How to Make a Creamy Potato Salad With Less Mayonnaise

No ingredient sparks recipe culture wars like mayonnaise. As someone who happily licks it off a spoon, my threshold of “too much mayonnaise” is almost nonexistent, but the vast majority of people think very differently, especially when it comes to potato salad.

Even I can admit that too much mayonnaise will saturate a great potato salad. Unlike pasta or kale salad, there is no built-in insurance against accidental overdoing: boiled noodles will eventually absorb excess mayonnaise, and wilted kale will slowly dilute it, but potatoes won’t do either, which means you will have to nail down the gas station completely. It turns out that the secret of potato salad perfection is not in excess mayonnaise or a spoonful of sour cream; this is the potato itself .

Whether you’re a Team Mayo member or Team Keep That Shit Away From Me, thanks, the perfect potato salad requires an emulsified dressing that’s thick enough to cling to the potato chunks and stable enough to resist splitting into its main ingredients. … Adding a little starch is an easy way to both thicken and stabilize the emulsion, especially if that starch is cooked and fully hydrated – which, as luck would have it, is exactly what happens when you boil potatoes for potato salad. Here are two easy ways to use this starchy goodness to your advantage.

Add some cooking liquid.

Like pasta water, the liquid left over from boiling potatoes is starchy, salty and perfect for adding consistency to sauces, and the late great Julia Child found out that a little potato water makes a salad more creamy without a lot of mayonnaise.

This recipe is for the maximalist potato salad: it calls for bacon, hard-boiled eggs, and chopped pickles in addition to regular celery and onions, and the dressing includes both mayonnaise and sour cream. (Since I can’t stay alone, I also threw in some mustard.) While Julia’s potato salad provides the most, the extra body you get from starchy potato water means you need a lot less mayonnaise than you’d expect. Somehow the end result – and I can’t believe I’m saying this – is light? (I know!)

To make it you will need:

  • 1.5 pounds of Yukon gold or red potatoes, peeled if you like
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar or pickle, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 lb bacon, finely chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • 2-3 stalks of celery, finely chopped
  • 1 large shallots or 1 small white onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup gherkins or other pickles of your choice, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 cup sour cream or full-fat Greek yogurt, plus more to taste
  • 3 tablespoons cooked yellow or Dijon mustard (I love Beaver Coney Island mustard), plus more to taste
  • 1 bunch of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 bunch dill, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper for flavor

Cut the potatoes into about 2-inch chunks and place them in a saucepan with enough cold water to barely cover. Salt the water vigorously – I used a tablespoon for about 2 liters of water, but it could handle a lot of water too. Bring to a boil and cook until the edges of the cubes are rounded and the potatoes fall apart, 15-20 minutes. Leave a cup of water to cook, then drain the potatoes.

Add 1/4 cup cooking water and vinegar (or brine) to hot potatoes, as well as a large amount of chopped black pepper. Let the mixture sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes. In the meantime, cook the rest of the ingredients: sauté the bacon in a dry skillet over medium or low heat , boil the eggs until the desired doneness is desired, and chop the vegetables and herbs.

Drain the bacon, peel and chop the hard-boiled eggs. Add them to potatoes, along with celery, shallots, pickles, mayonnaise, sour cream, and mustard. Season to taste with salt, pepper and more vinegar or brine, then add some mayonnaise and / or sour cream if desired.

Refrigerate the salad for at least an hour, adding herbs at the last minute. They taste best the day they are cooked, but leftovers can be refrigerated for 2-3 days if you have them.

Use mashed potatoes for a creamy dressing without mayonnaise.

As subtle as the method for preparing potato water is, I don’t use it often because I almost always cook potatoes in the microwave. (When it’s hot outside, keep my path to the potato salad as short and cool as possible; the microwave ticks both boxes.) Since there is no need to add a little water for cooking, I mash the cooked potatoes with oil and vinegar to prepare a thick, creamy dressing with the addition of potatoes.

This method works great with mayonnaise-based recipes, but I think it is really effective when applied to German vinegar potato salad, which is also vegan. (At least this version; traditional versions usually include bacon or speck.) It is juicy and creamy, but not heavy, and the potato flavor is loud and distinct. If you’re a total mayonnaise skeptic, this is for you.

You will need:

  • 1 1/2 pounds Yukon gold or underyearlings potatoes, peeled or unpeeled
  • 1/4 cup pickle or apple cider vinegar, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus more if needed
  • 1/2 cup gherkins or pickles of your choice, finely chopped
  • 1 large shallots or 1 small white onion, thinly sliced
  • 2-3 celery stalks, cut into thin slices
  • 1 bunch fresh dill, parsley, or cilantro, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Pierce each potato several times with a fork and place in a large microwave-safe bowl with an inch of water. Cover the bowl partially with plastic wrap or a microwave-safe plate and cook on high power in 5 minute increments, stirring and turning the potatoes occasionally, until completely tender. Set aside until cool.

Take 2 or 3 small potatoes (or half a large one) and place in a large measuring cup or bowl along with 1/4 cup of brine (or apple cider vinegar) and oil. Puree with a hand blender until thick and creamy.

You aim for roughly the same consistency as ranch dressing. If it’s too runny, add more potatoes; if it’s too thick, add more brine. Try and adjust the seasoning by adding more vinegar, oil, salt and pepper as needed.

Tear leftover potatoes into chunks and stir in salt, pepper and a little brine or vinegar in a bowl. Add potato dressing, chopped pickles, shallots, and celery. Mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper and refrigerate for at least an hour, adding herbs just before serving. This salad turns out immediately delicious, and even better on the second or third day.

That’s it: two polar opposite approaches to the classic potato salad, each enhanced with the power of potato starch. Do them exactly as written – both recipes are slaps in the face – or steal the tricks and use them to power up your recipe; it’s up to you. Either way, you’re in heaven for potato salads.


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