Cooking Potatoes For Potato Salad – Which Way Is Best?

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Potato salad is an all-time favorite dish. It’s simple yet delicious and can be made in so many different ways. 

But what is the best way to cook potatoes for potato salad? The best way to cook potatoes for potato salad is boiling them. Boiling cooks the potatoes evenly and allows for adequate control over the cooking process.

While there are multiple methods of cooking potatoes for a salad, the best method is boiling the potatoes. This makes sense if you understand the process for making potato salad.

As you cook your potatoes evenly, you have control over the degree of doneness as you can check the potatoes every minute.

It is important to cut the potatoes into even pieces and cook them to the perfect degree. The potatoes should be delicate but never mushy. They should hold their shape but not be stiff and undercooked. 

Continue reading for step by step instructions on how to cook perfect potatoes for potato salad. You will also learn about other methods of cooking potatoes if you want to save time or try something new. 

How to Get Perfectly Cooked Potatoes for Potato Salad?

To make a delicious potato salad two things are important. First, you should choose a suitable potato variety. Second, you should know the secrets of cooking the potatoes right. 

1. Pick the Right Potato Variety

Choosing the right potato variety is the key to a delicious potato salad. If you pick the main ingredient right, the rest will be much easier to handle. 

While it is a common knowledge that waxy potatoes are more suitable for boiling than starchy ones, starchy potatoes make a better potato salad.

The sides get mashed when you mix the potatoes with the rest of the ingredients and the dressing. This creates the perfect potato salad consistency that we all know and love.

Here are the best potato varieties to choose from when it comes to making a potato salad:

  • Russet 
  • Idaho
  • Klondike Goldust 
  • Yukon Gold

Feel free to use other potato varieties if you like how they perform in a salad. Red-skinned and new potatoes, for example, are less starchy but still a popular choice for potato salad. 

2. Cook the Potatoes Right 

Aside from choosing the right potato variety, there are a few things you should know to cook the potatoes right. 

Should You Boil Potatoes Whole or Cut Them Up?

You can boil the potatoes unpeeled and whole. However, this will take quite long. It is best to cut the potatoes in halves or quarter them.

Remember, however, that the more surface area of the potatoes there is exposed to water, the more nutrients it will lose while boiling. 

With this being said, it is a common practice to boil the potatoes cut up into cubes for potato salad. There are a few reasons why most people prefer doing this. 

Firstly, cubed potatoes cook faster. Secondly, they cook more evenly. And lastly, you don’t need to cut hot potatoes once they are done. All you have to do is to mix in the rest of the ingredients. 

To Peel or Not to Peel?

For starchy potato varieties, such as russet, Yukon gold, and Idaho, it is best to leave the skin on.

As these potatoes contain a higher amount of starch, they soak up a lot of water while boiling. Leaving the skin on will prevent this and protect the potatoes from becoming too watery and crumbly. 

With this being said, leaving the skin on the potatoes is a matter of preference. Some people like to leave the skin on for added texture while many others find it off-putting. 

Whether you prefer the skin on or off, it all comes down to the right cooking method. 

The Best Way to Cook Potatoes For a Potato Salad

Boiling potatoes is the traditional and the best way of cooking them for a salad.

This may take longer than some other methods of cooking potatoes. However, boiling is what makes the potatoes neither too soft nor too stiff. If you do it right, you will end up with perfectly cooked potatoes for a salad. 

Here’s how to boil your potatoes for best results:

Step 1: Wash and Prep

Scrub the potatoes under running water if you are going to leave the skin on. Remove the blemishes. Wash and peel the potatoes if you prefer not to leave the skin.

Step 2: Chop ‘Em Up

Cut the potatoes into pieces of similar size. Half-inch cubes are ideal but you can also cut the pieces bigger if that is what you like. The point is to get cubes of the same size so that they cook evenly. 

Step 3: Set-Up

Put the potatoes in a saucepan and fill it with cold water. The water should cover the potatoes.

