Boiling Potatoes the Right Way for Potato Salad

The way you cook potatoes for potato salad can make or break this summer classic. Boil them too long and you may get a mushy salad with the texture of mashed potatoes. Skimp on the cooking and your potatoes can turn out as crisp as celery. A few simple steps will help you boil potatoes the right way so your salad is a winner every time.

A bowl of potato salad on a folded cloth. Credit: wmaster890/iStock/Getty Images

Choose the Right Potato

Your salad will not turn out right if you start with the wrong type of potato. Russet potatoes are great for baking and mashing, but they are not ideal for potato salad due to their high starch content. Instead choose a waxy variety such as Yukon golds, red bliss or fingerling potatoes.


Dice the potatoes into large, uniform pieces. Uneven sizes will cook at different rates, which makes for inconsistent texture. Place the potatoes into a large pot with a heavy bottom and add just enough cold water to cover them. Generously salt the water; if you wait until you dress the salad to add salt, the potatoes will lack flavor.


Place the pot on medium heat and cover. Bring the water to a boil and reduce the heat immediately. Simmer the potatoes without the lid until they are soft enough to be pierced with a fork. Drain in a colander and shock in ice water to stop the cooking process. Once the potatoes have cooled completely you can add the other ingredients, or refrigerate them overnight and dress the next day.

To Peel or Not to Peel

Although classic potato salad calls for peeled potatoes, you can also go rustic by leaving the skins on. Potato skins have fiber and additional nutrients not in the flesh alone. If you choose to peel your potatoes, there are two options. You can peel them prior to dicing, or boil them with the skins on and use a paper towel to gently rub the skin off once the potatoes have cooled.

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