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An average potato salad can be upgraded to a great potato salad by simply following a few basic principles. A quality russet works very well, but a Yukon Gold adds a nice boost in flavor. The potato determines whether your salad is firm or mushy. This is controlled by the inherent starch qualities of the potato and how it was cooked. Placing potatoes in boiling water shocks the surface and creates a starchy layer. By peeling and cubing the potatoes and then placing them in cold water, which is then brought to a gentle simmer, you avoid this problem completely.
The next major principle is that potatoes are like sponges immediately after being cooked and absorb salt and flavorings easily. Once cooled, however, things remain on the surface and are never absorbed. The final principle is that warm potatoes melt mayonnaise based dressings and they become gloppy and lose visual appeal, flavor and texture. It's easy to deal with both of these concepts at one time.
When a paring knife slides easily into the potatoes, they're done. They should be gently drained and placed in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. For each 2 lbs. of potatoes, mix 2 Tbs dill pickle juice and 1 Tbs mustard. Salt the potatoes and drizzle the mustard mix over them and gently toss to distribute the coating. Place the sheet in the refrigerator for 30 minutes until completely cool.
At this point you will find that the mustard mixture has been totally absorbed and the surface of the potato is dry. Each cube will be full of flavor and a hint of tart that simply can't be added any other way. The rest of your desired ingredients can now be added and your salad will remain separate, creamy and delicious. Everyone has their own personal preferences and the variations are endless. Be creative and make yours unique. You can substitute 1 Tbs lemon juice for part of the pickle juice or you can use spiced or dijon mustard to give it a special kick. I like to add a can of rinsed red kidney beans because it enhances the color and adds a new texture. I'm including a general recipe from America's Test Kitchen as a guide, but you can add ingredients at will as long as you follow the three major principles outlined above and you will have a great potato salad.
Make sure not to overcook the potatoes or the salad will be quite sloppy. Keep the water at a gentle simmer and use the tip of a paring knife to judge the doneness of the potatoes. If the knife inserts easily into the potato pieces, they are done.
1. Place potatoes in large saucepan with cold water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to boil over high heat, add 1 teaspoon salt, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until potatoes are tender, 10 to 15 minutes.
2. Drain potatoes thoroughly, then spread out on rimmed baking sheet. Mix 2 tablespoons pickle juice and mustard together in small bowl, drizzle pickle juice mixture over potatoes, and toss until evenly coated. Refrigerate until cooled, about 30 minutes.
3. Mix remaining tablespoon pickle juice, chopped pickles, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper, celery seed, mayonnaise, sour cream, red onion, and celery in large bowl. Toss in cooled potatoes, cover, and refrigerate until well chilled, about 30 minutes. (Salad can be refrigerated in airtight container for up to 2 days.) Gently stir in eggs, if using, just before serving.
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