Thursday, June 19, 2014

A Summertime Staple: The Best Classic Potato Salad

I wasn't always a fan of my mom's potato salad.  In fact, I wouldn't touch the stuff when I was a kid. Thing is, I don't know if I even tried it back then. I probably did what my own kids do whenever they see something new on their plates: assume it's gross before even trying it. Another reason I might have avoided it was that I didn't really like eggs when I was a kid, especially the hard-boiled ones.

Fast-forward to my later teenage years when I overcame my prejudice and tried it. When I did, I finally understood why everyone else was heaping it onto their plates at family picnics and barbecues. Mom's potato salad is simple but delicious, balanced in its flavors, and even kind of colorful. I may be just the teensiest bit biased, but I think my mom makes THE BEST classic potato salad. And I won't even go into how it's superior over the store-bought stuff in the deli section of the grocery store or in tall tubs at Costco. I mean, that just goes without saying.

The recipe was my grandma's first (it's actually her birthday today). Even though my grandma passed away many years ago, whenever my mom makes this recipe, it's like part of her is back at the gathering. Last year, when my mom planned a picnic with a few of her brothers, they all requested that she make their mom's potato salad.

I've asked for the recipe a couple times, but my mom doesn't have it written down. She makes it from memory, eyeballing the ingredient amounts and consistency of the salad, tasting it all as she goes. This past weekend she made it again for a Father's Day picnic, so I took notes.  I figured I should write it down, you know, for posterity's sake -- and yours.

Grandma Erickson's Potato Salad, aka The Best Classic Potato Salad 
5 lbs. potatoes (my mom uses Yukon Gold, but you can use any variety), boiled, peeled, and cut into bite-sized cubes
2-3 ribs celery, finely chopped
1/2 cup chives (or green onions), finely chopped
8 large eggs, hard-boiled, finely chopped
1/2 cup sweet pickles, finely chopped, with some of the pickle juice reserved (we used these pickles we canned, but the store-bought sweet pickles work fine, too)
1/2 cup peppers, finely chopped  (we used these pickled peppers, but you can use pickled peppers, pimientos, or fresh red bell pepper)
1 tsp. yellow mustard
1 cup mayonnaise (Mom swears by Best Foods/Hellman's mayo)
2 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
1 tsp. ground pepper

Boil potatoes until soft. My grandma always boiled them with the skins on -- makes them easier to peel. Peel potatoes then chop into bite-size cubes

Boil the eggs. Be sure that the eggs are thoroughly cooked. Word to the wise: before you peel all of them, check one of them first. You wouldn't want to boil a dozen of your chickens' lovely eggs, peel them all, realize that they weren't cooked through all the way, and have your mom tell you that they can't be used. Not that I would know from experience or anything. (ahem.)

Perfectly cooked eggs have a tender white and the yolk is pale yellow, fluffy but firm. Undercooked hardboiled eggs (like the one on the left in the picture above) have a damp yolk that is more dark-gold than pale yellow. Be careful not to overcook them, though, or the yolk will have a harmless-but-ugly grayish-green ring around it  (Helpful tutorial for hard-boiling eggs can be found here.)

Cut the eggs up well, so that they're almost crumbly. My mom likes to use a paring knife to cut the egg up in her hand. I helped her out and did the same, holding it as I cut it the way I would an onion.

IMPORTANT: let the potatoes and eggs cool completely before you make the potato salad. If you don't, it will turn into this hot, mushy mess instead of a cool, refreshing salad. Who wants that?

Put the chopped potatoes in large bowl. Drizzle with reserved pickle juice (and the juice from the pickled peppers, if you're using them), about 1/2 cup (if you're using the juice from pickled peppers, too, do 1/4 cup pickle juice and 1/4 cup pickled pepper juice).

Add salt, pepper, and chives. Stir gently so the potatoes don't get mushy. For the best results, stop at this point and let the mixture chill overnight. This lets the flavors really seep into the potatoes. This step isn't completely necessary, though.

Add the chopped pickles, peppers, celery, eggs, mustard, and mayonnaise. Fold these ingredients in gently, too. Taste the salad and add more salt and pepper, if needed, depending on your preferences. You can also add more mayonnaise, too, if you want a creamier consistency.

Keep the salad chilled until served -- and be prepared for future requests.


judith said...

That looks delish!

Michelle said...

This was SUPER awesome! Thanks so much for sharing.

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