I’ve done the math (sort of).
In thirty-some years, I’ve made (and eaten) approximately 1000 batches of potato salad. When I see it in black and white like this it’s a little staggering. But I tell myself it’s OK, because I haven’t eaten it all in one sitting.
But what this computation really comes down to is that I have an abundance of experience. I have made, along with that enormous quantity, enough missteps and boo-boos to qualify me as a bona fide expert.
Don’t peel the potatoes before cooking them. This will cause the outside of the spud to toughen up, which will make it almost impervious to herbs, spices, and dressing.
You want them to absorb flavors, but in a limited way. So, in that vein, never dress hot potatoes, or they will absorb everything, and make your salad very dry, and the potatoes will become weird. But…if you want them to absorb some flavor, you can sprinkle on a couple tablespoons of lemon juice or infused vinegar and gently toss them while they’re still warm. Then let them cool all the way before fully dressing.
When cooking the potatoes, always start them in cold water. This will cook them more evenly. Heavily, heavily salt the water—it should be a salty as the ocean. Also, add a couple of tablespoons of vinegar to the water, which will slow the cooking enough so that they won’t go too quickly from fully cooked to full-on mush.
I love to use fresh herbs from my own herb garden. A good rule of thumb for amount is about one teaspoon of each fresh herb per spud. Dry herbs are much more potent than fresh, so if using them, back it down to about a third teaspoon.
I’ve also recently discovered a new procedure that results in the potatoes being coated in the dressing in a most satisfying way. After you peel and cube cooled potatoes, add the chopped onion, herbs, and salt and pepper. Then gently fold everything together with a tablespoon of vegetable oil, with another tablespoon about 10 minutes before serving. This step will completely distribute everything before dressing, and the later one will loosen the salad up so it isn’t like a block of cement when served and eaten.
Fresh herb tater salad
6 medium Yukon gold potatoes, boiled, peeled, and cut into 1-1½ inch cubes
½ small yellow onion, diced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
¾-1 cup mayonnaise
5 slices bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled (optional)
30 minutes before service place potatoes, onions, herbs, salt and pepper into a large bowl. Toss with 1 tablespoon veg oil. Starting with half, fold in mayo, adding more as needed. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. About 10-15 minutes before service, fold in last tablespoon of oil. Right before plating, stir in bacon if using.
This version is very basic, thus can be changed or amended. Add some chopped tomatoes, minced garlic, basil, and smoked mozzarella, and you have an Italian potato salad. Add mustard, hard-cooked eggs, and pickle relish; it then becomes old-fashioned Southern-style. Add some Old Bay to the mayo, and some celery and lobster meat, and you have New England “tatah sahlad”.
So there are a few tips and tricks as well as some recipes for my very favorite dish. Now you only have to make 996 more.
Thanks for your time.