Potato Salad is the most popular side dish of choice to serve at cookouts. This phenomenon is partly due to the versatility of the humble spud. The sheer volume of recipes for potato salad nearly equals the number of people who prepare them. Of course, there are a few things to know before making one. Potato salads can contain ingredients that can spoil; remember that food safety is important. You also need to start with the right type of potato.
COLD VS HOT:
A potato salad is a combination of potatoes, salad dressing or mayonnaise, vegetables like onions and celery, seasonings, and sometimes eggs. Because salad dressings and mayonnaise can spoil quickly, potato salads need to be kept cool from the beginning of preparation. There are varieties of potato salads prepared and served hot, but those creamy potato salads served cold must remain cold at all times. This includes letting the potatoes cool down significantly after you have boiled them. Doing so will maintain a cooled environment from the onset of preparation. See the boiling section for how to cool off your boiled potatoes.
Hot potato salads are usually dressed in lemon juice, or vinegar. Seldom do they contain mayonnaise. The boiled potatoes are drained, tossed in a warm dressing, and served with item like cooked bacon bits or capers.
THE RIGHT POTATO:
While a potato salad seems like a simple dish, you can improve your salads by choosing the right potato. The traditional potato is, of course, the russet or Idaho potato. This is the potato stocked in large piles or come in big bags at the grocery store. While this is an excellent potato for baking and French fry making, it is not necessarily the right choice for potato salads. I recommend using high moisture, waxy potatoes like the red potato, Yellow Finn or Yukon Gold. I prefer the Yukon gold because they have a superior texture and lend themselves well to dressing.
When boiling potatoes, make sure to get them to the perfect point of tenderness, and then get them right out of the hot water. Potatoes can be boiled whole or cut into smaller pieces. The boiling time reduces with smaller pieces. It’s best to add salt to the water before you add the potatoes. When the potatoes are tender enough to bite through, and before it becomes mushy, remove them from the water. At this point, you want to cool them off. Ice baths work wonders. Fill a large bowl with cold water and ice, and after you’ve drained the cooled potatoes, submerge them in the ice bath for 15 to 20 minutes. This will halt the cooking process and cool down the core temperature. Once cooled off, drain again and gently blot dry with paper towels. After this, mix your potato pieces with your cold dressing of choice.
For hot salads, drain the potatoes, gently blot dry and add your warm dressing. Toss together in a large bowl and serve immediately.
What can you put in a potato salad? Salad dressings or mayonnaise are typical, but the seasonings are entirely your choice. Try diced vegetables like onions, celery, diced pickles, or diced jalapenos. Fresh herbs like dill and flavorful mustards like Dijon are also good additions. Always keep in mind that a potato salad is a truly personal dish. Experiment, get creative and make it your masterpiece.
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