Potato salad is a wonderful side dish for picnics, potlucks, and parties alike. However, it is very easy to prepare it improperly. If you’re planning on whipping up a batch of potato salad, be sure to avoid these common mistakes.
- Mistake: Picking the wrong kinds of potatoes.
There are different types of potatoes, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. For potato salad, you want potatoes that are not starchy as those are more prone to breaking up.
Go with ‘waxy’ varieties instead (like Fingerling or Red Bliss potatoes). These potatoes are sturdier, thus, better suited to be mixed in potato salad.
- Mistake: Under-seasoning your potatoes.
Sure, you can season the potatoes after boiling them, but salting the water beforehand helps them reach their true flavor potential, making your salad better overall.
Seasoning your pot of water with salt before boiling potatoes is a small but important step. Think of it as if you were prepping pasta – a dash of salt in your pot of water beforehand can go a long way.
- Mistake: Overheating your potatoes.
Do not put your potatoes into a pot of boiling salty water – you will end up with potatoes that are spongy on the outside and hard on the inside.
Instead, start with cold, salty water and then put your potatoes in. Slowly bring it all to a boil so that your potatoes cook evenly.
- Mistake: Cooking your potatoes for too long.
When it comes to potato salad, you don’t want your potatoes to be crunchy, nor mushy. They need to be somewhere in the middle, but most people overcook their potatoes to err on the side of caution. The result: nearly mashed potatoes salad.
For chunky yet soft texture, cook your potatoes until they are soft enough to be easily penetrated by a fork. If your fork causes the potato to break apart, they’re overcooked. Getting to the right doneness takes about 8-12 minutes so be sure to monitor your potatoes closely when they reach that threshold.
- Mistake: Cutting your potatoes into vastly different shapes and sizes.
Potatoes that vary in size and shape will cook at different speeds. If your salad contains cubes of different sizes, you’ll end up with a mix of overcooked and undercooked pieces.
Take the time to cut your potatoes as uniformly as possible. This will help make the cooking process easier and you’ll be able to tell if they are ready by testing just one cube.
- Mistake: Applying the finishing touches at the wrong time.
With mayo-based dressing, many make the mistake of applying it right after the potatoes are done. This warms up the mayo, causing it to melt and lose its texture. On the other hand, with vinaigrette-based dressing, many make the mistake of waiting for the potatoes to cool, which makes it harder for them to absorb the flavor.
Instead, for mayo-based dressing, let your spuds cool down for about half an hour before dressing. For vinaigrette-based dressing, toss it in while the potatoes are still warm so that the dressing can marinate more effectively.