How to make potato salad
Try a range of flavour combinations and dressings to liven up this classic side dish. Lean how to make perfect potato salad for barbecues, buffets or picnics
With summer comes picnic and barbecue season, and with both of those comes potato salad. It can be salad tongs at dawn when deciding how to put together this simple dish – who knew potatoes and dressing could cause so much contention? Our cookery team weigh up the options and give their tips for creating some super tasty variations on this classic side.
Which potatoes are best for salad?
Waxy or floury… that is the question.
- Waxy potatoes in heritage varieties such as pink fir apple have an attractive nutty flavour and firm bite, though they can be quite expensive.
- 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.
Should potatoes be peeled?
The pros for leaving the skin on your potatoes are manifold – they’ll give texture, an earthy flavour and added fibre to your salad, as well as saving you effort. But it all depends on your potato choice; new potatoes are great for eating unpeeled as their skin is smooth and subtle, but larger, floury potatoes have heavier skin that sometimes requires scrubbing, so these are best peeled.
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 another dimension.
Are boiled or roasted potatoes better?
Boiling is the quicker and simpler option, but roasting allows you to introduce flavour from the beginning. Ingredients added during roasting will lend a helping hand to amp up your dressing – 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 prefer 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 boiled garlic is mellow and sweet.
Verdict? Both – we’d boil our potatoes to start with, then finish them in the oven.
Should potato salad be hot or cold?
Here, things start to get divisive – do you cool your potatoes completely, or dress them warm and serve immediately?
- 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 catering for big numbers 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.
Whatever your dressing, crisp and crunchy onions make a welcome addition. Spring onions, shallots, chives or red onion all work well. This potato salad with sweet onion dressing combines balsamic vinegar, cider vinegar and a hint of sugar with red onions and garlic.
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. This fresh summer allotment salad makes the most of whatever vegetables you can get your hands on in the warmer months.
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, smoky chorizo slices or chopped sausages from the barbecue.
Spice and sauce
Wholegrain and Dijon mustard are safe choices. For something different, 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.
Try our punchy new potato & tamarind salad.
What is the best potato salad dressing?
To achieve a classic creamy potato salad dressing, we recommend using the following ratio: one third Greek yogurt, a third mayonnaise and a third crème fraîche, seasoned with lemon and mustard. If you want to go down a creamier route, buttermilk also works nicely.
For those who find mayonnaise too heavy, try opting instead for yogurt and crème fraîche. If you’re a mayo devotee, mix things up a bit and add some spice.
If you're avoiding anything creamy, try dressing your 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 the fresh and fragrant dressing in this herby potato salad, which will turn your potatoes a vibrant green.
Our favourite potato salad recipes:
Classic potato salad
Lemony potato salad
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
Watch our video for more tips on how to achieve the ultimate potato salad.
What's your potato salad recipe? Leave a comment below...