You can never buy potato salad this simple and this good at a grocery store. But courtesy of my friend Marcia’s mom, I have the recipe. And I’m giving it to you because I’m a generous soul.
Unfortunately you can’t follow the original recipe exactly because the last step is supposed to be – have Marcia’s younger brother, Joel taste. His palate for seasoning the potato salad was apparently without peer. I make do with having my beloved taste the potato salad and help me adjust the seasonings. You can, of course, taste it yourself. Or find a suitable substitute for Joel or my beloved. However you manage that last step, keep in mind that perfection is in the tastebuds of whoever will ultimately enjoy this treat.
Potato salad is an essential component of Jewish deli food. I can’t imagine a corned beef on rye or a deli platter that isn’t improved by a heaping serving of potato salad. I say this with great authority, as I have eaten countless corned beef on rye sandwiches and circled many a deli platter, always checking out the potato salad as I fill my plate.
Potato salad is one of my holy trinity of BBQ sides. I may not be as much of an authority on BBQ as I am on Jewish deli, but I do love BBQ almost as much as corned beef on rye. What is my holy trinity of BBQ sides? Potato salad, baked beans and cole slaw, of course.
I liken my BBQ holy trinity to that of Cajun cuisine. The Cajun “holy trinity” of yellow onion, green pepper, and celery forms the base for a whole manner of Cajun soups and stews. From gumbo to jambalaya to étouffée the holy trinity imparts the flavors that give each of those dishes an essential element of their characteristic “Cajun-ness.” And so, for me, potato salad, baked beans and cole slaw give every BBQ platter the essential flavors that complete it. Whether you use chicken, pork, or beef, whether it’s a roasted bird, ribs, or shredded meat, the side dishes complete the meal.
But I digress. Back to Doris Mitnick’s potato salad.
Once upon a time, I was a college student, with few cooking skills and even fewer recipes of my own. I liked cookbooks and used the few that I had frequently. But I soon realized that the best recipes are the ones that someone else treasures. Doris, my college roommate Marcia’s mom, was a great cook and an incredibly warm person. She was a great cook and I adored her – and her husband Dan too. While this photo doesn’t do them justice, it’s the only one I have of them. It also has sentimental value to me, as it shows them at a party celebrating my marriage – with my husband the way he looked back then. (He’s still handsome, but I do marvel at how young he looks here.)
Anyway, Doris’ potato salad recipe is a testament to what good home-cooked food should be. It’s not glitzy or trendy. Rather it takes a few ingredients and transforms them into a flavorful dish without pretense.
This version of potato salad is simple and inexpensive, but incredibly addictive. It’s best to start the evening before serving because you must refrigerate it twice. First, you refrigerate the cooked potatoes. That makes it easy to peel and cut them. Second, after mixing all the ingredients together, you refrigerate the potato salad to allow its flavors to meld and heighten. With a total resting (refrigeration) time of 8-12 hours, you could make it in the morning for serving that night. But why not make”game day” easy by doing at least one of those steps the night before?
The original recipe was for 5 pounds of potatoes, enough to feed quite a crowd. I’ve cut it down to 2 pounds, which still feeds 5-6 people as a side dish.
Like many wonderful home cooks, Doris didn’t give precise amounts for some ingredients or precise directions for certain steps. I’ve added some of those details, but don’t fret too much over the ingredient amounts or timing provided. If you keep watch over the potatoes as they cook and consider your own preferences on the amounts of onion and mayonnaise, the result will be just fine.
This incredibly easy potato salad uses potatoes and just a few other ingredients to create an addictive side dish for your next pot luck, picnic or BBQ.
- 2 pounds red or yellow potatoes, halved or quartered
- 3 tablespoons onion, finely diced The original recipe called for yellow onion, but I prefer sweet or Vidalia. Shallot would also work. See note about dicing this vegetable.
- 1 & 1/2 teaspoons oil I prefer olive oil.
- 1 & 1/2 teaspoons vinegar I prefer plain red wine vinegar. Cider or sherry vinegar would work well too, but no balsamic vinegar because of its deep color and taste.
- 3 tablespoons mayonnaise + more to taste
- kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Put the unpeeled potato halves or quarters in a medium large pot of cold water to cover. Bring to a rolling boil and continue boiling until a fork pierces the potatoes but they are not yet soft. This generally takes 4-5 minutes after reaching the boil.
Drain the potatoes, and cool them quickly. I like to add a large bowlful of ice cubes to the colander to "shock" them and hasten the cooling. Refrigerate until completely cool to the touch, 2-4 hours.
Once the potatoes are cool, peel and cut them into small pieces. Add the finely diced onions, mayonnaise, oil and vinegar, and the salt and pepper. Refrigerate in an airtight container for at least 4 hours, and preferably overnight.
With a taste tester (yourself or someone else whose tastebuds you trust), adjust the seasonings.
The recipe calls for "finely diced" onion. That is a synonym for minced onion. In other words, cut the onion into the smallest possible pieces. Here is an easy how-to on mincing and dicing vegetables.
(This is an updated version of an older post, which contained the same recipe, but with different text and photos)