Potato salads make excellent candidates for speedy, four-ingredient dishes. The chilled spud pieces require little more than a tangy or creamy dressing, a contrasting texture and a bit of seasoning to shine. Whether you like the classic chilled salad tart or mild, smoky or sweet, potatoes are a blank canvas for a wide variety of flavors.
The Perfect Potato
The cornerstone of a superior potato salad is, of course, the root vegetable itself. Look for potato varieties known for minimal to moderate starchiness. Heavy-starch potatoes, such as russets, tend to get mushy when they are boiled. Better choices include fingerlings, new potatoes and Yukon Golds. Leave thinner-skinned potatoes unpeeled for extra color, if you wish, or peel them. Cut medium and large potatoes into 2-inch chunks. Extra-tiny types can be left whole. Boiling the potatoes for about 8 minutes is the traditional way to prepare them for cold salads. You might also consider roasting or grilling the pieces.
The Crunch Bunch
Next, consider a foil for the potatoes' mild taste and creamy texture. For flavor and crunch, use an ingredient such as cooked, crumbled bacon. Vegetarian alternatives include a couple of generous spoonfuls of chopped dill pickles, black olives or relish. If you dislike too much of a vinegary taste to your salad, consider chopped fresh celery, sweet red pepper or mild red onions instead.
Dressing It Up
Creamy potato salads rely on a thick binder, such as mayonnaise, Greek yogurt or sour cream. A prepared creamy dressing, such as ranch, is also useful. Use about 1/2 cup of a creamy binder for every 1 pound of potatoes in the salad. Alternatively, go with a lighter dressing by using store-bought vinaigrette dressing. You can also use two dressing ingredients in your four-ingredient salad by combining 3 parts olive oil with 1 part of mustard, lemon or vinegar.
The Final Touch
A zippy dressing component such as grainy mustard or peppercorn ranch imparts plenty of flavor. But if you're using a milder ingredient such as mayonnaise for your dressing, season it with a bit of pepper, cayenne, red pepper flakes or celery salt. Fresh herbs also add welcome color, as well as taste. Depending on the rest of your meal, herbs such as chopped parsley, mint, basil, chives, or dill will add flavor notes that enhance the other dishes.
The potatoes should cool completely before you place them in a mixing bowl with the other ingredients in the potato salad. Fold the dressing and other ingredients gently to incorporate into the potatoes, without breaking up the potato flesh. Potato salads taste best when they've chilled in the refrigerator for at least two hours. Just before serving, slip the salad into a clean, brightly colored serving bowl and add extra garnish or a fresh sprinkle of dried seasoning, if you wish.
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