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First time making potato salad, question about the potatos

We are attending a picnic on Saturday and my husband requested a specific potato salad recipe.

This will be my first potato salad. I enjoy eating it but never tried to make it.

My question related to how to cook the potatos. The recipe says to cube the potatos (red skinned if it matters) and the place in a pot, cover with one inch of water and boil for 10 to 15 minutes until just tender.

A 10-15 minute boil of cubed potatos seems like a long time to me. Will the potatos turn to mush? I need to travel with the ingredients and I don't have the room to take double in case of error and no access to buy more.

Educate me on boiled potato cooking. My experience is limited to making mashed potatos at Thanksgiving and I was never too concerned about the cooked texture.

Should I cube the potatos prior to cooking? Is 10-15 min a reasonable cooking time?

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  1. Don't overcook the potatoes is my advice. I prefer them al dente, but they must be cooked. That means you can't boil a large potato whole. I usually use red potatoes of a medium size which allows them to be properly cooked whole. With larger potatoes, I would cut them in half first. I stick them with a knife to test their doneness.

    I never dice the potatoes before cooking. It might work, but the timing would be different. The main thing is uniform size. Cook more than you need, then take a piece out during cooking to test by eating it. When they are ready, stop the cooking quickly by pouring off hot water and adding cold.

    4 Replies
    1. re: GH1618

      NO-NO-NO! to adding cold water to the cooked potatoes. As America's Test Kitchen demonstrated, it's really important to get the vinegar onto the potatoes while they are still hot, so they absorb it. You can salt and pepper them hot, too. When the vinegared potatoes are cooled, add the fatty components. Stick a fork into the whole cooked potato, using that as a handle while scraping off the peel with a serrated knife. It comes off easily. Of course with red-skinned potatoes, it's not even necessary to remove the peel. Personally, I steam rather than boil small to medium sized red-skinned spuds for potato salad.

      I agree that the boiling time in the OP's recipe seems too long and that cubing before cooking invites waterlogging. Feel free to make the potato salad several days in advance.

      1. re: greygarious

        Then you would have to dice them while hot. I'm not going to do that. I let them cool and dry in a colander, then refrigerate for awhile. When I'm ready to make it, I dice the cold potatoes, add salt, pepper, and vinegar, and leave it for awhile.

        If ATK doesn't like it, that's just too bad. I don't pay any attention to such things.

        1. re: greygarious

          As much as ATK annoys the living crap put of me, they are right in this instance.

          1. re: rasputina

            No doubt. James Beard, who was someone I did (and still do) pay attention to, advised dressing potato salad while still warm. That doesn't mean boiling hot, however. Making it while warm is a fine way to do it, but it's a small point, in my opinion. If it's more convenient to put the cooked potatoes away and finish it later, I'll do it. It will turn out just fine that way, and JB will never know.

      2. I always boil my potatoes whole with the skin on to avoid them becoming waterlogged. Then I run them under cold water until cool enough to peel and cube

        2 Replies
        1. re: nyfoodie718

          Same here and as soon as they are cool enough to handle peel, cube and lightly dress.
          Also use a waxy potato like red or yukon gold.

          1. re: nyfoodie718

            Never peel a potato or especially a carrot unless you hate your guests and/or family. All the nutrition is stored there.

          2. That means you can't boil a large potato whole
            Ok, this makes sense.

            I will evaluate the size of the potatos and halve or quarter as necessary.

            Another question - is potato salad something I could make Thursday evening for mid-Saturday consumption? Or is it something that is best made that day? The dressing consists of greek yogurt and a small about of sour cream.

            3 Replies
            1. re: cleobeach

              Personally, I think all cold potato salads are better on the second, even third day.

              1. re: cleobeach

                Definitely you can make ahead. I recommend preparing some extra dressing to add close to serving time, since much of the original batch may have been absorbed. If the recipe calls for any fresh herbs or other fresh seasonings, you may want to add a bit more at the end, just to brighten it up.

