Potato salad, the anchor to summer’s barbecues and picnics, is one of the simplest, most flexible dishes to make. But it’s easy to go wrong and end up with a salad that’s mushy, goopy and bland. There are a few fundamentals to keep in mind when making this iconic dish. Follow them and you can whip up a salad first thing in the morning, then go outside in the sun to play.
Start by choosing the best spuds — fresh potatoes from our local farms. New potatoes are relatively small and have thin, wispy skins and a crisp, waxy texture. Unlike their fully grown counterparts, they hold their shape once cooked and are also sweeter because their natural sugars have not converted to starch.
When shopping at the farmers market, look for new potatoes that are firm and unblemished. Don’t wash them until ready to use; the little bit of dirt helps protect them from bruising and general deterioration. New potatoes are perishable and best stored in a paper bag in the crisper compartment of the refrigerator for no more than three days. These young spuds are different from the potatoes we buy in winter. Storage potatoes are first “cured” by being held at moderate temperatures after harvest to thicken their skins before they’re sold.
Choose new potatoes that are close in size so they cook at the same rate. Cut any larger new potatoes into halves or quarters so the size is consistent. Cook them in generously salted boiling water. They’ll absorb the salt while they simmer and require less seasoning when done. Don’t crowd the potatoes in the pot; give them plenty of room so they cook evenly. Please do not overcook. Start checking on the potatoes after about 15 minutes. They should be tender in the center but not mushy when you insert a paring knife into the flesh. When they’re done, the potato will slide off the knife and back into the pot.
As a rule of thumb, dress 2 pounds of cooked potatoes with about 3/4 cup of dressing. Keep a little extra dressing on hand because potatoes tend to soak up flavors and may need a boost before the salad is served. Toss the hot, drained potatoes with a little lemon juice or vinegar before adding the remaining dressing, for a little snap.
Most traditional potato salad recipes are mayonnaise-based, but I prefer those with light, bright vinaigrettes that can be made ahead. This summery salad’s beauty is not in its technique, but in the fresh potatoes and herbs. Bonus points if the produce is from local farms.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.
Potato Salad With Lemon and Dill Vinaigrette
Serves 6 to 8.
Note: This potato salad is lighter than those calling for mayonnaise. Scallions and dill add a bright, herbal flavor that works nicely with spinach. Make this in the morning so that the flavors marry through the day. Or, refrigerate overnight and bring to room temperature before serving. Try substituting other herbs, such as basil, parsley, cilantro, or tarragon for the dill, adjusting the amounts to your taste. From Beth Dooley.
• 2 lb. new potatoes (slice larger potatoes to be the same size)
• Salt for the cooking water
• Juice of 1 large lemon, or more to taste, divided
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• 1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil
• 1/2 c. thinly sliced green onions, white and light green parts
• 2 tbsp. chopped fresh dill, or more to taste
• Freshly ground black pepper to taste
• 1 c. torn spinach for serving, optional
Put the potatoes into a pot and cover with water by an inch and add salt to taste. Set over high heat and bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook the potatoes until just tender, about 15 minutes. Drain, turn into a bowl and toss with 1 teaspoon lemon juice.
In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining lemon juice, salt and olive oil. Toss the dressing with the potatoes along with the green onions and dill. Season to taste with black pepper and more lemon juice, if preferred, and serve over spinach, if desired.
Nutrition information per each of 8 servings:
Fat 14 g
Sodium 430 mg
Carbohydrates 21 g
Saturated fat 2 g
Total sugars 1 g
Protein 2 g
Cholesterol 0 mg
Dietary fiber 3 g
Exchanges per serving: 1 ½ starch, 2 ½ fat.