Ever-popular potato salad reigns supreme as summer side

  • A unique mix of flavors await in this Lemon, Garlic and Chili Potato Salad.

    A unique mix of flavors await in this Lemon, Garlic and Chili Potato Salad. Photo for The Washington Post by Deb Lindsey

  • Watercress and radishes brighten up a Smoked Trout, Egg and Potato Salad. Find the recipe on Page 2.

    Watercress and radishes brighten up a Smoked Trout, Egg and Potato Salad. Find the recipe on Page 2. Photo for The Washington Post by Deb Lindsey

  • Bacon-topped Hot Potato Salad provides a cheesy alternative to cold sides.

    Bacon-topped Hot Potato Salad provides a cheesy alternative to cold sides. Photo for The Washington Post by Deb Lindsey

 
By Bonnie S. Benwick
The Washington Post
Updated 6/24/2015 6:10 AM

In summer's unofficial produce pageant, Silver Queen corn reigns perennial, while peaches and late-August tomatoes vie for runner-up honors. Pound for pound, though, a nonseasonal starter gets the double win for talent and congeniality: the potato.

Not just any spud will do. Go for the small, less-starchy models that now come in many colors, with skin so tender that no one would think of stripping them bare. They're the ones that make potato salads the always-welcome-at-a-party side dish.

 

Seldom do we try a potato salad recipe that disappoints. When it does fall short, odds are good that somebody has over- or undercooked the star ingredient. Texture is key: You're after a clean, yielding bite, either in counterpoint to the crunch of celery or in concert with ripe avocado.

To achieve that magic consistently, by boiling, start with a wide saute pan instead of a deep pot. Potatoes need only a few inches of salted water to cover but enough room to sit almost in a single layer. (Their skins will stay intact.) Small, whole potatoes about 1 inches thick take 10 to 15 minutes; allow 25 minutes or so for larger red bliss or gold-fleshed varieties. When the tip of a paring knife can pierce the flesh with minimal resistance, they're most likely done. But just to be sure, you can pluck the fattest potato from the pan and cut it open.

Be gentle as you pour them into a colander in the sink, then treat them to an immediate, generous splash of rice or malt vinegar. The hot potatoes will absorb the liquid and become properly seasoned as they cool. The vinegar also helps to set the skins in place.

Sweet potatoes are often roasted for salads, but boiling them peeled and whole works surprisingly well. Choose ones that are evenly thick, less than 2 inches wide at the center. They'll cook as fast as their petite pals: two of them can go into a medium saute pan of boiling salted water and be done in 12 minutes.

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Choose a mayonnaise-, yogurt- or oil-based dressing with a thought as to how and where you'll be serving: alfresco, for a hourslong buffet or for a quick weeknight meal. Recipe-wise, we've added a few that go beyond what you'll find at the deli counter.

But once you've mastered how to cook potatoes for salads, there's no need to stick with a written set of directions. Check your farmers market basket, the herbs in your garden and the flavored oils in your pantry. A parade of winning dishes awaits.

Tator tips

• Sweet potatoes headed for salads are often roasted, but boiling a peeled, whole sweet potato turns out to be a faster way to go: typically, 12 minutes in boiling water. For this technique, it's best to choose potatoes that are long rather than fat -- no more than 2 inches in diameter at the center.

• Save those sweet potato peelings; drizzle them with olive oil and roast for 12 minutes at 400 degrees. Cool and crumble/toss into your favorite potato salad.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

• Sweet potato chunks bound for the oven or grill basket will hold their seasoning better when they have first been tossed with a minimal amount of olive oil, vinegar, orange juice or even water.

• Boil fingerling potatoes whole, cool completely, then use the bottom of a Pyrex glass measuring cup to gently press each potato so it's just smashed yet holds together.

• Potato salads can be composed: Toss -inch, skin-on sweet potato rounds with olive oil and herb salt before roasting for 20 to 25 minutes at 375 degrees; layer them, with sliced vegetables and cheeses.

• Wondering what to do with that gift bottle of flavored oil in your pantry? Coat potatoes for roasting; sprinkle them with sea salt, too. Cool completely before cutting.

• To better preserve their color, cook small purple potatoes whole. Paler slices come from potatoes that were cut in half before boiling.

• Potato salad can be as simple as boiled California Golds, pesto, salt and pepper. Cut or slice the cooked spuds.

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