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This Ingredient Is the Southern Secret for the Best Potato Salad

Potato salad is easy to love: a bowl of creamy, tangy potatoes is always a crowd-pleaser. But it can also be a divisive issue. People have strong opinions about which ingredients are appropriate and which should never accompany tender boiled potatoes.

This brings us to the common Southern potluck refrain: “Who made the potato salad?” And just as important as who prepared it are the ingredients that go into making the salad, and there is one in particular that makes all the difference: yellow mustard.

The Southern Secret to the Best Potato Salad

There are many styles of potato salads, from warm German potato salad with bacon to French potato salad with capers and parsley. Southern Potato Salad is a simple recipe that avoids superfluous ingredients like raisins (shudder) or nuts and instead relies on a simple combination of boiled potatoes, chopped celery and onions, mayonnaise , yellow mustard and hard-boiled eggs. (There may be others, including relish, peppers and paprika.)

Each element of the recipe plays an important role, but the work of the mustard is particularly important. It brings a certain lively brightness to a dish that could turn bland.

This makes sense when you consider what yellow mustard is: it's a combination of mustard seeds and liquids like lemon juice and/or vinegar, and other spices. The result is a shortcut to a ton of flavor, with bright tangy notes of lemon and vinegar and a zesty blast of tangy mustard flavor that punches above its weight in a big bowl of potato salad.

Eliezer Martinez

What came first, mayonnaise or mustard?

Although potato salad is often thought of as a mayonnaise-centric dish, mustard predates mayonnaise in potato salad recipes. They date back to the 16th century, when the dish was introduced to Europe by Spanish explorers, who brought potatoes with them from the New World. The first written recipes for potato salad in America date from the mid-19th century, and you won't find any mayonnaise there, but rather oil, vinegar, and spices, including mustard seeds, which reflect the German influence of the dish. In the 1920s and 1930s, as bottled mayonnaise became readily available, cooks added it to their potato salad instead of oil.

Tips for Using Mustard in Potato Salad

  • Mix mayonnaise, mustard, and other herbs and spices before dressing the potatoes so you can taste the dressing and adjust the seasonings, making sure you get the right balance of flavors.
  • Although yellow mustard is a classic choice, you can use other varieties of mustard, including Dijon mustard, whole grain mustard, and spicy brown mustard.
  • If you like relish in your potato salad, try using mustard relish, which combines pickle relish with the tang of mustard.

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