New West Test Kitchen: Potato Salad
What would the summer or fall be like without potato salad? Everyone has their individual preferences, as far as how to make said picnic fare, so we really went to work this time. We tried mayonnaise, salad dressing, vegannaise, sour cream, and greek yogurt. Without further ado, let’s jump in to the testing.
Potato Salad (Tistylee)
I have a soft spot for my grandmother’s potato salad. Growing up, I spent a lot of summers at her house, and this was a staple. Always on the table for lunch, I rarely got enough of it. The gloppy sauce, the creamy potatoes, the crisp onion and bouncy eggs… it was one of my favorites! I’ve watched her make it time and again, from scratch, without a recipe… and I’ve tried (repeatedly) to copy it. Without success.
Now with kids of my own, I decided to give it a go. However, as my son is allergic to eggs, I thought I might look for a recipe that had similar ingredients to Hers. Obviously I could leave out the hard boiled eggs if I chose, so I was foremost searching for one that didn’t need mayo.
In our family cookbook, here’s the recipe I found:
2 tsp. mustard
1 T. vinegar
½ c. evaporated milk (or more)
¼ c. powdered sugar
Salt & pepper, to taste
Mix together; add to diced potatoes and lots of onion and boiled eggs. Make plenty of sharp tasting dressing because potatoes will weaken it.
So this recipe makes, I don’t know how many, assumptions. First it assumes that you know that potatoes have to be cooked before making the salad. It assumes you know how to cook the potatoes yourself and that they have to be mostly cool to use. It also assumes you know how to HARD boil eggs.
I realize that country women in the old days would likely have known that you must and how to cook the eggs and potatoes. My grandmother did, as did her mother, and mine. However, this is a “hand me down” cookbook. Wouldn’t it be better to assume that the persons using this in the future might have NO IDEA?! That their grandchildren might like some more guidance on how to make these heirloom recipes?
Okay. Enough of my soapbox! Deep breath.
Obviously, I do know how to cook potatoes and eggs. Or at least, I think I do. But for the sake of fun, I checked online to see if the way I was taught is standard practice. It wasn’t. Or rather, there are a LOT of ways to cook potatoes and eggs for potato salad. Really? I’m not kidding. Most people do boil the potatoes (in slightly different ways) but some others bake them. Additionally, after they are baked/boiled you could grill them too for a different flavor.
And then the ways of hard boiling eggs were all over the place too. Some suggested boiling them for just a minute or two and then turning the burner off, but covering the pot. I was taught to get it boiling and let it roil for 15 minutes… hmmm… interesting.
Anyways. Eggs, potatoes, onions… easy, right? Here is what I did:
Because I have NO IDEA how much sauce the recipe will make, I decide to make a “small batch” of potato salad. The potatoes and the eggs ultimately need to be cooked and cooled, so I started with them.
First, I boiled 6 eggs. To center the yolks in the middle of the eggs, I spun each one in my hand a few times. In a single layer, I placed them in the bottom of the pan and ran enough cold water in to cover them by about an inch.  I salted the water and I set the pot to boil. However, once the water was boiling, I let it for one minute, then covered it and turned off the heat. I set the timer for 12 minutes and let it set on the burner. Not what I was taught, I was trying this method I found: http://www.wikihow.com/Hard-Boil-an-Egg. I only had one casualty and the rest turned out fine. After the time was up, I took them out of the hot water and set them in some cold water. (Usually I add ice to that water, but we are so low on ice around here without an automatic ice maker… so I made do without it.) When they were cool enough to handle, I put them back in the fridge to chill.
Second, I boiled the 2 ½ pounds of red potatoes. (I had read that they were the best kind for making potato salad.) Before placing them in water, I rinsed them off and cut them to the size I wanted. Then, filled the pot with enough cold water to cover them completely, with an inch or so extra. Similar to the eggs really, except this time once I got it boiling, I kept the heat on until the potatoes were done by the fork test. (By which, I mean, that my fork slid easily into the flesh of the potato and did not stick.) I drained the water and placed the potatoes into the fridge to cool off.
I divided the potatoes in half, with one to be bereft of hard boiled eggs. I largely diced 4 eggs and put into one of the potato bowls. I diced half an onion, and split between the two bowls. 
Next I made the sauce. In no particular order, I put all the ingredients into a bowl and whisked them together.
Finally, I poured the sauce over the potato/egg/onion mixture.
Upon first inspection, this was NOT my grandmothers’ potato salad. The sauce was super runny and did not really stick to the potatoes at all. In fact, there was no real substance to the dressing at all, which meant that there was no cohesiveness to the salad either. Pieces of potato, egg and onion were all still separate entities covered in the same yellow liquid. Taste-wise, it was sort of like Hers. It had a mustardy flavor with some sweetness that was reminiscent of her dressing. I remember that She used Miracle Whip instead of mayo (which is sweet) and added some sugar, in addition to the vinegar and mustard. However, Hers had texture that held the salad together, as well as adding flavor.
