Keep Your Mayonnaise Far, Far Away From My Potato Salad

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
July 3 2013 12:59 PM

You’re Doing It Wrong: Potato Salad

potato salad done right

Photo by Miriam Krule

If you’re even remotely patriotic, tomorrow you’ll find yourself fulfilling one of your three annual obligations to barbecue. With your Memorial Day practice run out of the way, there are no excuses for being unprepared—hopefully you’ve figured out your grill timing and the proper ratio of hot dogs to hamburgers, because god knows I can’t help you. What I can tell you is that the key to a good barbecue isn’t just the meat. As a host, your job is to make sure that while you’re tending to your coal and animal flesh, your guests are happily chatting and snacking. This usually entails some combination of alcohol, chips and guacamole, and some staple side dishes—principal among them potato salad.

No reasonable American will dispute that you must serve potato salad at your Fourth of July gathering. But reasonable Americans might challenge the kind of potato salad you serve. The biggest and most obvious problem with traditional potato salad is that it relies on mayonnaise for dressing—and unless you’re making it from scratch, there’s really never any reason to use that stuff. It’s thick and heavy and disguises the flavor of everything you’re eating. And you’re going to be outside. Under the sun. In one of the hottest months of the year. Eating lukewarm mayonnaise-slicked potatoes that have been sitting in the sun for as long as you have isn’t just unappetizing; it could make you sick by the time your delicately grilled burger is ready.

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Another common potato-salad mistake is to throw in all manner of vegetables. Sure, carrots and celery add crunch, but potato salad shouldn’t be crunchy—that’s the job of the crudité your cousin Janet so thoughtfully prepared. Keep your textures and your flavors simple. Potato salad isn’t meant to satisfy your every craving; it’s just meant to keep your blood sugar steady until the meat is done.

To that end, why not keep your grandmother’s complicated, globular potato salad recipe on the shelf this year? Instead, marinate your boiled potatoes in a light vinaigrette—garlic gives it a nice kick, and fresh herbs add a delicate flavor. The result is a light, summery dish that will stand up to the heat and keep your guests happy as they wait for the main attraction.

Potato Salad With Herb Vinaigrette
Yield: 4 servings
Time: 20 minutes

2 pounds fingerling potatoes, quartered
Salt
½  cup fresh basil leaves
½  cup fresh parsley leaves
Juice of 2 lemons
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
4 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon tahini
1 teaspoon maple syrup
Black pepper

1. Put the potatoes in a medium pot; add enough water to cover them and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-high and simmer until the potatoes are fully tender, about 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, put the basil, parsley, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, garlic, olive oil, tahini, and maple syrup in a blender; season with salt and pepper. Process until the herbs and garlic are finely chopped.

3. Drain the potatoes and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Transfer the potatoes to a large bowl, add the vinaigrette, and toss to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning, and serve at room temperature, or refrigerate before serving. (Store leftover potato salad in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a few days.)

Miriam Krule is a Slate assistant editor.

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