                1. re: Amy Mintzer

                  Thanks all!

                  and that is a good heads up about the extra dressing and herbs (it calls for dill and thyme)

              2. A reading of On Food And Cooking by Harold McGee transformed our potato salad making. There is a trick to not getting mushy potatoes, and that trick is to have an instant read thermometer, and when the temperature of the water reaches 120 degrees Fahrenheit, turn the flame down. You want to cook your potatoes at between 120-130 degrees for 20-30 minutes. This firms the cell walls. After this time, you can raise the heat and cook the potatoes until done. I cook my potatoes with the skin on because I like the skins in the potato salad. If you don't want potato skins (I use the small red potatoes), you can skin them when they're cool enough to handle, and then cut them to the size you like. You will notice that when you cook potatoes this way, you get a nice sharp cut, and the potatoes don't mush up as you cube them. When I make potato salad, I like to dress the warm, cut-up potatoes with red wine vinegar, and then add green onions, celery, and finely sliced and diced hard boiled eggs. Then salt, and then add as much mayo as you like. I add just enough to make sure the entire salad is properly dressed. But any salad will be improved by this method of making potatoes that are perfectly done.

                2 Replies
                1. re: roxlet

                  That cooking method sounds interesting, but I don't know that it's worth the trouble. My potatoes don't "mush up" as I do them now.

                  1. re: roxlet

                    I think it depends significantly on the potato variety.

                  2. Adding vinegar to the water has always prevented my potatoes from turning mushy.

                    1. I appreciate all the input. The recipe calls for red potatos and to keep the skins on. I am looking forward to this!

                      A funny aside to the story that could be Not About Food thread about uninvited food -

                      I had left a message for the hostess stating that her husbad told my husband to call her about food for Saturday. I said that I would be bringing pasta salad, potato salad, a case of Brand X beer, etc.. If she would like something else, just let me know and I will bring what she needs.

                      We connect by phone last night and she says that so-and-so is already making his famous potato salad and could I make a desset instead? Sure, no problem.

                      Mr. CB hears this and tells me to take the potato salad anyway because he doesn't like so-and-so's potato salad.

                      I thought Oh heck no! That is a Not About Food thread in the making "even though I said her potato salad wasn't needed, she brought it anyway......is she a show up or just clueless?"

                      We will enjoy my potato salad at home.

                      1. As with anything else when I'm unsure of the cooking time I just test the food early and regularly and remove when cooked regardless of the time.

                        1. Just a little info...

                          Red potatoes are also known as new potatoes or waxy potatoes. They generally stay firmer and not as starchy as a russet potato. Waxy potatoes have thin skins which can be left on for dish.

                          Russets are known as starchy potatoes. Starchy potatoes generally fall apart when boiled and have a coarser mouth feel in potato salad.

                          In regards to the 10 to 15 minutes, it all depends upon how chunky you cut the potato. 10 minutes of boiling will work.

                          In regards to to trying a new recipe to present to other people, I suggest making a small batch first just to see if you actually like the results.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: dave_c


                            I usually boil whole potatoes for potato salad, but wanted to try using cut potatoes so I made a "spur of the moment" batch using cubed potatoes.

                            About 4 cups of cubed russets about 1/2" cubes, maybe 3/8" cubes.
                            Boiled in lightly salted water (not as salty as seawater) for about 12 minutes.
                            I used enough water to cover the potatoes with at least a 1/2" of water.
                            Drained thoroughly before adding vinegar and salt to the cooked potatoes.

                            The potatoes were cooked through, tender and still held it's shape. A couple more minutes of boiling, I suspect I would have made mashed potatoes instead of potato salad for dinner.
                            Some of the smaller cubes broke down during mixing which added to the creaminess of the potato salad... which is one advantage of using russets (versus waxy potatoes).

                            Total time from peeling potatoes to serving was about 25 minutes... which is about half the time when making from whole potatoes. Also, my hands aren't red from peeling and cubing hot potatoes. :-)

                          2. Something else to consider is baking your potatoes. I had a few baked potatoes left over from a previous meal so I make a quick potato salad out of them. I was pleasantly surprised at how well it turned out. The potatoes were firm and held their shape when I mixed them in with all the other ingredients.

                            good luck!

                            1 Reply