During my research, I discovered that if you put the sauce directly onto warm potatoes, they would soak it up some. Perhaps if I had done this trick, the potatoes themselves would have had more flavor. It would have done nothing to combine the pieces together more.
After resting in the fridge a bit, the potato salad did still not congeal into a wonderful mass. The dressing had disappeared more into the potatoes, but that left the salad dry. It was difficult to eat.
I didn’t like the sauce enough to cover my “just potatoes and onions” salad. Neither did my son, for whom this eggless cold salad would be intended. For my part, I don’t think it’s “potato salad” without the eggs. At least, it’s not my grandmother’s salad. If I get a chance, I will buy some Vegannaise to try a different dressing for his salad.
UPDATE: I got some grape seed Vegannaise and made a dressing for the potatoes. I added equal parts fake mayo, yellow mustard and brown mustard. I thought the sauce was okay, a bit vinegary perhaps, but my son would not even taste it. Later, I tried giving him some plain boiled potatoes and he wasn’t a fan of that either. Will have to try this cold salad again when he’s much older. At that point, I might try Becca’s version with the Greek yogurt!
What do you think? Can potato salad BE without hard boiled eggs? Do you have any dressing recipes for this salad to share?
Potato Salad Three Ways (Beckatron)
I had the benefit of starting with my grandma’s recipe (which she doesn’t write down and which she doesn’t even really measure, so getting her to write it down was a bit of a task). She kept saying things like, “enough cream to make it pourable” and “just a little mustard”.
I know she typically uses Miracle Whip, but I wanted to try other ways, as well, so here is what I generally tried and what the results were. Her basic recipe is:
5 lbs. red potatoes
5 eggs, boiled & peeled
1 medium onion
3 c. miracle whip (I also tried regular mayo and Greek yoghurt)
1-2 T. vinegar (I tried apple cider and malt)
Enough cream to make it pourable
Just a little yellow mustard
For potatoes, onions, and eggs, I did the same each time.
For eggs, I boiled about nine eggs (assuming I would mutilate at least one) by a trick I was taught that always seems to work well. I put the eggs in cold water, brought it to a boil, and then turned off the heat and left the eggs there for 15 minutes before running cold water over them. They turn out very well.
For potatoes, I heavily salted and peppered some cold water, then chopped a bunch of red potatoes with the skin still on and boiled them until, like Kristy said, they passed the fork test. Then, I put them in three big bowls to try the three different kinds. Well, one of those bowls, I also took in half. As Kristy mentioned, our grandma liked to have the potatoes be cold. But I also wanted to try a version with hot potatoes. So, just with one version (the Mayo version), I did half with sauce on cold potatoes, and half with sauce on hot potatoes.
It turned out that with the kind of sauce we made, it actually worked out better if you put it on cold potatoes first. The heat either changed the consistency of the sauce or did something to the eggs, but it just didn’t taste as good with the sauce on warm potatoes. Better to cook them first, then cool them.
With the onions, because I really wanted very small pieces of onion, I decided to use a mandolin to do the slices, and then chopped the onion pieces very small. In the version with greek yogurt, I added celery (also cut on the mandolin), which added a really nice crunch, in addition to the onions. Also, chopped green onions could be subbed in for the chopped onion for a less sharp taste.
Now for the sauce. The first version, I did what the recipe called for. Miracle whip, vinegar (I did half with apple cider and half with malt), cream, yellow mustard. The second version, I tried Mayonnaise, vinegar, cream, and yellow mustard. (This time, however, I tried half a version with very little mustard and half a version with a whole T. of mustard.) And then, in the third version, I tried halving again – one half with Greek Yogurt, cream, vinegar, and yellow mustard; one half with Greek Yogurt, cream, vinegar, and brown mustard.
And the results.
Which version was the best in the end? Isn’t that what we all want to know?
Well, I think the MW-apple cider v-cream-yellow mustard on cold potatoes tasted the most like grandma’s. That was a good thing. But I think the malt vinegar actually tasted better with the Miracle Whip. Offset the sweetness a bit.
Of the three different kinds of binders, the Miracle Whip got the best texture on the potatoes, the Greek Yogurt was the healthiest (calculating the health benefits, etc., can be very important), but I think the Mayonnaise had the best taste. In fact, the best tasting version in my opinion was the fourth version: Mayo, apple cider vinegar, cream, salt-pepper, onion, egg, potato. With mustard on the heavy side. I think the bitterness of the vinegar and the tang of the mustard makes the sweet onion and creamy egg and potato really a wonderful balance. I am quite pleased with the results of this.
What about you? What’s your favorite potato salad recipe?