Is there a more ubiquitous summer side than potato salad? But just because it’s always there hardly means it’s the best thing on the table. One of my most cringe-worthy food memories of childhood was played out on repeat at summer gatherings with family, friends and neighbors, and seeing what happened to the potato salad—which, many times, was little more than sticky, cooked potatoes with some hard-boiled eggs and mayonnaise. I know you’ve seen this, too, when it gets a little bit warm and separates into a greasy, gloppy mess with that thin filmy crust on the surface. Is it any wonder everyone passes over it in favor of potato chips? Nothing ruins a picnic faster than bland potato salad, slick with broken mayonnaise. Bleh.
It’s a shame to not give the versatile potato a greater chance to shine! If you are bored with potato salad or stuck in a rut with a recipe that gets left behind on the picnic table, maybe you just need a different approach—one that doesn’t depend on a heavy, mayonnaise-y coating to give it flavor because, honestly, mayo doesn’t have much flavor to begin with. Here’s something a little different and for me, it’s a winner every time.
This potato salad does not disappoint, and it could never be accused of being bland because it is doubly dressed—first, with a tangy, heart-healthy vinaigrette that soaks flavor all the way through the potatoes, and then with the slightest amount of mayonnaise-based dressing for a creamy, picnic-ready finish that isn’t greasy and doesn’t clump or break.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that potatoes are one of my very favorite foods, and I have shared a few fun twists on potato salad here on Comfort du Jour, but of all the versions I like to make, this one is my favorite (especially in summer), and for a few fun reasons.
Any kind of potato works
You can use starchy russets, baby reds or Yukon golds (my favorite, and my choice for this post). Peel the skins or keep ‘em—your call. The only thing to consider with the waxy style of potatoes is that they will absorb slightly less of the dressing, so you would want to proceed in stages to be sure it’s to your liking. But flavor-wise? Whatever you like is going to work.
This salad is adaptable
My main goal for any kind of salad is variety of texture, and you can adjust this one many ways by changing up the mix-ins. My go-to combination of mix-ins usually includes hard-boiled eggs, chopped pickles, crunchy bits of celery or radish (or both), fresh onions and any kind of fresh herbs. But that leaves it open for interpretation—I could swap out the chopped pickles for chopped olives and skip the onions but add some minced bell pepper. Dill has a completely different flavor than basil or parsley, so that’s another layer of options you can customize to your liking. As long as your ingredients are not overly wet (like tomatoes), the options are nearly endless.
It is not drenched in mayonnaise
We go through a lot of mayo at our house (mostly for my husband’s beloved tuna sandwiches), but it is not my favorite ingredient for dressing potato or pasta salads. Mayonnaise, which is essentially an emulsion of egg yolks and oil, is just plain heavy. And if you add mayo to cooked potatoes, you might notice that it takes a lot of it to keep them coated so the potatoes don’t seem dry, especially if your potatoes lean more starchy than waxy. Too much mayo is never appealing and it definitely is not healthful. Almost all its calories are from fat, and though recent reports have debunked the idea that warm mayonnaise is solely responsible for post-picnic foodborne illnesses (the culprit is usually the meat or fish that is dressed in the mayo), there’s no disputing that it looks completely unappetizing.
It’s actually delicious!
Unlike the typical mayonnaise-only potato salads, this one is mostly flavored with a tasty vinaigrette-style dressing that you can customize to your own palate. You can use a fancy French vinaigrette, a balsamic vinaigrette, a zesty, Italian-style vinaigrette or even a store-bought vinaigrette. There are only two types that I would not recommend, and for different reasons. An entirely fat-free vinaigrette is not ideal, because the extreme water content will turn your cooked potatoes soggy. The dressing should have some amount of oil in it, and you can choose one with heart-healthy fats, such as extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil. I also would not recommend a sweet, fruit-flavored vinaigrette, such as raspberry. It would be tough to choose mix-ins that would work with those flavors. It’s best to stick with a savory one.
The vinaigrette is added to the cooked potatoes while they are hot—immediately from the pot after draining is best—and it only takes a few minutes for it to be absorbed. After the potatoes cool, you simply add your favorite mix-ins and a very small amount of mayonnaise, blended with equal amount of sour cream (or Greek yogurt) and a touch of Dijon mustard for extra flavor. I like to add celery seed as well, but this is optional.
Our little secret…
Here’s one more nugget about this potato salad, and it is good news for anyone who can’t have (or doesn’t want) mayonnaise. This salad technically does not need mayo at all! The vinaigrette soaks so much flavor into the hot potatoes that you could skip the mayonnaise altogether and send it straight to the fridge for serving, just as it is—almost like a German potato salad, but chilled and delicious for summer!
My Favorite Vinaigrette Potato Salad
- 1/2 cup prepared vinaigrette dressing (see below for my favorite blend)
- 1 1/2 pounds small Yukon gold potatoes, cleaned and cut-up (peeled or skin-on)
- 1/2 cup each finely chopped onions and celery
- 2 Tbsp. mayonnaise
- 2 Tbsp. sour cream or plain Greek yogurt (reduced-fat versions are fine)
- 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
- 1/2 tsp. celery seed
- favorite mix-ins (I like hard-boiled eggs, chopped pickles or capers, radish slices, minced fresh herbs; avoid high-moisture ingredients such as fresh cucumbers)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Prep and simmer potatoes until they can easily be pierced with a knife tip, about 25 minutes.
- Add finely chopped onions and celery to a bowl large enough to mix the potato salad. When potatoes are tender, drain them and immediately add them to the bowl. Fold with a spatula to distribute the onions and celery throughout. Season with a couple pinches of salt.
- Pour the vinaigrette over the hot potatoes. Gently fold with a spatula to mix the vinaigrette evenly with the potatoes. It will take a few minutes for the vinaigrette to be absorbed. Allow them to cool at room temperature. If you wish, you can refrigerate the potatoes before adding the creamy dressing.
- In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, sour cream, Dijon, celery seed, salt and pepper. Add your favorite salad mix-ins to the vinaigrette-drenched potatoes. Pour dressing over the bowl contents and fold gently to combine and coat the potatoes. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
- Refrigerate the potato salad until completely cold. Serve alongside your favorite summer cookout fare.
- 3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
- 1/2 tsp. sugar
- A few shakes of garlic-pepper seasoning
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (or another heart-healthy oil, such as avocado)
- Combine vinegar, lemon juice, Dijon, seasoning, sugar, salt and pepper in a small bowl or glass measuring cup.
- Gradually drizzle olive oil into the mixture while whisking vigorously. The Dijon mustard will help emulsify the mixture.
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