During the dog days of summer, the picnic basket is a constant companion. Despite the dreaded potential picnic perils, like busy ants, noisy birds, and pop-up thunderstorms, we continue to gravitate to the outdoors to enjoy our summer meals. For some reason, food tastes better when eaten outdoors.
Picnics can be as simple and spontaneous as a baguette, a wedge of cheese, and some fresh peaches. Or, they can become a little more elaborate with crispy fried chicken, baked beans, and a pan of brownies. Undoubtedly, a salad of some sort comes to mind in either scenario. And a potato salad is a natural.
Potato salad is an old-fashioned standard that not only is toted to picnics, but is also found in deli counters and on buffet and potluck tables throughout the year. So, knowing how to make a really good one if useful. You cannot be totally spontaneous with a potato salad – unless, of course, you have the ingredients already conveniently sitting in the refrigerator, and you are content with just a mayonnaise dressing. Flavourful and memorable potato salad requires a little planning, but it will be worth it.
Potato salad also knows no boundaries when it comes to the endless variations that are possible. I tend to be committed to the standard combination of boiled potatoes and eggs, flavoured with onion and dill. Of the two typical potato salad dressings (creamy and vinaigrette), I choose creamy. And it is more than just mayonnaise, as it starts with a cooked dressing base, with a little mayonnaise and sour cream added in. This technique was learned from mom Helena as potato salad was a weekly item during childhood summers – a bumper crop of fresh potatoes, fresh spring onions and dill from the garden …she deliberately cooked extra potatoes and always had a jar of the ‘starter’ dressing in the fridge …very easy to quickly put together a beautiful potato salad.
Tips for making a great Potato Salad:
- Fresh new potatoes, particularly baby potatoes and finglering potatoes, make the best salad. Regardless of their age, they need to be waxy potatoes, like Yukon Gold, or reds. Russet potatoes, or baking potatoes, are too starchy and will not hold up in a salad like this.
- The day before, prepare the cooked potatoes, the boiled eggs, and the ‘starter’ dressing. Tossing the hot cooked potatoes in a mixture of a little oil and salted vinegar (rice vinegar or white wine vinegar) gets the flavour started right from the beginning (also assists with keeping the potatoes from sticking together).
- Chunk-size is an individual thing. My philosophy is that the smaller the chunk, the greater the overall surface area for dressing! I prefer to cut the potatoes into ½ inch cubes.
- Initially, the ‘starter’ dressing may taste a little sweet. This is to be expected. Once it is combined with the other salad ingredients and the herbs, the sweetness is balanced and less pronounced. If you do find it too sweet, you can either cut back a little on the sugar, or add a little more mustard. This dressing will keep in the fridge for about a week.
- The flavour of potato salad will be enhanced by a spending a night in the fridge. If possible, make the salad the day before serving. Because this gives the potatoes a little extra time to absorb the dressing (and the flavour), save a little dressing to be added before serving (or add a little more mayonnaise or sour cream if the salad appears to be too dry).
Prep Time: 20 minutes to assemble
Cooking Time (day before): Dressing – 5 minutes; Potatoes – 20 minutes;
Eggs – 12 minutes
Number of Servings: 8
1 teaspoon (5 mL) cornstarch
3 tablespoons (45 mL) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons (45 mL) white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons (45 mL) water
1 tablespoon (15 mL) Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon (1 mL) Kosher salt or celery salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large egg yolk
¼ cup (60 mL) heavy cream
1 tablespoon (15 mL) sour cream
1 tablespoon (15 mL) mayonnaise
Extra salt and pepper, as needed
(makes about 1 cup of dressing)
2 pounds (1 kilogram) new waxy potatoes, scrubbed, unpeeled
2 tablespoons (30 mL) rice or white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon (5 mL) of salt
1 tablespoon (15 mL) vegetable oil
3-4 large eggs, hard-cooked, shelled, and crumbled/grated
½ cup (125 mL) finely chopped green onions
1 cup (250 mL) fresh celery, fine-dice
¼ cup (60 mL) lightly packed chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons (30 mL) chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
½ cup (125 mL) chopped dill pickle
Kosher salt; freshly ground black pepper
Extra green onions, parsley, and/or dill for garnish
1. Prepare Dressing: In a small saucepan, stir together the cornstarch and sugar; whisk in the white wine vinegar and water. Whisk in mustard, salt, and pepper. Heat, over low heat, until mixture starts to thicken.
2. In a small bowl whisk together the egg and heavy cream. Temper the egg-cream mixture with a tablespoon or two of the hot liquid.
3. Pour the warmed egg-cream mixture into the saucepan and continue to cook, over low heat, until it comes to a gentle simmer – cook for a minute or two. Remove from heat and place in a small bowl. Cover, and refrigerate until cold.
4. When the dressing has cooled, stir in the sour cream and mayonnaise. Adjust the seasonings to taste. Remember that it might taste a little sweet.
5. Prepare the salad ingredients: Cook, or steam, the potatoes until they are fork-tender. Drain in a colander and set aside until cool enough to handle. Scrape off skins off if you wish, and cut them into small chunks.
6. Combine the vinegar, salt, and oil. Toss the warm potato chunks with the vinegar-salt-oil mixture. Refrigerate until ready fully chilled, or until you are ready to assemble the salad.
7. Place potato chunks and the chopped cooked eggs in a large bowl. Add the chopped celery and green onions. Stir to combine.
8. Pour in about half of the prepared dressing. Gently stir to combine, adding more dressing as is necessary. If the salad is not going to be served right away, you may find that you will need to add some more dressing just prior to serving.
9. Add the chopped dill and parsley; Fold in the chopped dill pickle. Add more dressing if necessary.
10. Adjust seasonings to taste.
11. Serve at your next picnic along with a corned beef sandwich and your favourite beverage.