In summer’s unofficial produce pageant, Silver Queen corn reigns perennial, while peaches and late-August tomatoes vie for runner-up honors. Pound for pound, though, a non-seasonal starter gets the double win for talent and congeniality: the potato.
Not just any spud will do. Go for the small, less-starchy models that now come in many colors, with skin so tender that no one would think of stripping them bare. They’re the ones that make potato salads the always-welcome-at-a-party side dish.
Seldom do we try a potato salad recipe that disappoints. When it does fall short, odds are good that somebody has over- or undercooked the star ingredient. Texture is key: You’re after a clean, yielding bite, either in counterpoint to the crunch of celery or in concert with ripe avocado.
To achieve that magic consistently, by boiling, start with a wide saute pan instead of a deep pot. Potatoes need only a few inches of salted water to cover but enough room to sit almost in a single layer. (Their skins will stay intact.) Small, whole potatoes about 1 1/2 inches thick take 10 to 15 minutes; allow 25 minutes or so for larger red bliss or gold-fleshed varieties. When the tip of a paring knife can pierce the flesh with minimal resistance, they’re most likely done. But just to be sure, you can pluck the fattest potato from the pan and cut it open.
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Be gentle as you pour them into a colander in the sink, then treat them to an immediate, generous splash of rice or malt vinegar. The hot potatoes will absorb the liquid and become properly seasoned as they cool. The vinegar also helps to set the skins in place.
Sweet potatoes are often roasted for salads, but boiling them peeled and whole works surprisingly well. Choose ones that are evenly thick, less than 2 1/2 inches wide at the center. They’ll cook as fast as their petite pals: two of them can go into a medium saute pan of boiling salted water and be done in 12 minutes.
Choose a mayonnaise-, yogurt- or oil-based dressing with a thought as to how and where you’ll be serving: alfresco, for a hours-long buffet or for a quick weeknight meal. Recipe-wise, you can spend a lunch hour perusing options, and with this story we’ve added a few to our own well-rounded collection.
But once you’ve mastered how to cook potatoes for salads, there’s no need to stick with a written set of directions. Check your farmers market basket, the herbs in your garden, the flavored oils in your pantry and more tips and tricks that follow. A parade of winning dishes awaits.
▪ Sweet potatoes headed for salads are often roasted, but boiling a peeled, whole sweet potato turns out to be a faster way to go: typically, 12 minutes in boiling water. For this technique, it’s best to choose potatoes that are long rather than fat – no more than 2 1/2 inches in diameter at the center.
▪ Save those sweet potato peelings; drizzle them with olive oil and roast for 12 minutes at 400 degrees. Cool and crumble/toss into your favorite potato salad.
▪ Sweet potato chunks bound for the oven or grill basket will hold their seasoning better when they have first been tossed with a minimal amount of olive oil, vinegar, orange juice or even water.
▪ Boil fingerling potatoes whole, cool completely, then use the bottom of a Pyrex glass measuring cup to gently press each potato so it’s just smashed yet holds together.
▪ Potato salads can be composed: Toss 1/4-inch, skin-on sweet potato rounds with olive oil and herb salt before roasting for 20 to 25 minutes at 375 degrees; layer them, tian style, with sliced vegetables and cheeses.
▪ Treat just-boiled potatoes to a generous splash of plain rice vinegar or malt vinegar. As they cool, they’ll soak in extra flavor.
▪ Wondering what to do with that gift bottle of flavored oil in your pantry? Coat potatoes for roasting; sprinkle them with sea salt, too. Cool completely before cutting.
▪ To better preserve their color, cook small purple potatoes whole. Paler slices come from potatoes that were cut in half before boiling.
▪ Potato salad can be as simple as boiled California Golds, pesto, salt and pepper. Cut or slice the cooked spuds.
Smoked Trout, Egg and Potato Salad
Adapted from “What Katie Ate on the Weekend . . .” by Katie Quinn Davies (Viking Studio, 2015).
For the cider mayonnaise:
2 large egg yolks
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/3 to 1/2 cup canola oil
2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
1/4 cup dry cider
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
Freshly ground white pepper
For the salad:
2 or 3 Granny Smith apples
Juice of 1/2 lemon
About 1 pound baby potatoes, such as fingerlings or small whole “gold” potatoes
8 radishes, thinly sliced
4 large eggs
2 large handfuls watercress
14 ounces smoked trout fillet, skinned and flaked
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
1 handful mint leaves (optional)
Make the cider mayonnaise: Combine the egg yolks, lemon juice and a pinch of salt in a food processor; puree for 1 minute, then, with the motor running, gradually add the canola oil until the mixture becomes thickened and glossy (you might not have to use the maximum amount). Add the mustard, cider and cider vinegar. Taste, and season with salt and white pepper; puree just to combine. The yield is about 1 cup; cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Make the salad: Cut the apples (to taste) in half; core them and cut into thin slices, tossing them into a bowl with lemon juice so they don’t turn brown.
