© 2024 KRCU Public Radio
90.9 Cape Girardeau | 88.9-HD Ste. Genevieve | 88.7 Poplar Bluff
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

On the Menu: Potato Salad


I started seeing the smoke and smelling the grills from my neighbors’ yards recently. My Weber’s cleaned up, newly accessorized, and ready to fire up. So, that means - it’s salad season.

Potato salad is on the menu. It is one of our beloved American side dishes that accompanies BBQs, family gatherings, or just a day outdoors. It must be popular, because one of my local markets have four kinds: mayonnaise, mustard, red potato and egg, and deviled egg.

Of course, you know the potato came to us via Europe where it was a versatile staple in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. In case you didn’t know, Germans take their potato salad seriously, where it is knowns as kartofflesalat.

The American versions are rooted in German cuisine, which uses vinegar, sugar, mustard, oil, and herbs to dress boiled, mashed, and sliced potatoes. The earliest written recipes for American potato salad date to the mid-19th century.

I have a few recipes for potato salad from the book titled “Housekeeping in Old Virginia,” published in 1879. (By John P. Morton & Company) in Louisville, KY. One of them, uses cold boiled potatoes dressed with vinegar, your “best salad oil,” parsley, salt, and pepper. I also have a recipe for funeral potato salad. I won’t talk about that – but I’ll leave you the recipe.

What’s the best potato to use and why?
A waxy potato such as Yukon gold, red bliss, or fingerling. Waxy potatoes are denser and remain solid when cooked. The russet or Idaho potato is starchy and not preferred for potato salad. It’s lighter, drier and doesn’t work well in wet recipes. It can become mushy.

How do you dress potato salad?
Oil and vinegar-based dressing dates to the 19th century. But it is not clear when mayonnaise came into the dressing room. Culinary historians credit a French chef with the invention in 1756, but Spanish historians claim it came from locals in Minorca, Spain. So, that means we don’t know for sure. Bottled mayonnaise became available in America in the 1900s, and by the 20’s and 30’s, the iconic brands – Hellman’s, Best Foods, Dukes, and Miracle Whip – was introduced. And the tangy, sharp, flavor of mustard as a base is said to be preferred in the South – sometimes called Texas-style.

I’m a mayo girl, so I swear by Hellman’s, but Dukes works. Dukes has a higher ratio of egg yolks and less sugar than most brands, but Hellman’s is creamier with a higher yummy factor. My mother made a mayonnaise-based version, always with Miracle Whip. I was often the chop girl – I diced celery, onions, and bell peppers while she peeled and chopped the potatoes. We mixed those together, added chopped hard-boiled eggs – which she chopped in the palm of her hand – then sweet relish, apple cider vinegar, mayo, salt, pepper. Crumbled egg yolks topped the salad, with a final sprinkle of paprika for color.

When I say my family is deeply rooted in potato salad, I mean It attended almost every family gathering – Thanksgiving, Christmas – and I mentioned funeral potato salad didn’t I? One of the best things about it is that it travels well – it’s one of the grand dames of potluck.

So, who brings the potato salad to your events? I don’t know about your family, but in mine, only certain people can bring the potato salad. Some of you know what I mean. There are folks who are better at it than others and designating someone the potato salad queen - or king - is usually wise. My husband asked me where my mother’s recipe is. I didn’t have a copy, so I asked my sisters for it and none of us have it written down. We just make it. I think this is the first time I’ve (actually) written it down.

Dr. Quantella Noto is Associate Professor and Director of Hospitality Management in the Harrison College of Business and Computing at Southeast Missouri State University.