How to Make Potato Salad Without a Recipe

October 27, 2014

Here at Food52, we love recipes -- but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.

Today: Managing Editor Kenzi Wilbur confesses her favoritism for potato salad, and shows you how to make one any time of year. 

potato salad without a recipe

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If I were a food I’d be potato salad. Have you ever thought about what you’d be? 

By this point in time I’ve written up, down, and around every food that can dance with mayonnaise, but this one’s my favorite. It’s the one I’d hope to be: All sturdy and resourceful, potato salad is a winning show of making something out of nothing. It’s got self confidence: Give it a good lashing of vinegar, a hard-cooked egg or two, and a fistful of herbs, and the thing will practically strut. It wants for nothing, and it will tell you so. 

Perhaps best of all, it’s dependable. If you have command over a strong arsenal of condiments, you can call on potato salad any time of year. You can call on it now -- and you should.

Here’s how to make something out of nothing, without a recipe.  

1. Decide your potato salad’s destiny. My add-ins always include a few hard-cooked eggs, a bit of red onion, cornichon, and a great big pile of herbs. I like chives and parsley -- when I’m feeling wild, I’ll throw in a scallion -- but this part welcomes improvisation. Riff on this according to your mood, or do down another road entirely, like this one with horseradish and dill, or this with arugula and Dijon mustard.

how to make potato salad

2. Put the potatoes into lightly salted water and bring everything up to a boil. (If you're using baby potatoes, leave them whole or cut the larger ones in half; if you're using larger potatoes, quarter or halve them before cooking.) While they bubble away, make the dressing: To a small bowl, add a heaping spoonful of mustard. Add to that about a 1/4 cup of mayonnaise (aioli really makes a difference, but store-bought will work, too), and then drizzle in an equal amount of olive oil while whisking away. It’s okay if you don’t measure -- the most important part is that the olive oil to mayonnaise ratio be about 1:1. 

3. Once they're fork-tender, drain them and immediately shower them with apple cider vinegar. (For about 2 pounds of potatoes, I like about two tablespoons.) 

how to make potato salad

4. To the newly zippy potatoes, add your destined mix-ins. Pictured here: 2 hard-cooked eggs, chopped; a few spoonfuls of finely diced red onion; a handful of chopped cornichon; and a heaping 1/3 cup of chopped chives, parsley, and scallion. Top if off with a few grinds of pepper and a healthy pinch of salt for good luck. 

how to make potato salad

5. Pour in the dressing, starting with a little more than half, and stir. Taste. Adjust. Is the salad not awake yet? Add a dash of vinegar. Too dry? More dressing. I almost always add a few more herbs because I like mine polka-dotted green, and another pinch of salt. But this is your potato salad -- you decide. 

how to make potato salad

Photos by James Ransom

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Bernice Jeffries
    Bernice Jeffries
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    Lee C.
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Kenzi Wilbur

Written by: Kenzi Wilbur

I have a thing for most foods topped with a fried egg, a strange disdain for overly soupy tomato sauce, and I can never make it home without ripping off the end of a newly-bought baguette. I like spoons very much.


Bernice J. May 24, 2015
I made this tonight. It was about the easiest potato salad I have ever made - no peeling, no cubing. Not only that, it was also one of the best and got rave reviews. The large chunks make it different from the usual.

While there is a "sorta" recipe, but because there aren't hard and fast measurements, it made throwing it together a breeze. A modern take on an old summertime staple.
FYI - I did not have sweet gherkins. I chopped up a couple dills and mixed with about a tsp of sugar to sweeten. Worked great.
Lee C. October 31, 2014
Lee C. October 31, 2014
Just testing.

I'm sorry, I don't want to be too critical here, but I just think it's ironic how the title says, "How to make potato salad without a recipe" and then the article gives a recipe. It does look like a good one though, a slight variation on a standard potato salad.

Is there a way to edit or delete my comment?
Alexandra S. October 29, 2014
Hard-cooked eggs, cornichons, tons of herbs — this is the ideal potato salad. And these photos are making my mouth water.
Catherine L. October 27, 2014
Now you just need to do tuna salad and you'll have conquered the mushy mayonnaise-y food not recipes trifecta!
Sarah J. October 27, 2014
I like this game: If I were a food, I think I'd be a dried fig. And Kenzi, you're the only person who could make me excited about potato salad.
Charlotte S. October 27, 2014
Exactly! Sometimes you just need to trust your own tastebuds.. especially when it comes to salads.. :)

But just in case you do need the actual recipes, this blog has a lot of good salad ideas(coleslaw, pasta, etc..)