill on high heat — clean and oil grate
4. Grill prepared vegetables over high heat until charred in spots and beginning to soften. Remove to a platter to cool.
6. In a large mixing bowl whisk together the olive oil, cider vinegar, Dijon mustard, honey, salt and pepper. Add in room temperature potatoes and parsley and toss together.
7. Cut the cooled asparagus into thirds cross ways, cut peppers and onions into 1″ pieces and add all to the potatoes. Toss together until thoroughly combined and coated with the vinaigrette. Taste and adjust seasoning as need.
8. Pour potato salad into a serving dish and serve at room temperature (or chill in refrigerator before serving).
There you have it. Two Potato Salad recipes that will work great with your picnic menu.
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Have a great weekend and Fourth of July… and remember, “The sauce makes the difference!”