Place the potatoes in a large, wide saute pan of salted water; bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium; cook, uncovered, for about 15 minutes, until the potatoes are easily pierced with a sharp knife. Drain and cool.
Place the radish slices in a bowl of ice-cold water. Let them sit for 10 minutes, then drain and pat dry on paper towels.
Fill a separate bowl with ice-cold water. Place the eggs in the empty saucepan and cover with water; bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes. Transfer the eggs to the ice water to cool.
Cut the cooled potatoes into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Peel the cooled eggs and cut each one in half lengthwise.
Drain the apples; combine in a serving bowl with the sliced potatoes, radishes, egg, watercress and smoked trout. Add half of the cider mayonnaise, tossing lightly to coat. Taste, and season with salt and/or black pepper as needed. Add more of the cider mayo as needed.
Drizzle with the olive oil; garnish with the mint, if desired. Serve right away.
Yield: 4 servings.
Per serving: 510 calories, 35 g protein, 34 g carbohydrates, 24 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 260 mg cholesterol, 1,250 mg sodium, 5 g dietary fiber, 10 g sugar
Hot Potato Salad
Adapted from “Ultimate Book of BBQ: The Complete Year Round Guide to Grilling, Smoking and Barbecuing,” from editors of Southern Living with Christopher Prieto (Oxmoor House, 2015).
About 4 pounds russet potatoes
1 pound processed cheese, such as Velveeta, well chilled
1 1/2 cups low-fat mayonnaise (do not use nonfat)
1 cup half-and-half
1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 cup small, pimento-stuffed Spanish olives (about 57)
Freshly ground black pepper
6 thin bacon slices, cut into 2-inch pieces
Scrub the potatoes, then place them in a large pot. Cover with water and add a pinch of salt; bring to a boil over medium-high heat; cover partially and cook for about 25 minutes or until tender. Drain and cool completely.
Peel the potatoes, then cut them into 1-inch cubes. Grate the cheese on the large-holed side of a box grater; the yield is about 4 3/4 cups.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease a broiler-proof 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking oil spray.
Whisk together the mayonnaise and half-and-half in a large mixing bowl, then add the onion, olives, potatoes and cheese, tossing to coat and distribute evenly. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Transfer the mixture to the baking dish, spreading it evenly. Scatter the bacon pieces on top. Bake for 55 to 65 minutes, until bubbling, then transfer to the stove top (off the heat) while you position a rack 4 to 6 inches below the broiler.
Return the baking dish to the oven; broil for about 5 minutes or just until the bacon has crisped.
Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.
Yield: 8 to 10 servings.
Per serving (based on 10): 450 calories, 14 g protein, 45 g carbohydrates, 24 g fat, 10 g saturated fat, 65 mg cholesterol, 1,390 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar
Lemon, Garlic and Chili Potato Salad
Adapted from “Flavors of Summer: Simply Delicious Food to Enjoy on Warm Days,” edited by Kate Eddison (Ryland, Peters and Small, 2015).
2 1/4 pounds small new (unpeeled) potatoes, preferably of similar size
4 to 6 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at a warm room temperature
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Finely grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
2 teaspoons seeded, minced green chili pepper, such as Anaheim, serrano or jalapeno
1 small handful flat-leaf parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
About 20 chive stems, coarsely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
Rinse the potatoes, then place them in a pot. Cover with several inches of water and a good pinch of salt; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes or until the potatoes are easily pierced with a sharp knife.
Meanwhile, whisk together the butter (to taste), garlic, lemon juice and minced chili pepper in a small bowl.
Drain the potatoes; carefully but quickly cut them into quarters, transferring them to a mixing bowl as you work.
Immediately add the butter mixture to the bowl; gently toss the potatoes until they are evenly coated. Let cool.
Sprinkle the lemon zest, parsley and chives evenly over the coated potatoes. Season lightly with salt and pepper; toss gently to distribute. Serve at room temperature.
Yield: 6 servings.
Per serving: 200 calories, 4 g protein, 31 g carbohydrates, 8 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 55 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 2 g sugar