Do not fill the saucepan with hot water to accelerate the cooking process. This may cause the outer parts of the potatoes to cook faster. By the time the potatoes cook through, the sides will start crumbling. 

Step 4: Season

Season with 1/3 tablespoon of kosher salt. Potatoes develop flavor while cooking. Thus, adding salt to the water will make them taste better.

But don’t forget that you your potatoes are already seasoned when you start assembling the salad. You will need to add less salt when mixing the rest of the salad ingredients. Otherwise, you will end up with an overly salty salad. 

Step 5: Boil

Turn on high heat to bring the potatoes to a boil. Keep the pot covered. 

Step 6: Simmer

Once the potatoes have start to boil, lower the heat and let the potatoes simmer for 10 to 13 minutes. How long your potatoes will take to cook depends on two things: the potato variety you are using and how big your potato cubes are. 

Step 7: Monitor For ‘Doneness’

Don’t leave the potatoes unattended. Moreover, take a fork and check the doneness multiple times (every minute) while the potatoes are simmering. 

Once you get the fork or the tip of the knife into the potatoes easily, it is time to turn the heat off. If your potatoes fall apart when you try to check them with the fork, you have overcooked them.

The potatoes shouldn’t be as stiff as to make it difficult to poke them but they also shouldn’t be as soft as to fall apart. 

Step 8: Strain

Strain the potatoes. The potatoes will continue cooking while they cool down. Keep this in mind when deciding to turn off the heat. 

Step 9: Leave to Cool

If you are going to add a mayonnaise-based dressing to the potatoes, let them cool off first and only then proceed to making the salad. 

Other Methods 

While boiling is the best way to cook the potatoes for potato salad, it is by no means the only one. There are other methods to cook potatoes to make a salad. 

Some are suitable for when you are looking for a quicker option. Others, on the other hand, result in different potato ‘finishes’. This has its impact on the overall consistency of the salad. 

Cooking Potatoes in the Microwave

Microwaving is an easy and relatively quick way of cooking the potatoes for a salad.

Here is how to cook your potatoes in the microwave:

  1. Peel the potatoes, wash them, and cut them into cubes. Make sure all of the pieces are evenly sized. 
  2. Put the potato cubes into a casserole dish with a lid and add a pinch of salt. 
  3. Microwave on the ‘high‘ setting for 8 to 9 minutes
  4. Take the potatoes out. Let them sit for a few minutes to finish cooking and then cool down.
  5. Drain the water that has accumulated in the dish. 
  6. Let the potatoes cool down and start mixing the rest of the ingredients of the salad. 

Cooking Potatoes in the Oven

If you want to try something new and spice up your traditional potato salad, you should certainly try baking the potatoes in the oven instead of boiling them. This will give your salad a unique taste and texture.

Here is how to bake your potatoes in the oven when making potato salad:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 °F.
  2. Wash the potatoes and cut them into cubes. 
  3. Put the potatoes on a baking sheet, drizzle with oil and season.
  4. Bake for around 30 minutes.
  5. Once the potatoes are soft enough and cooked through, take the pan out and let them cool down. 
  6. Mix with your favorite ingredients and dressing. 

Cooking Potatoes in a Pressure Cooker 

The pressure cooker is another way of cooking potatoes delicately yet in a very short time.

Try using a pressure cooker for cooking whole red-skinned potatoes using the following steps:

  1. Wash a few medium-sized potatoes. 
  2. Put them in the pressure cooker and add a cup of water. 
  3. Cook on ‘high‘ for 3 minutes.
  4. Release the steam for 3 minutes and then release the pressure. 
  5. Remove the skin of the potatoes and cut them into bite-size pieces. 
  6. Add your favorite ingredients and soon the quickest potato salad will be ready. 

Can You Boil Potatoes Ahead of Time for Potato Salad?

You can boil potatoes in advance for potato salad. If you are planning to do this, boil them unpeeled and uncut.

It will take you longer than boiling cubed potatoes. However, this is the best way of cooking potatoes in advance for a potato salad. 

You can store whole-cooked potatoes in the fridge for 24 hours

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