How to Make the Best Potato Salad
Potato salad is a summertime picnic classic, and potato salad’s main components—potatoes, mayonnaise, and seasonings—are about as basic as they come. But over the years we’ve gone beyond the basic potato salad recipe, and developed several other potato salad recipes in the test kitchen using different types of potatoes, dressings, and flavorings.
Follow these steps for making the perfect potato salad.
It’s not the mayonnaise you need to worry about—it’s the potatoes.
Though mayonnaise is often blamed for spoiled potato salads it is rarely the problem. In fact, it’s the potatoes that are more likely to go bad. The bacteria usually responsible for spoiled potato salad are found in soil and dust, and they thrive on starchy foods like potatoes. No matter what kind of dressing you use, don't leave any potato salad out for more than two hours (one hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees), and promptly refrigerate any leftovers in a covered container.
Here's the test kitchen's preferred method for boiling potatoes for potato salad.
Most recipes for boiled potatoes call for starting the spuds in cold, liberally salted water so that they will come up to temperature slowly and cook evenly throughout. They then instruct you to bring the potatoes to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer, which ensures that the potatoes cook gently and minimizes the chances of blowouts. In an attempt to shorten the cooking time, we conducted a little experiment: We tried letting water boil before adding the potatoes. In a side-by-side test, we weren't surprised that tasters preferred the potatoes started in cold water for their uniformly creamy texture. And there was another surprising advantage: It took less time for the potatoes to cook through.
Our preferred method for determining when boiled potatoes are fully cooked is to poke them with a paring knife (a fork merely wedges the potatoes open, prompting water absorption). But after cooking dozens of pounds of potatoes for our potato salad recipes, we realized that this technique wasn't quite foolproof—sometimes the potatoes were slightly underdone, marring our potato salad with granular bits. Because our paring knives are so sharp, we mistook the lack of resistance for fully cooked spuds. We found that an even better test was to poke the potato and then try to lift it out of the water. If it clung to the knife even for a second, back into the pot it went.