Prioritize Mustard, Not Mayo, For The Best Potato Salad

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Prioritize Mustard, Not Mayo, For The Best Potato Salad

Go to any large chain grocery store during the summer and visit the deli, and you’ll be sure to find flimsy plastic containers full of overly creamy potato salad sitting between similarly soggy flavorless pasta salad and a case of dried-out rotisserie chickens. This is the potato salad you eat after a particularly rough Fourth of July bender or that you enjoy straight out of the container after you get home from work on a day when it’s simply too hot to cook; it’s fine, but it’s certainly not delicious.

Still, though, for many of us, this style of potato salad is the standard. The ratio of ingredients may vary, and certain spices may be added or omitted depending on the recipe. But for this style of potato salad, one ingredient—mayonnaise—undoubtedly plays the starring role. It’s rich, it’s creamy… and it’s exactly what I don’t want to eat on a hot summer day after it’s been sitting in the sun for an hour.

It has to be said: Potato salad is better without the mayonnaise. Sure, there may be a time and a place for the creamy version, but if you’re looking for the perfect summery side dish, a mustard-based potato salad is almost always the way to go. Don’t get me wrong—I love mayonnaise—but an ingredient as bland as mayo shouldn’t dominate a dish that’s primarily composed of potatoes, perhaps the blandest food of them all. This doubling of blandness does nothing to highlight just how delicious potato salad can be when it’s done right.

Why Mustard?

So, why should you prioritize mustard for your potato salad dressing? First of all, most potato salad recipes call for mustard anyway; it’s just too often overpowered by the addition of mayo. By still choosing to include mustard, you’re not veering too far from the path of cold carb salad convention. Additionally, mustard packs a punch of all the right flavors. There’s an earthiness that pairs well with potatoes but also plenty of acidity, which helps to brighten the dish and prevent it from tasting too much like plain boiled potatoes.

The key here is picking the right kind of mustard. While you can always use the yellow mustard you’d traditionally put on a hot dog in your potato salad, it may make more sense to try a bolder mustard. Dijon offers a fuller, more complex flavor than the uncomplicated brightness of yellow mustard, while whole grain mustard can add even more complexity along with an interesting textural element. Spicy brown mustard is a go-to for me when I’m trying to keep things simple, and adding in some horseradish or red wine vinegar before mixing all the ingredients together provides an extra punch of flavor. Of course, you shouldn’t be afraid to experiment with different types of mustard; fermented or sweet varieties could make for an interesting twist on a classic side dish.

Don’t Omit the Fat Entirely

Just because you’re prioritizing the mustard doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t add any fat to your potato salad, though. The creaminess of mayonnaise may yield a heavier salad than you’d prefer, but olive oil can provide that same touch of richness in a lighter style. To keep things really fresh, use a light olive oil, or kick the flavor up a notch by opting for a drizzle of spicy olive oil.

And while you can definitely leave out the mayo altogether, a small amount of the ingredient may give you the balance of richness and freshness you’re going for; just make sure to limit the mayonnaise and focus on the mustard as your main dressing ingredient.

Add Herbs for the Freshest Results

Boiled eggs, onions, pickles and celery may be standard additions to a potato salad, but that doesn’t mean you should stop there. In a mustard-based potato salad, herbs can truly play a starring role. Dill is my herb of choice for a light, refreshing potato salad, but parsley, cilantro, tarragon and chives are also good options. Use several different herbs for the most flavorful potato salad experience possible.

Sure, there may be a time and a place for a mayo-based potato salad, but when you’re trying to make a side dish that’s bright, fresh and perfect for summer festivities, prioritizing mustard may just be your best bet.

Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.

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