Sunday, July 3, 2011

Potato Salad... Kay's Way

We're having a few friends over on the 4th of July for some traditional picnic fare, so what would the 4th be without potato salad? Growing up, it was always my mom who was asked to bring the potato salad to family functions. Maybe it was because she made a damn good salad, or maybe it was because no one else wanted to make it and she enjoyed doing it.

It's really a simple recipe, but Mom thought it was something special and that she had all the secrets of potato salad making figured out. She guarded the recipe and never told all her secrets outside our own kitchen walls. (Except once when my cousin asked her if she would share it with her, but I guess she had her reason for doing so.)

Well, today I am going to share the recipe with you because I think good recipes should be shared. Besides:

1) I'm not making money off the recipe.
2) I really don't care to be the one who everyone goes to when they want potato salad at a picnic. I'm just as happy if someone else makes it.
3) I don't think the recipe is anything that anyone else hasn't already figured out.

Like I said, it's a simple recipe without a lot of fancy ingredients which makes it likable to even a fussy eater like my husband. She didn't use eggs or dill or relish or any exotic ingredients. It's just good old potato salad. So here it is:

Potato Salad... Kay's Way

Kay's Secret #1: Start with whole potatoes boiled with their skins on, or as Kay would say, "with their jackets on". You'll know when they are done when the skins begin to split.

There's probably much debate on the skins on/skins off method, but I agree with mom on this. By boiling the potatoes in their jackets, the texture of the cooked potato is wonderful. When you cut them you get nice tender potato chunks with lots of soft potato goodness on the outside that mixes in with the mayo to make it taste yummy. If potatoes are peeled and cut before boiling, every piece cooks to the same "doneness"; and if you don't cook them long enough, the potatoes seem almost slippery or slimy in the mayo (yuck).

Cool the potatoes and then peel them. I usually cook the potatoes the night before and stick them in the fridge overnight. The skin peels off really easily, warm or cold, using just a butter knife.

Have your kids help with this step. My sister and I were helping to peel potatoes long before we were old enough to use a sharp knife!

Cut the potatoes into bite size chunks.

Next, chop up some celery and onion.

No secret here, except maybe the fact that Kay used to chop the onion so small that even the pickiest child wouldn't be able to detect them in her salad.


Sometimes, when she was walking on the wild side, Kay would add chopped green pepper to it "just for color". I loved it when she did that and I would probably add chopped red peppers to mine except my hubby wouldn't like it that way.

Add the chopped veggies to the potatoes.

Kay's Secret #2: Salt, pepper, and cider vinegar. That's no secret you say? All potato salad recipes use salt and pepper? And many have vinegar in them, too? Ahhh, but most of them call for the vinegar to be added to the mayo. Kay's recipe has you adding it to the bare potatoes. Again, I side with mom on this one. If you add it to the mayo, you get runny mayo. If you add it to the potatoes, the tangy flavor seeps into the potatoes and your mayo keeps its proper consistency. Much better!

So, pour vinegar into your shallow mixing spoon and sprinkle it around the bowl. Repeat a couple of times. Add salt and pepper and mix. Repeat this a few more times until the salad has about 6 or 8 mixing spoons full of vinegar. Don't over salt, but be generous with the pepper if you like. Kay always was. (I don't know how old I was when I discovered that potatoes did have little black specks in them naturally!)

Okay, so now you can take a little break and let the flavors soak into each other. Now's the time to do the dishes or start your pasta salad. Let the potatoes sit for 10 or 15 minutes, or pop it in the fridge and finish it just before serving.

To finish it, just add mayo. Of course Kay used Hellmann's Real Mayonnaise. You can use whatever brand you like, but it won't taste like Potato Salad... Kay's Way unless you use Hellmann's.

As I said before, Kay didn't add eggs to her salad. She knew that egg was often an essential ingredient to potato salad, but that some people didn't like it that way. So her solution was to garnish the salad with sliced hard boiled eggs all around the rim of the bowl so people would have the choice. I don't garnish my salad because my hubby would really hate it that way- even if they were just sitting on top. (Don't even talk about eggs in front of him.)

So, that's it. Next time you need to make potato salad, give this recipe a try and let me know if you get any compliments on it. And maybe thank Kay with a wave toward the sky.


  1. this seems like the way that my great grammy made it! i always tell people that cider vinegar should go in potato salad! i'm going to give this a shot!

  2. That's just how I make mine! Nothing fancy. If I have dill pickle juice on hand, I will use that on the warm potatoes instead of vinegar.