Monday, June 24, 2013

Mom's "Old Fashioned" 'Tater Salad ~ Perfect For Summer Barbecues!

OK... I know what you're thinkin'.

Who wants to make a potato salad that takes me two days to prepare?

Well, I truly believe that if you taste this one, you really won't care about the time it takes. And in all honesty, it isn't quite as bad as it sounds. The only reason it takes "two" days, is because it's made with baked and cooled potatoes.

If you really want to, you can get up very early and bake your potatoes, get them in the chill chest for about 3 or 4 hours and make it all in one day. In most cases, when I know that I'll be making this salad for the weekend, I'll cook my potatoes on Wednesday or Thursday night. They're fine in the fridge for a couple of days. They don't even need to be wrapped up or in a container. Their skins will protect them.

So, why not just use freshly cooked potatoes? Don't some recipes instruct you to make the salad while the potatoes are still warm? Well, yes... that's true. But those recipes will never give you the flavor or texture of this potato salad. Uh-huh... now you're wondering if I could be exaggerating just a bit, right? Ya know... seeing as how it's my recipe?

Here's the thing... I don't take full credit for this salad because the idea, or maybe I should say... inspiration, comes from a family member's cherished and often requested version. (An Aunt on my father's side) I never did have the good fortune of being able to get the actual recipe from her or to see her prepare it, but after several years (no exaggeration) of experimenting, I finally came up with a version that I feel is right on the money. She might have done it differently. As a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure she boiled her potatoes, but I just couldn't get a boiled potato to cut that small without turning into mashed potatoes. I even tried chilling them first. No luck. Besides, the flavor that baking the potatoes adds to this salad, is incredible. So, let's get on with the recipe, shall we?

Mom's "Old Fashioned" 'Tater Salad
(This is the full recipe, which is perfect for feeding a crowd. 
As you can see in the photos, I just made 1/2 this time)
  • 6 Lg Russet Potatoes
  • 1 Medium Onion, minced very finely
  • 2 Medium Stalks Celery, minced very finely
  • 3 Cups Real Mayonnaise (no sugary "salad dressings", please)
  • 3 Tbls Prepared Yellow Mustard
  • 1 Heaping Teaspoon Onion Powder
  • 1 Heaping Teaspoon Celery Salt
  • 1 Teaspoon Kosher Salt
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper

The day before (or at least 6 hours before) you're going to make your salad:

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Scrub the potatoes thoroughly, pat them dry with some paper towels and pierce them three or four times with the tip of a sharp paring knife or the tines of a fork. Bake them in your preheated oven for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a knife tip or a fork goes into the center with just a little bit of resistance. (could be about 35 minutes if you're only cooking half the amount, so check)

Even though these are going to chill in the fridge overnight, like a steak or a piece of chicken, they will continue to cook for about 5 minutes after removing them from the oven. Letting them cook too long could easily result in a potato that gets a bit mealy on you and that would totally defeat the purpose of doing this step ahead of time.

Once the potatoes have cooled, place them (still unpeeled) in the refrigerator for a minimum of 4 hours or preferably overnight. Do not wrap them in foil or in cling wrap. Just place them in the fridge, as is. Don't know where I heard it, but there's some kind of bacterial issue that can occur if you wrap them first. See ya tomorrow!

Don't worry... I'm gonna finish this post now. I wouldn't make you wait for a part 2 of the recipe. (continued after the photo below)

OK. So first you'll want to gather up all of your ingredients and utensils and grab your taters out of the fridge. Peel the potatoes with a small paring knife. There will be small gaps where the skins have pulled away from the meat of the potatoes and that's normal. It's just shrinkage from the chilling process.

Sorry about this one being kinda blurry. It's hard to take a photo and peel a potato at the same time. ;~)
The skins should come off pretty easily, but there will be a few little areas that might be a bit dry. Just slice those off.

Don't worry if you don't get all of the brownish coloring off of them. If it's really thick or tough, you can take that off, but a little color isn't going hurt at all. It's just a bit of caramelization from the baking process and it actually adds to the overall flavor of the salad.

How you cut the potato is one of the most important steps in this recipe. Well, I guess I should say that it's the most important part. As I mentioned above, the size of the potato cubes (and other ingredients too) is what makes such a difference in the flavor of this dish. In culinary school, future chefs have to take classes on basic and advanced knife skills. One of the cuts that they learn, is called a small dice. (for a short instructional video, scroll down to the bottom of this post.) Basically, this is the end result that I'm going for.

I start by cutting the potato in half and then take each half and place it on the cutting board with the cut side down. Next, cut each side in half again, vertically. Then make 2 slices in each half, from top to bottom. You'll have a total of 4 thin, vertical slices.

Lay 2 of the slices at a time on the board horizontally and make several slices, about a quarter of an inch apart. (this is called a batonnet cut ~ see photo above) Then, cut the strips into small cubes. It's really not as complicated as I just made it sound. LOL The video probably shows it better than I can explain it. ;~)

If you find that it's easier to change up the order of my steps, that's fine. The goal is to end up with a very small dice.

Mince your onion and celery very finely, as well. You can even go a bit more fine with the veggies if you don't like big chunks of celery and onion in your salads.

The cubes don't have to be completely uniform. There can certainly be some pieces that are slightly bigger or smaller. Let's face it. This isn't culinary school and even with my level of OCD, I don't have the patience or the knife skills to get a perfect small dice. LOL

Mix the potatoes, onions and celery together in a large mixing bowl.

In a smaller bowl, combine the mayonnaise, mustard and seasonings. It might seem like a lot of dressing, but the potatoes will still absorb quite a bit, even though they're not warm. Remember: It's all about the dressing to potato ratio!

Whisk the dressing until it's completely smooth. Mixing it in a separate bowl before adding it to the potatoes is important. You don't want pockets of onion powder or mustard to throw off the balance. :~)

Add the dressing to the potatoes and stir well to incorporate. Remember... It might look like a lot of dressing, but don't be tempted to not use it all. It will absorb into the potatoes.

Pour the finished salad into a serving bowl, cover it tightly with a lid or some cling wrap and put it in the refrigerator for a minimum of 2 hours. 3 or 4 is better if you have the time. The longer this sits, the better it tastes.

Et, voila! You have (what I consider to be) the perfect potato salad!  It really isn't as laborious as I probably made it sound. But it is delicious!

In this video, Chef Jacob Burton is using a raw potato and he squares it off to get a more perfect cut. As you can see from my photos, (above) I didn't take the time to make it all square and perfect, so don't worry about that, either. This just gives you an idea of the kind of cut I'm looking for. Plus, it's a great little tutorial on basic knife skills!

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  1. Replies
    1. I know, right? It's a great little primer on some basic kitchen skills that both novice and expert cooks can benefit from. We can all use a little brushing up, every now and then. XO


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