What Makes The Best Potato Salad? Four Chefs Debate Weigh In

Mayo, eggs and boiled potatoes are essential to a good potato salad, right? Not necessarily.

Potato salad is a staple side dish at summer barbecues, usually provided by aunties, grandmas and the one cousin who can’t cook. Whether it’s cold and mayo-based or warm and doused in vinegar, everyone thinks they make the best potato salad, arguing over every ingredient down to the appropriate seasonings.

Well, we spoke to four chefs who shared their ideal potato salad recipes and gave tips for achieving culinary perfection, in their own humble opinions.

The Ideal: Crispy Roasted Potatoes, Heavy On The Mayo

Courtesy of J. Jackson

Chef J. Jackson, also known as Mr. Foodtastic, has served politicians, Grammy award-winning artists and the nation’s elite as the owner of Entrée Metropolitan, a catering business in Washington, D.C. His ideal potato salad? “Potato salad should be rich.”

His ideal salad is made with roasted potatoes that’ve been lightly seasoned with salt and pepper, adding a crispy texture to the dish. Roasting the potatoes for 30-40 minutes enhances their flavour, and Jackson believes everyone should start doing it this way. He cooks with Yukon Gold, leaving on specks of skin, but when he opts for baby potatoes instead, he doesn’t bother to peel them. He thinks the key components of potato salad are negotiable, but he prefers fresh herbs such as parsley, basil and a little vinegar.

He goes heavy on the mayo; his go-to is Kewpie, a popular Japanese brand. He adds earthy spices like cumin and Tastic Original, an all-purpose spice he produces. He also includes diced celery, but eggs are optional. Depending on his mood, he might add bacon, or if he’s feeling healthy, broccoli.

The Ideal: Creamy Fingerlings With A Dash Of Bite

Courtesy of Luke Venner

At Elm Restaurant in New Canaan, Connecticut, owner and chef Luke Venner puts his personal spin on potato salad after training in kitchens from Napa Valley to New York City. He prefers it cold and served with a hot dish.

The creaminess of his potato salad pairs well with his restaurant’s spicy ribs, resulting in a great complementary bite. His ideal potato salad uses gold fingerling potatoes because they’re robust, sweet and small, mixed with a combo of mayo and mustard. But his secret ingredient is crema Mexicana, a table cream with a similar consistency to crème fraiche. “It’s superior to sour cream,” he told HuffPost.

He lets his potatoes simmer in water with the skin on until tender, then adds the dressing while they’re still warm, allowing the warm potatoes to soak up as much of the dressing as possible. “The key to making a potato salad is to dress it while it’s warm, so that it can absorb all the flavours,” he said. He tosses in nontraditional ingredients like fresh peas and diced pickled green tomatoes, which marry with fresh dill and scallions to function as seasoning.

The Ideal: Boiled Potatoes And Lots Of Bacon Flavour

Courtesy of Tamra Patterson

Chef Tamra Patterson, the owner of Chef Tam Underground Café in Memphis and winner of the Food Network’s “Guy’s Grocery Games,” told HuffPost that “this homegrown Texas girl will take potato salad over coleslaw any day.” She thinks her version is the best because not only is it made in honour of her grandmother, but it’s loaded with bacon flavour.

Patterson’s ideal potato salad has the perfect amount of creaminess, a nice potato chunk, lots of bacon flavour and just enough tang. She raves, “Bacon in potato salad is everything.”

She boils red potatoes with the skin on, then after cooking bacon, she reserves the fat and blends it into her mayonnaise. She seasons her dressing with southwest hot mustard, a sprinkle of sugar, cracked black pepper and salt ― plus a hit of blackened seasoning ― and then sprinkles in crispy cooked bacon.

Patterson’s dish tends to “eat like a meal,” and people devour it. Her pro tips: Only boil the potatoes for 20-30 minutes at a full boil; it will maintain their creaminess and bite. “Don’t be afraid to try something different. There are no rules in cooking,” she said.

The Ideal: Cold And Creamy, But Absolutely NO Sweet Ingredients

Courtesy of Natasha Butler

Natasha Butler, a cookbook author and owner/executive chef at Seasons of Louisiana Catering, has been cooking potato salad professionally for a decade. She told HuffPost she feels strongly that “potato salad isn’t supposed to be sweet.” As a matter of fact, the New Orleans native said, “Neither sweet pickles nor dill belong in there.”

Her ideal potato salad has a hint of spice and creaminess. It comes cold with the right amount of mayo, creole and yellow mustards, and the holy trinity: bell pepper, onions and celery. She boils and makes hers with Yukon Gold potatoes with the skin on, mixed with hard-boiled eggs. She gives it life with Cajun pepper, liquid crab boil, Tony Chachere’s creole seasoning, garlic powder, salt, dried parsley and thyme flakes. Butler keeps a tight lip about one key ingredient that officially seals the deal, but her best advice for novice cooks is to “make it creamy and spice it up!”

Everyone provides their own special touch to potato salad. But just know this: If someone gets assigned to bring the potato salad to the next cookout or potluck, it’s a strong indication that his or hers is the best.