Now that you’re armed with a solid burger, let’s add to your Sunday Barbecue repertoire with an all-American accompaniment: good old potato salad. Potato Salad is one of those side dishes that tends to illicit shrugs of indifference. I blame this on factory-made potato salad, scooped straight from the bucket at far too many a picnic and party. Some despise it, some like it, few love it, but let’s face it– it’s plate filler. Scratch-made potato salad on the other hand, with fresh herbs, the right seasonings, and some tender loving care, is a different animal altogether.
Last summer, I planted a patch of chives at the Ranchito with my Aunt Pammy. We planted four bunches of chive starts in a diamond pattern, in the bed located directly out my kitchen door. It’s a sizable plot, and I’ve been slowly adding perennial flowers (like echinacea, columbine, and Oriental poppies), interspersed with perennial herbs like thyme and sage– so handy for my kitchen shears when inspiration strikes. This spring, the chives especially, returned in vibrant green onion glory.
I wanted to celebrate our chives, and aside from sprinkling them on just about everything (from scrambled eggs to salmon salad), began dreaming of pairing them with their greatest companion: potatoes. What I set out to create was a classic potato salad, with all the nostalgia of American childhood memories, yet elevated and adorned with these verdant jewels from my garden.
Chives are a great addition to your landscaping. They come back year after year, require almost no maintenance, burst into beautiful lavender blooms, and provide you with their delicate onion flavor all summer long. The flowers, when fresh and tender, are as good to eat as the chives themselves, adding the same sweet, soft, onion flavor as their slender stalks. I sprinkled them generously atop the potato salad, and served them as part of a Sunday Dinner to celebrate Noah’s half birthday with his favorite meal: fried chicken. Along with the potato salad, a chopped vegetable salad, and key lime pie, we brought in Noah’s 34-and-a-half in delicious fanfare.
Perfect potato salad depends, in large part, on perfectly cooked potatoes. They should be soft and tender without being mushy, and infused with all the tart, sweet, creaminess of the dressing you cloak them in. Follow these tips and you’ll be on the road to potato salad bliss:
TIPS FOR PERFECT POTATO SALAD
- Use a waxy potato variety. Waxy potatoes like red skins hold up best in potato salad and tend to have the right degree of absorbency over starchy potatoes like Russets, which can be overly absorbent and fall apart once cooked.
- Boil the potatoes whole, with the skin on. Leaving the skins on prevents the potatoes from absorbing water, which in turn allows them to absorb more flavor from the dressing. It also prevents them from absorbing any flavor from the cooking liquid with their skins on, so don’t bother salting or otherwise seasoning the water.
- Start the potatoes in plenty of cool water. This is a good trick to know whether you’re making potato salad, mashed potatoes, or simple boiled potatoes. Placing potatoes in water that’s already boiling cooks the outside of the potato before the inside. The result is a mushy exterior and undercooked interior. Starting the potatoes in cool water ensures even cooking. Also, be sure you have a large enough pot to really cover the potatoes. To ensure even cooking they need to be evenly submerged, and you should be able to stir them during cooking.
- Achieve the proper degree of doneness. Boil potatoes until tender when pierced with a paring knife. They should give little to no resistance to the blade. Degree of doneness is important here, as undercooked potatoes have an undesirable crunch, and overcooked potatoes fall apart. Check the potatoes often during cooking, starting with the smallest potatoes first. Use tongs to remove from cooking water individually, as they reach the perfect point of tenderness.
- Cut when cool enough to handle. Potatoes absorb more flavor when warm, but there’s no need to scorch your fingertips. Cutting them while still warm will help them absorb flavor, as will making the potato salad a day in advance, allowing the flavors mingle and infuse.
- To peel or not to peel? I’ve found that by the time the potatoes are tender, the skins have split and are loose. Red skinned potatoes look especially pretty in an “unpeeled” potato salad, but those loose skins can be tricky to cut. If you would like to include the skins (or some of the skins) in your potato salad, use a serrated knife to cut the potatoes. Otherwise you can easily slip the skins from the potatoes with your fingers.
Tips compiled with help from “The Best Recipe” by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated.
Recipe : Chive Potato Salad
This classically-inspired potato salad is best if made one day in advance.
- 3 pounds red potatoes, washed and scrubbed
- 3/4 cup lite mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup plain yogurt
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh chives
- 2 teaspoon white wine vinegar
- 1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 cup chopped bread and butter pickles, plus 1 teaspoon juice
- 2 celery ribs, diced small
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 2/3 cup diced sweet onion (like Vidalia or Walla Walla)
- 2 tablespoons fresh chive flowers, for garnish (optional, or substitute freshly minced chives)
1. Place whole, unpeeled potatoes in a large pot and cover with cool water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until skins are beginning to split, and potatoes pierce easily with a paring knife, about 25 to 35 minutes (for medium red potatoes). Drain and set aside to cool.
2. In a large mixing bowl combine remaining ingredients and set aside.
3. Peel the skins from potatoes and discard (they should slip away easily). Alternately, leave the skins on, using a serrated knife to cut the potatoes. Chop potatoes as desired and add to remaining ingredients. Toss to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings. If possible, refrigerate overnight so flavors can marry.