Potato salad for a crowd

This one is the ultimate crowd-pleaser no matter whether you are serving it for dinner, during a grill party or from a plastic container at a picnic. I love potatoes in almost any form and several takes on potato salad are on my regular to-do list. The one here is my family’s favorite and I learned to make a lot of it as domestic disturbances often start over the leftovers.

It’s hard to go wrong with this salad, but still there are few rules to be followed to get the best from even this simple combination of ingredients. Rule number one – always choose the smallest potatoes and make sure they are of a uniform size. It’ll cut the cooking time and will let them cook evenly. Rule number two – always cook them with the skin on. This helps preserve the vitamins which are right beneath the skin, and prevents the potatoes from soaking up too much water during cooking and getting mushy. Rule number three – be generous when salting the boiling water – there’s very little to be done to save an under-salted boiled potato. The water should taste like the sea to get it right. And rule number four – use real mayonnaise! With a salad of only a few ingredients, every one of them matters for the final result. So forget for a moment about the upcoming bikini season and go for the real thing – egg yolks, fat and all.

I sometimes add crispy Granny Smith apples for an extra crunch and play with fresh herbs like flat Italian parsley, dill or cilantro (coriander) to add some color.

There is no picture of the salad, because it was devoured too quickly during last Sunday’s end-of-the-academic-year grill party my husband threw for his fellow architecture grad students. It never met with the chicken and hamburgers it was supposed to accompany – I should have kept it in the kitchen until the last moment.

Potato salad

  • 4 pounds (2 kg) Russet red potatoes, small to medium, but uniform in size
  • 1 big red onion, peeled, cut crosswise and thinly sliced
  • 1 cup real mayonnaise
  • ¼ cup Dijon mustard
  • juice from ½ lemon
  • salt, freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 bunch flat Italian parsley or dill (optional)

Bring half a large pot of water to a boil. Add enough salt for it to taste like sea water, add the potatoes, skins on, and cook for 10-15 minutes or until a fork goes easily in when pierced. Drain and let cool enough to be able to hold when peeling. The salad will be tastier if made when the potatoes are still warm.

In a small bowl place the onion, sprinkle it with salt and cover with cold water. Let stand 10 minutes, squish and drain – it will take some of the sharpness from the onion. In another bowl mix the mayo, mustard and lemon juice.

Peel the potatoes and cut into big chunks, or thick rounds if using small ones. Taste for salt and add some if needed, but remember that the dressing will be pretty salty from the mustard. Grind the black pepper, add the mayo, onion and optional parsley, and carefully mix the salad to avoid crushing the potatoes too much. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.

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