The Thinking 

All-American Potato Salad

July 3, 2012


THE FRENCH make potato salad with olive oil and wine, the Germans like it warm with bacon, Sicilians reportedly add fava beans. Americans have their own tradition. They eat potato salad with sugar in it.

Horrors! Sugar is evil. Okay, be that way. Nevertheless, that is our heritage, and until the federal government bans potato salad (or rather imposes a fine on those who eat it), it’s a good thing to participate in this exalted tradition once in a while.

Here is an excellent recipe for an American-style potato salad. The dressing, which is also good on macaroni salad, is adapted from Roy Finamore’s book One Potato, Two Potato and originally came from a vendor at the Union Square Market in New York City. 

Heartland Potato Salad

1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tsp ground mustard
2 eggs
1 cup mayonnaise

1 1/2 to 2 pounds cooked potatoes (I prefer red potatoes, but any kind will do)
1/2 cup red onion, chopped
1/2 cup scallions, chopped
1/4 cup parsley, chopped

Salt and pepper

Combine sugar, vinegar, water, mustard, and salt and pepper to taste in a saucepan. Bring to a gentle boil, stirring with a whisk to dissolve the sugar.

Whisk the eggs in a bowl. Slowly add the boiling vinegar to the bowl, stirring constantly. Return ingredients to saucepan and cook over medium low heat, stirring constantly, until sauce is thickened and coats the back of a spoon (about three minutes.) Remove from heat and whisk in mayonnaise.

Combine with potatoes and other ingredients. Chill for at least one hour.

If you have children who don’t like red onions or dark green things, then just add celery and the dressing to the potatoes and skip the rest.

—- Comments —

Kimberly writes:

I went to your blog today knowing that you would have a fabulous American dish for us. It got me wondering about your potato cake recipe. I would like to try that. I tried to find it with your search but failed. Do you have a way to get to it easily?

Laura writes:

I see this is the second time I have given a recipe from Finamore’s book on July Fourth. It’s a good book. Here is the chocolate cake recipe.

A reader writes:

Maybe Yankees like sugar in their potato salad, but in Texas that just won’t do. Potato salad is supposed to be tangy, not sweet. The recipe is a good start, though. Hard boil and dice those eggs, skip the vinegar and water, use prepared yellow mustard instead of dry (in about equal amount to the mayonnaise), and add dill relish with a bit of extra dill pickle juice, just the red onions, none of that fancy scallions and parsley, and that is potato salad. My grandma always made it with mashed potatoes (leftover or fresh) and let it sit in the fridge for a day or so before serving.

Sugar on potatoes indeed!

Laura writes:

I like your grandma a whole lot, but Texans have some serious issues. The recipe you mention is too mayonnaise-y. Not creamy enough.

As for tang, that’s what the vinegar is for.

Hard-boiled eggs are a good idea and are in the original recipe by Finamore. I left them out in consideration of the Laziness Factor.

Mary writes:

Here’s the bottom line: you are both right. Hard boiled eggs are essential, yes. Vinegar, too. And yellow mustard. Potato salad does need sweetness, but in the form of chopped sweet – not dill – pickles and pickle juice (instead of sugar). And Yukon Golds. There you have it, the real deal. Empty bowl every time.

If Grandma was being practical and using up some leftovers, fine, but otherwise, mashed potatoes?!

Laura writes:

The other reason why I left out the hard-boiled eggs is that most of the people in my extended family hate them. I like them, but they don’t.

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