Everyone's mother has a signature potato salad recipe, at least in the South it seems. I've got about four versions I rotate between, my favorites including an Ina Garten recipe that uses whole grain mustard and my future mother-in-law's featuring Greek yogurt and plenty of chives.
I decided it was high-time I came up with my own signature potato salad, with warmer weather promising lots of potential potlucks and barbecues. When I thought about the flavors I find most important, I kept returning to a potato salad I enjoyed at a little sandwich shop in my tiny North Carolina college town. I Googled it, hoping to find a description listed on the menu to guide me in the right direction. Unfortunately the only information I could find was its name, "Southern Potato Salad." Not very helpful at all.
I racked my brain, remembering that it was rather chunky with both potatoes and their red skins. It was creamy, yet tangy, with the slightest hint of yellow. I also recall there being something crunchy and green, because I picked at everything around it. (At the time I didn't like things that were either crunchy or green, a taste preference that I am very glad has since evolved.)
I grabbed a handful of ingredients and got started in the kitchen: red potatoes with the skins still on, mustard powder for spice, prepared mustard for color. Mayonnaise is a given because no self-respecting Southerner doesn't add at least a little bit to theirs, and finely chopped shallots and celery for both added flavor and color.
I started out slowly and tasted and stirred; a pinch of this and a handful of that. Then I left it to chill to see how it changed. A few hours later and what do you know? It was positively delightful! I'm not sure if it really is anything like that potato salad of my memory, but you can bet I've found my "signature" recipe. Of course like all recipes in this category, individual preferences differ. Feel free to adjust the seasonings to make it your very own.
What is your signature potato salad? Is it hot or cold, light or creamy? Is it a family recipe or did you come up with it on your own?
Related: Nothing Fancy: In Praise of Plain Old Red Potatoes
Smashed Potato Salad
Serves 4 to 6
2 pounds petite red potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 1/4 teaspoons dry mustard powder
1 heaping teaspoon prepared yellow mustard
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Thinly sliced scallions, for garnish
Bring potatoes to a boil in a large pot of salted water. Cook until tender and easily pierced with a knife, about 20 to 25 minutes total. Drain potatoes and return to the pot.
Add the mayonnaise, dry mustard powder, yellow mustard, celery, shallots, salt, and a generous amount of pepper. Smash using a potato masher until desired texture is reached. (I like small chunks of whole potatoes throughout.) Refrigerate until chilled. Adjust seasonings to personal preference upon serving; the flavors will have married and become a bit less pungent.
(Images: Nealey Dozier)