Summer and fall are great times for potato salad. There are two main types: German and American. Not surprisingly, German Potato Salad originated in Germany. It has a vinegar-based dressing and is served hot. American Potato Salad originated in the United States, has a mayonnaise-based dressing and is served cold. Both are delicious and have their own attributes depending on the situation.
In summer into early fall when it is still hot, I like American Potato Salad. It comes together quickly, can be made ahead of time and lasts for days. When it starts to get a little cool in the fall I like German Potato Salad. It warms you up and holds heat well for travel, and the sharp acidity pairs well with many other hearty dishes of fall. The steps to each are very similar; you can tweak and shape it to your own preferences or with what is in season.
Do you want the final texture of your potato salad chunky, smoothed or diced? There is a reason that russet potatoes are used for mashed potatoes. When russet potatoes cook, the flesh of the potato does not hold its structure. It breaks down quickly into crumbly small pieces, eventually becoming smooth. Russets work well if you want a smooth potato salad with very few chunks.
Red or new potatoes hold their structure. They can be cooked fully and hold a diced or wedge shape. If you are pressed for time, try cooking your red potatoes whole and smashing them with a spoon or a stand mixer when you are ready to make the salad. The result is a chunky salad without the extra time honing your knife skills.
Texture and Seasoning
The potatoes need some contrast; on their own they can be a bit mushy and bland. Adding vegetables can create great texture and color. You can use green onions, celery, pepper, relish, bacon, hard cooked egg, jicama or even carrots, vinegar or mustard. The combinations are endless. Take your favorite components of other potato salads and try incorporating them into this recipe one ingredient at a time to see what you like.
Potatoes are porous; they will absorb seasoning quickly and become bland. The last thing you want to do is only season the outside and then have the flavor completely change three or four hours later. Word to the wise: Dress and season the salad when it is hot, the mayonnaise and seasoning will get sucked into the potato as it cools. You also don’t taste seasoning as well in cold foods. Once the salad has cooled, taste and season again if needed.