Traditional Potato Salad

Want to start a food fight in Louisiana? Start talking about the “right” way to make potato salad. Somebody call Michael Buffer because hands might just get thrown before this conversation is over. We’ll get into a great starter recipe that my folks use and I’ll include some variations on this theme as we go along. Alright! Let’s get ready to rumble!

“Who made the potato salad?” is an automatic question at parties and gatherings in my neck of the woods. Who knew the politics of potato salad were so complicated? White versus red versus Yukon Gold potatoes? Mayonnaise only versus mayonnaise and mustard? Sweet relish versus dill relish versus chopped dill pickles? Lumpy or “mashed potato” smooth? Green stuff or no green stuff? OMG! It can be totally overwhelming!

There are pros and cons to every single ingredient and good cooks everywhere will defend their choices to the death here in the South. For my mom and dad, dill relish or chopped dill pickles are a must. It’s an absolute deal breaker. For them, using sweet relish is potato salad heresy. I’ve known people who won’t eat potato salad if it has yellow mustard in it. It’s that serious. As my good friend Dean put it, “I’ll need a sufficient bourbon supply just to get thru the mayo/mustard battle…”

My mom made potato salad with me this week and here’s a recipe that is delicious enough to use verbatim, but versatile enough to allow you to put your own twist on this southern classic.

 

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A few of the ingredients you’ll need. We used Irish (white) potatoes here, but any potato will work. If you have a preference, go with it.

 

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A few more ingredients. My folks like spice in their potato salad, so we use both cayenne and black pepper. My mother is a stickler about brands and she’s very loyal to Zatarain’s, Tony C’s, Vlasic, Blue Plate and French’s.

 

 

 

What you’ll need:

4 large eggs

2.5 – 3 pounds of white (Irish) potatoes (about 4 medium-sized potatoes)

1/3 cup white or yellow onion, finely chopped

1/3 cup celery, finely chopped

1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped

4 oz. dill relish

1 tsp Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning

A pinch of cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

5 heaping TBSP mayonnaise

1 tsp yellow mustard

 

What you’ll do:

Place the eggs in a pot large enough to cover them with about an inch of water. Place over high heat and set timer to 20 minutes. Bring to a boil and then lower heat slightly. When 20 minutes is reached, remove from heat. Pour out the hot water and rinse the eggs under cold running water for about 30 seconds. Place enough cold water in the pot to cover the eggs and set them aside. Do not peel them yet.

 

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While the eggs are boiling, wash the potatoes and peel them, removing any dark spots and pits. place in a large bowl and cover with cool water while you’re working. This keeps the raw potatoes from blackening. Cut each potato into thirds, each third into halves, and each half into 1/2- to 1-inch pieces.

 

 

Place in a large pot, cover with about an inch of water, place over high heat, and set your timer to 15 minutes. Once the potatoes have come to a boil (about 5 minutes), check their consistency at the 10-12 minute mark. They should still generally hold their shape but be easily crushed with the tines of a fork or back of a spoon. Remove them from heat and pour into a colander to drain. Set aside.

 

Peel the cooled eggs, removing all shell fragments. Chop the eggs finely or use this tip that I learned from my Aunt Audrey: place eggs on a large plate or cutting board and mash them using the tines of a fork. A good potato salad will have eggs and fresh seasoning that are similar in chop size.

 

 

Now, all of your ingredients are ready to mix. It’s at this point where you have to wing it a bit and season the potato salad to your individual taste. Let’s begin.

 

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Place drained potatoes in a large mixing bowl. Add chopped eggs, fresh seasoning and dill relish.

 

Now add dry seasoning, mayonnaise and yellow mustard. Mix thoroughly.

 

When ingredients are thoroughly mixed, do a taste test. Adjust salt, spice and consistency levels to your individual taste. Need more Tony’s? Add it. Like it more golden? Add yellow mustard a little at a time. Add what you like and make it your own.

The finished product will be moist without being runny, but stand up well without being stiff. Like this:

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Place the potato salad in a decorative container and enjoy at room temperature or refrigerate and have it cold.

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A few notes:

  1. Some of my relatives prefer less “green stuff”, or fresh seasoning. Reduce or omit the parsley if the green throws you off.
  2. If you like your potato salad with less crunch from the fresh seasoning, try this trick: after you have drained your potatoes, but while they are still hot, place half of them in a large mixing bowl. Pour your fresh seasoning on top in an even layer and cover with the other half of the hot, drained potatoes and set aside until they cool to room temperature. This will soften your fresh ingredients.
  3. If you prefer a smoother consistency, boil the potatoes longer. Some people also mash the potatoes before they add the other ingredients.
  4. Red potatoes and Yukon Gold potatoes give a heartier consistency than white potatoes. White potatoes soften more quickly when boiled. If you’ve ever eaten a boiled potato at a crawfish boil, you’ll notice that red potatoes hold their shape better than white potatoes, even when they are fully or over cooked.
  5. Paprika is a traditional garnish. I can take it or leave it, but you’ll see it sprinkled on potato salad in almost every restaurant in New Orleans.
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