Big Little Recipes

Of Course Potato Salad Is Better With Pimento Cheese

May 26, 2020

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else—flavor, creativity, wow factor. Psst: We don't count water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (specifically, 1/2 cup or less of olive oil, vegetable oil, and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Today, we’re getting cheesy.


At its most pared-down, pimento cheese calls for jarred pimentos, grated cheese, and, most crucially, a lot of mayonnaise. But most recipes rarely stop there.

This Genius one from Parker and Otis in Durham, N.C. calls in celery salt. Food writers Matt Lee and Ted Lee toss in cream cheese and chile flakes. Southern Living prefers Worcestershire sauce, grated onion, and crunchy pecans. Chef and cookbook author Sean Brock opts for Tabasco, cayenne, smoked paprika, and pickled ramps (!).

Not only does everyone seem to have their own version, but some have multiple ones. Chef Ashley Christensen relies on red bell peppers for the pimento cheese at her modern diner Poole’s, but enlists poblanos at her fried chicken oasis haven heaven Beasley’s. Why not, right? Pimentos shouldn’t get to have all the fun.

Whether you swear by Duke’s or Hellman’s mayo, yellow or white cheddar, hot sauce or chipotles, vinegar or not, I have a hunch that you’d agree, at the very least, that pimento cheese does not involve...boiled potatoes.

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Top Comment:
“Was great with boiled new potatoes. Would also be good with cauliflower florets. ”
— Michael N.
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Or does it?

Sure, pimento cheese is traditionally treated as a dip or spread—for crackers, crudités, or tucked between squishy bread as a sandwich—but it would be a shame to limit something with so much potential. Which is why you’ll find pimento cheese reimagined as everything from a biscuit to a soufflé.

But perhaps the most natural use of this cheesy, creamy spread is in some of summer’s greatest hits: mayo-based salads. Think: potato salad, macaroni salad, even coleslaw. In all of these dishes, you make a mayo-based dressing, then stir in the main ingredient, be it potatoes, elbow pasta, or shredded cabbage. So, what if said mayo-based dressing was actually (also mayo-based) pimento cheese?

Photo by Amanda Widis

Suffice to say: Spuds have never been happier. The rest of the recipe is classic-ish. We’ve got sharp cheddar and mayonnaise (thoughts on brands? Oh, I have lots). But no pimentos, which I stand by. Which seems to defeat the whole purpose, I realize, but there’s more precedent for this than you’d think.

Instead, I use Peppadews, a hot-sweet pickled pepper native to South Africa. Besides their snappy crunch and happy color, Peppadews come with their own vinegary brine, a bonus Big Little ingredient. If you don’t have or can’t get ahold of peppadews, pickled cherry peppers would make a convincing stand-in. Or go ahead and roast some bell peppers or poblanos, jar them, and shake in whatever vinegar is around.

Team this salad up with grilled chicken breasts or pork chops, griddled tofu steaks or veggie burgers, sausage sandwiches or salt-and-pepper ribs. You tell me.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Michael Nicholas
    Michael Nicholas
  • HalfPint
    HalfPint
  • Emma Laperruque
    Emma Laperruque
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Emma is the food editor at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.

3 Comments

Michael N. May 27, 2020
Was great with boiled new potatoes. Would also be good with cauliflower florets.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. June 1, 2020
Yes, cauliflower sounds great!
 
HalfPint May 26, 2020
I prefer pimento cheese with peppadews. I find that the jarred pimentos don't have a lot of flavor to them. Maybe I used the wrong brand. Is there a good brand of pimentos out there?