The Potato Salad Fiasco

August 6, 2010

You probably think that anyone could make potato salad. I am proof that that this is not true. And since I promised to share both my triumphs and my travesties…

Last week, a member of my writing critique group, Writers of the Round Table, suggested we hold our meeting sailing around Fernridge Lake on her family’s boat. Lovely, lovely idea. As usual, we all brought food and ideas to share. I barbecued some bread and decided I’d do away with a must-use-soon bag of potatoes and make potato salad, a dish I’d never made. (First mistake?) It sounded easy and quick and summery… perfect sailboat picnic food. As one of our members won’t eat mayonnaise she can see, I decided that I’d make it mayo-less. (Second mistake?)

I started with the obvious: boiling chopped potatoes. Regular old store-bought russet potatoes. (Third mistake?) After 15 minutes, they still seemed hard, so I set the timer for a five more minutes. (Need I keep counting mistakes?) By the time I strained them, they looked more like mashed potatoes. I immediately ran gallons of cold water over the colander, which sent a good percentage of my salad down the drain. Perhaps I should be thankful for this.

For the garnishes, I consulted neither cookbook nor internet for instruction or inspiration. Why? Because it was potato salad, and shouldn’t I be able to make something I’ve eaten a thousand times? (I’m not calling this a mistake!)

First, I sprinkled on some salt and doused the potatoes in olive oil, added grilled red onions and minced parsley fresh from the garden.

Grilled Red Onions

Minced Parsley

Taste Test 1: Hmmm…. The onions (spritzed with olive oil and grilled) were great, but the potatoes tasted watery. And their texture was off–grainy, even. What did I do? Why, I added some fix-all (aka olive oil). Of course, I’d already planned on adding some olive oil, but I added some extra, just in case.

Taste Test 2: Still missing something… like flavor.  I sautéed a good number of sliced garlic cloves and fresh rosemary sprigs in more olive oil.

Sauteed Garlic and Rosemary


At this point I brought out the big guns: caramelized onions. I can now assure you that there is at least one savory dish in this world that can not be saved by a healthy dose of Vidalia onions sautéed it in butter and brown sugar.

I tried to get my husband’s opinion. He refused to touch it. I insisted, at which point he was kicking and screaming to GET OUT of the kitchen.


New problem: What was I going to do with a vat of insipid potato salad? I brought it to the sailboat-meeting anyway. As long as I kept a well-placed hand over the pool of oil at the bottom of the serving dish, it didn’t look so bad…

Potato Salad Anyone?

My friends were kind. One even said it was good, but he’s a really nice guy. Let’s just say I came home with a lot of leftovers. At least the lake was beautiful.

Sailing on Fernridge Lake

I ate potato/onion mush for days. I even tried pawning some off on my mother, burying its hideousness under the sheen of chicken chunks sautéed in olive oil and garlic. Perhaps too much garlic; definitely too much oil. Mom and I echoed each other’s burps all afternoon.

What would I do differently should I ever make potato salad again? Start with better-tasting potatoes, probably red and preferably homegrown. Add some salt to the boiling water. Get creative with the “sauce” by adding some mustard, a splash of white wine, and perhaps some balsamic vinegar. And I bet bacon would have helped.

There were still remnants in the refrigerator a week later. When Stefano, who scours the refrigerator hourly for something to eat, still refused to touch it, and I couldn’t bring myself to finish off the last bowlful, it landed in the compost pile. Maybe the worms will eat it.

P.S. Don’t tell my husband, but, in some sense, he’ll be eating my potato salad next year after I use that compost on my tomatoes!

9 Responses to “The Potato Salad Fiasco”

  1. Liz Says:

    It is really encouraging to heard someone laugh at their mistakes. All of your dishes sound – and those I have tried – taste wonderful. It is good to know it is OK to make mistakes and laugh at them.

  2. Jeremy Says:

    So potato choice can be a bit baffling, even for someone with a great palate. The basic issue is Starch vs. Wax. The russet tater is one of the starchiest, and the Yukon gold is one of the most affordable waxiest. The rule goes like this:

    Want crunchy or fluffy bits? Starchy.
    Want firm, structurally intact bits? Waxy.

    So, russets are perfect for mashies, baked taters, french fries, and potato chips. Yukons are perfect for tater salads, wedges, and probably (not tested by me) hash browns. There are so many kinds of potatoes, and they really have different and wonderful flavors (I’m looking at you, Russian fingerlings!)

    Baby potatoes are a complete different animal, but really you just take what you can get 😀

  3. Anne Says:

    Hilarious, Kathleen! I’ll try your second-generation attempt at potato salad–with the invisible mayonaise, of course.

    Have you ever tried the purple potatoes? They’re the most spectacular (is that an oxymoron??) potato I’ve ever tasted. And they really are purple…don’t recall the name, though. They would definitely go well with the boat and lake, too!

  4. Nick Says:

    You should have made them into patties and fried them. That might have saved it. I like a mushy potato salad.

  5. kalisisrising Says:

    Congrats on freshly pressed! Your writing is great.

    I make a mayo-less potato salad that gets rave reviews. Onions, celery and dill pickles chopped, along with hard boiled eggs and of course, potatoes. It takes a bit of olive oil (not too much) and plenty of lemon juice, dill and salt.

    I definitely agree that some friend potato fritters would have been great!

    • Thanks Kalisis! Thanks for visiting.

      Freshly pressed? Not sure what that refers to…

      Dill pickles would have done wonders for my potato salad… rarely use them as my husband doesn’t like them. (Amazingly, they still let him immigrate to America.) He doesn’t like anything with vinegar, balsamic or otherwise. (Might be why they kicked him out of Italy!) Still should have used one or both anyway as he never even tried the salad… There’s always next time.

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