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How do I make REALLY CREAMY potato salad?

Q:

How do I make REALLY CREAMY potato salad? Does adding apple cider vinegar to the cooked potatoes while they're cooling help with the creaminess? I have a friend who makes a really creamy potato salad (it's very plain with no addition of celery or eggs) and when asked what the secret is she just said she adds a good mayonnaise. Is there a secret to make it really creamy?

A:

What a great question, almost everyone loves potato salad however everyone has their own idea of what makes the perfect creamy potato salad. My parents both grew up east of the Rockies, Mom in Alabama and Dad in Massachusetts and they both loved the flavor of Hellmann’s Blue Ribbon Mayonnaise in a creamy potato salad. When they moved to Denver in the fifties, Mom was convinced that the creamy potato salad she made with Hellmann’s tasted different than the salad made with Best Foods even though the parent company said they were the same. Hellmann’s started up from selling homemade mayo out of a deli in NYC, and began making it commercially in 1913.  The reason I bring this up… most people in the United States have used Hellmann’s or Best Foods to make potato salads for generations with one of these mayonnaise options rather than making from fresh eggs. So, let’s start with this ingredient to make a creamy Idaho potato salad.

Russets will crumble a little when making potato salad, also adding a nice creaminess. The best method for evenly cooked Idaho russet potatoes is to peel first, cut into even sized chunks and then starting with cold water, bring to a boil. The chunks can vary in size slightly, try 1 ½ to 2 inches max. This works better than boiling whole potatoes as the outside is always done before the insides so there is a tendency to overcook the potatoes. Check it with a knife or fork and take the potatoes off the heat once you can smush the cooked spuds, usually 15-20 minutes max.

I like to mix all the ingredients, mayonnaise, vinegar or pickle juice, mustard and dried spices together and then add in the drained potatoes while warm so they soak up the liquids. Some cooks let the potatoes cool and then add in the mixture and toss lightly. Both methods work, but always taste before serving as potatoes will absorb a lot of the flavors and may need more to bring out the flavor.

Magazines like Good Housekeeping, Betty Crocker and Better Homes & Gardens years ago typically used to use a much higher ratio of mayonnaise to potatoes than modern creamy potato salads. You might try these early versions… 1 ½ potatoes to 1 ½ cups of mayo in some recipes, 2 pounds of potatoes to ¾ cup of mayo for example. Modern recipes back off on how much mayonnaise, 1 ½ cups of potatoes to as little as ½ cup to 1/3rd. Another option, replace some of the mayo with buttermilk. Mr. Food has a recipe for four pounds of potatoes, 1 ½ cups of mayonnaise and adds in 1 cup of sour cream.

Apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar or pickle juice is used mostly for flavoring, giving a nice tang to a creamy potato salad. Substitute lighter versions of the dairy if you’d like to cut calories. One of my favorite potato salads calls for a small amount of mayo, 2-4 tablespoons and substitutes a creamy Italian dressing.