Monday, May 25, 2009

MrMartha's Favorite Potato Salad Recipe

Today is Memorial Day in the US. An important day for remembrance of those who are no longer with us, it is also the traditional start to the barbeque and picnic season.

MrMartha would like to share a recipe for perhaps the most essential element of a good barbeque, Homemade Potato Salad. It is one of the ultimate comfort foods, and even if the grill is behaving in less than perfect form, or if the weather is somewhat uncooperative for the picnic, a good potato salad can go a long way to salvaging the meal or the event.

It would be presumptuous to call this 'The Worlds Best Potato Salad' ... though it would certainly rank up there ... so instead, MrMartha will just say it is Very, Very Good. This is a classic, traditional recipe, without a lot of bells and whistles. Just the basic elements in careful combination. Like any basic classic, it is also easy to dress up and embellish to your own personal taste. So, try the original version, then feel free to adjust the recipe as the spirit moves you.

The key to making really good potato salad is perfectly cooked potatoes. They shouldn't be underdone and crunchy, and they cannot be overcooked to the point where they just fall apart into a shapeless mass. It takes a bit of practice and some vigilance while cooking to get to that perfect point, but it is well worth the trouble. Some will insist on using new or waxy potatoes (like Yukon Gold) for salad, as they may tend to hold their shape better after cooking. MrMartha prefers plain old Russets, however, as they integrate and meld most perfectly with the added dressing.

Read More for Cooking Tips, Recipe, and Step by Step Photos.

MrMartha suggests the following to get potatoes cooked perfectly for salad:

Leave the skins on during cooking, slice the potatoes lengthwise into halves, thirds, or quarters, depending on size of your potatoes. The goal is to have pieces of roughly similar size for even cooking. Use a large heavy pot, and only enough cold water to barely cover the potato pieces. Make sure the pot has a tight fitting lid, so you also get the benefits of steam when cooking.

Cover, bring to a boil, and check the pieces frequently after they have cooked for a few minutes. The old "cook till easily pierced with a fork" mantra can often actually give you an overcooked result. Turn the potatoes with a large wooden spoon, each time you check them -- to ensure even cooking. To check for doneness, pull out a piece of potato, cut a slice from it and bite into it. Your potatoes are done when that raw crunch is just gone, and your teeth find no resistance as you bite down. You should check the potatoes every couple of minutes when they appear close to being done. The total cooking time will vary depending on the size and quantity of potatoes you are using, the heat from your burner, and the type of pot. Generally speaking, figure on 12-17 minutes overall.

When perfectly cooked, remove from heat and drain immediately. Peel the potatoes when they have cooled slightly, but are still quite hot....hold pieces on a kitchen towel if too hot for your hand. After peeling, slice each chunk of potato into smaller pieces, directly into your mixing bowl.

MrMartha's Favorite Potato Salad.

1 1/2 Cups Good Mayonnaise (Hellmans, Best Foods, or your own Homemade)
3 Tablespoons Vinegar (White or Cider)
2 Teaspoons Salt
1 1/2 Teaspoons Sugar
1/2 Teaspoon Black Pepper

Whisk together in large pyrex measure, or small mixing bowl, set aside in fridge.

3 Lb Russet Potatoes, Cooked per above notes.
1/3 cup Dill Pickle Juice (approx, or to taste)
1 1/2 Cup Celery
3/4 Cup Finely Chopped Onion
2 finely chopped Dill Pickles
3 Eggs, Hard boiled in shell, peeled and roughly chopped.

Peel the cooked potato chunks, and dice into a large mixing bowl. When you have approximately one third of the hot potatoes peeled and chopped, sprinkle with a couple tablespoons of the pickle juice, a couple shakes of salt, and some of the chopped onion. Continue and repeat the process until all of the potatoes are peeled and diced. Allow the potatoes to cool completely before continuing. The preliminary sprinkle of pickle juice and salt are absorbed into the warm potatoes as they cool, as are some of the flavor from the onions, which also soften slightly from the heat of the potatoes.

Add the Celery, remaining Onion, Pickles, and Eggs to the potatoes.
Toss lightly to combine.
Stir in the dressing, and combine well, but with a light touch.

Chill and allow the flavors to meld for at least a couple of hours before serving.
Garnish with a sprinkling of Paprika, and some snipped chives if desired.

Variations -- you can add some Dry or Prepared Mustard to taste to the dressing, or for a more specialized taste, you could add either Curry Powder or Fresh Pesto. To the salad itself, you could use Sweet instead of Dill Pickles, add some chopped Red Bell Peppers, or grated Carrots.