Part 1 of a very special 2 part series: Potato Salad, because Skippy isn’t going to save us

There are so many things I miss about the TV shows I grew up with. Not in an old man yells at clouds way, but in the silly gimmicks they used to do, whether it be the crossovers between shows (what, Spenser For Hire is on the Love Boat??), the clip compilation show (where the actors reminisce about an event for 45 seconds, they drop in a 5 minute clip of that event, and that’s ad revenue without labor), or the two part episode (where the story line is so important that they just can’t pack it all into one 30 minute episode, so they stretch it over 2 weeks).

What does that have to do with this post? We’re going to spend 2 posts exploring the dishes that come together to make a really great meal.

And why am I treating it as a 2 part series? Umm…I was too lazy to take pictures of the two items separately, and they wouldn’t look good cropped, so it’s a 2 parter now…but rest assured, Skippy is not going to be showing up at the airport to greet Mallory, only to find her with her new boyfriend Scott.

(Yes, I just did Hans Gruber mistaking the season 1 finale of Friends for every episode of Family Ties.)

In part 1 of this series, we’re going to be doing potato salad. Potato salad, like all of the mayo based salads, has a wide range of potential outcomes. Most of the time they’re over-mayoed, which makes them really bland. Occasionally you’ll find some odd ingredients in them, though you don’t find as many variations as you do with chicken salad (grapes, walnuts, Viagra). And usually the potatoes get soft and mushy. As we’ll find out, these are easy to overcome.

First thing first is the potatoes. Go with the regular old russet potatoes; this isn’t a time to get cute with your purple Yukon artisan golds, they’re not going to absorb the seasoning and dressing as well as the humble russet. And you don’t want to be looking at those weird colors in your salad.

Now, the best way to ensure that your potatoes cook evenly to a just tender doneness is to cut them all about the same size. I mean, you can get a ruler and measure and make sure they match exactly…not that I’ve ever done that…

…but they should be around 3/4 inch – 1 inch cubes. Just do your best to keep them uniform if you don’t feel like getting all anal-retentive about it.

Next thing we need to attack is cooking your matchy matchy cubes to cook evenly without turning them into a soggy mess. To do this, you want to start the potatoes in cold water, instead of dumping them straight into boiling water. Boiling water is going to start obliterating the outsides of the cubes before the insides can get cooked, and they’re going to bash against each other and the edges will get all soft and messy. Don’t be soft and messy.

You also want to add a lot of seasonings to the water – sugar, salt, and vinegar. Why do we season the water? The same reason why I’ve said in pasta recipes that you need to make the water taste like the sea OH MY GOD WE’RE DOING A FLASHBACK!!! But seriously, seasoning the water with salt and sugar is going to get them to penetrate the potatoes much better than doing it after boiling. And the vinegar, in addition to the flavoring, is also going to help slow the process of the potato falling apart during cooking, so if you overcook them a little they should still hold together.

Once you’ve got the potatoes boiled, you’ll need to drain them and lay them out on a baking sheet or two, sprinkle them with a little more vinegar, and allow them to cool off. While the potatoes are resting, getting to know the vinegar, absorbing it in the same way that we’re absorbing the likely Shayne/Shaina coupling on the Love Is Blind reunion show, you can start working on the dressing.

Now, there’s nothing saying that you have to follow a specific recipe on the dressing – it’s not like baking, where the entire structure of a loaf of bread crumbles if there’s 1/16th of a tablespoon less of sugar than required. That said, a little over 1/4 cup of mayo per pound of potatoes is a pretty good ratio to get ideal coverage. But hey, if you like it super gloppy, knock yourself out and add all the mayo.

The rest of the additions should add texture (celery, onions), sweetness (sweet pickles), acidity (mustard), and/or deliciousness (hard boiled eggs). Anything you add beyond these should hit one of these characteristics. Usually I joke about things you could add…but you really shouldn’t. Whatever you do add, make sure they’re cut finely – this is a potato salad, not a celery salad, and your choices should reflect that, and will reflect on you as a human being.

Once the potatoes have cooled, you want to mix them and the dressing together. Gently. You’ve spent this much time being very careful to prepare everything perfectly, the last thing you want to do is smash everything together and make sad mashed potato salad.

Be sure to come back next…I don’t know, week, month, millennium…for the finale of this very special post.

Potato Salad

Adapted from Serious Eats

Serves 8

Ingredients

4 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch cubes

6 T rice wine vinegar

4 T sugar

2 T kosher salt, plus more for seasoning

For the dressing

1 c finely diced celery (about 3 ribs)

1/2 c finely diced red onion (about 1/4 onion)

1/2 c thin sliced green parts of green onions

1/4 c minced parsley

1/4 c minced sweet pickles (sweet pickle relish is a great substitute)

2 T whole grain mustard (Dijon works fine as well)

4 eggs, hard boiled and diced small

1 1/4 c mayonnaise

Directions

In a large saucepan, add 2 quarts of cold water, 2 tablespoons each salt, sugar, and vinegar. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer. Cook until the potatoes are tender (start testing after 5 minutes, though it will usually take about 10).

Drain the potatoes, then spread evenly onto a baking sheet (or two if needed). Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of vinegar over the potatoes, and allow them to cool to room temperature.

While the potatoes are cooling, prepare the dressing ingredients and combine them into a large bowl.

When the potatoes are cooled, gently fold them into the dressing. Add salt and pepper to taste if needed.

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