This much-loved side dish is a universal, year-round classic – but how do you like yours? With the flavour combinations, potato type and dressing choices all up for debate, it’s a bit of a starchy minefield. Don’t even start us on the mayo versus vinaigrette debate…
With summer comes picnic season, and with picnic season comes potato salad – if our statistics are anything to go by. In the month of June, potato salad stormed to the top of our most-discussed recipe chart. It seems that it's salad tongs at dawn when it comes to deciding how to put together this simple dish – who knew potatoes and dressing could cause so much contention? We spoke to our cookery team to work out the perfect formula.
Waxy or floury… that is the question. Cookery assistant Katy Gilhooly recommends waxy potatoes in heritage varieties such as pink fir apple – they can be quite expensive, but have an attractive nutty flavour and firm bite. Floury potatoes are more likely to break down and fray when tossed during the dressing process, but if this is your desired effect, go with it. Alternatively, you could veer leftfield and choose sweet potatoes instead, but be mindful of matching dressing and additions accordingly.
Verdict: Waxy, red-skinned or new potatoes for more traditional potato salads, but sweet potatoes work harder in the flavour stakes.
The pros for leaving the skin on your potatoes are manifold – they’ll give texture, an earthy flavour and added fibre to your salad, plus save you costs in labour. But it all depends on your potato choice; new potatoes are completely suitable for eating as they are as their skin is smooth and subtle, but larger, floury potatoes have a heavier skin, which sometimes requires scrubbing, in which case it can be easier to just peel it all off. Likewise, the skin of sweet potatoes is thick and chewy in parts. Whatever your preference, remember that leaving the skin on any kind of potato won’t do you any harm.
Verdict: Unpeeled - to give the salad an added dimension.
Boiling is the quicker and simpler option, but roasting allows you to start the flavour process right from the beginning. Ingredients added during the roasting will lend a helping hand to your dressing choice, so go for cloves of garlic, rosemary, lemon, anchovies or pancetta. Plus, less of the flavour will leach from the potatoes, and the crispy edges provide a satisfying chew.
If you’re devoted to boiling, try adding garlic cloves to your water. By the time the potatoes are cooked, the insides of the garlic will be soft enough to mush into a paste, which can then be added to mayonnaise or dressing. It’s not as intense as you may think – the flavour of the boiled garlic will be subtle and sweet.
Verdict: Both – we’d boil our potatoes to start with, then finish them in the oven.
Here things start to get divisive – do you cool your potatoes completely, or dress them warm and serve immediately? Our food editor Barney says if you are creating a warm potato salad, make sure you add the vinaigrette when the potatoes have just come out of the pan, to make sure it absorbs well. Cooled potatoes are more suited to creamy dressings, and good for if you’re catering en masse as they can be left to go cold overnight.
Verdict: It depends on whether you’re going for a creamy dressing or a vinaigrette.
Layer up added ingredients being careful to match them. Don’t go overboard – this is an exercise in simplicity.
Barney says whatever your dressing, the addition of some form of onion is a must. Spring onions, shallots, chives or red onion all work well.
It’s an open playing field when it comes to herbs – mint and parsley are versatile and can be chopped roughly. If you want to use harder herbs like rosemary or thyme, they work better finely chopped. Use a combination if you prefer, but think about your flavour choices – for instance, coriander would match a spicier dressing, such as a coronation mayonnaise.
Add some colour, crunch and healthy credentials to your salad via watercress, radishes, micro-leaves, celery or beetroot.
Look for what’s in season – peas, broad beans in summer, sweetcorn and courgette in autumn, shredded red cabbage in winter, and asparagus and greens in spring.
Flaked mackerel or chunks of tuna will bulk your salad out into something more main course-worthy, while anchovies can act as seasoning.
Add texture with crispy bacon, and flavour with salty Serrano or Parma ham, more traditional chunks of British gammon, chorizo cubes or chopped sausages from the barbecue.
Spice and sauce:
Wholegrain or Dijon mustard are safe choices, or reach further into the back of your cupboard and use a few teaspoons of horseradish or mint sauce. Or, dry spice your potatoes with caraway, mustard seeds, powdered condiments such as turmeric, paprika, curry powder or jerk, or go for wet pastes like miso, tamarind, pomegranate molasses or Thai curry paste.
If there’s a magic formula to potato salad dressing, Barney thinks he’s found it: One third Greek yogurt, a third mayonnaise and a third crème fraîche, seasoned with lemon and mustard. If you want to go down a creamy route, buttermilk also works nicely.
Our assistant food editor, Cassie, finds mayonnaise too heavy, and opts instead for yogurt and crème fraîche. If you’re a mayo devotee, mix things up a bit and add some spice.
Those on the other side of the fence will dress their potatoes in a simple oil-based vinaigrette. Go for extra-virgin olive or rapeseed oil, mixed with balsamic or another mild vinegar, plus citrus – if you go light on the oil, you’re looking at a pretty healthy dish. We also like super-herby salsa verde as a dressing – the garlicky Italian paste will break down and turn your potatoes an striking bright green.
Roast new potato salad with caper & tarragon dressing
Mediterranean potato salad
Sweet potato, spring onion & feta salad
Healthier potato salad
New potato & tamarind salad
Summer potato salad with radishes
Red potatoes with horseradish & crème fraîche
Warm new potato & smoked mackerel salad
Creamy potato salad with broad beans
Warm new potato salad with bacon & blue cheese
Potato, red onion & olive salad
Potato salad with sweet onion dressing
Try our ultimate potato salad demonstrated by the Good Food cookery team.
What's your potato salad recipe? We'd love to hear your suggestions, tricks and methods...