Are you wondering how long to boil potatoes for potato salad?
Potatoes are the star of the show in potato salad, after all, so they need to be perfect.
If they’re underdone, the salad will be hard to eat. But if they’re overcooked, you’ll have mashed potato salad.
The key to the perfect potato salad is finding that sweet spot.
Below, I’ll detail how long to boil potatoes, what the best potatoes are potato salad are, and whether you need to peel them.
I’ll even include a classic potato salad recipe to get you started on your potato salad journey!
How Long to Boil Potatoes for Potato Salad
Before we get into it, let’s just cover a quick question I get asked all the time: can I use a microwave baked potato for potato salad?
Unfortunately, no. That would be a good way to speed up mashed potatoes, but you want the spuds to keep their shape after cooking for potato salad.
With that in mind, let’s look at boiling and a few key things to keep in mind:
- Bigger potatoes take longer to cook. Be sure to cut them to smaller, even sizes to speed things up.
- Don’t cut the pieces too small. If you do, they’ll turn to mush. So be sure to keep them about an inch thick for potato salad.
- Cut them after cooking if you want them smaller. If you want diced potatoes in your potato salad, slice them into smaller pieces once they cool.
So, we know how to boil potatoes for potato salad, but how long do they need to boil?
Here’s a few general rules:
- Medium to large potatoes, uncut, take about 25-40 minutes to cook.
- Smaller potatoes, like new potatoes, take between 15-20 minutes.
- Cubed potatoes take 10-13 minutes.
Cubed potatoes cook more evenly and cook much faster than whole potatoes. And that’s usually how you want them in a salad anyway.
Remember to check the doneness before draining. A perfectly cooked potato should be fork-tender.
What are the Best Potatoes for Potato Salad?
Did you know that they are over 4,000 types of potatoes?
With so many options, narrowing it down to just one perfect potato is hard.
But inside those 4,000 types of potatoes, there are three categories: waxy, starchy, and all-purpose.
And for potato salad, you want waxy potatoes.
Waxy potatoes hold up well in the water, keep their shape, and are less likely to turn to mush when the heat is on.
Types of waxy potatoes include red, yellow, Fingerling, petite, and new potatoes.
All-purpose potatoes are your next best option, but they won’t work quite as well as waxy.
Potatoes like Yukon Gold work in a pinch but aren’t ideal.
It’s always best to steer clear of starchy potatoes like Russets. Russets are cheap and widely available but often turn to mush for potato salad.
Save the Russets for your mashed potatoes!
Should You Peel Potatoes for Potato Salad?
There are no hard laws about whether or not to peel your potatoes.
In most cases, it’s a matter of personal preference or whether or not the recipe calls for it.
Creamy American-style potato salad almost always uses peeled potatoes, while French-style potato salad keeps the skin on.
Red potatoes have a wonderfully tender skin that adds fantastic texture and flavor.
When using red potatoes, it’s usually best to leave the skins on.
It gives your potato salad a rustic, homemade feel and flavor. But it’s not for everyone.
When using potatoes with the skins on, giving them a good scrub in the sink is even more critical to remove any remaining dirt.
Unpeeled potatoes boost flavor and texture but may not be ideal if your goal is ultra-creamy potato salad.
If your elect to use peeled potatoes, you don’t need to peel them before they hit the water!
Placing unpeeled potatoes in boiling water saves you a lot of time.
After the potatoes cook and cool, the skins peel right off.
Do You Put Potatoes In Before or After the Water Boils?
Like cooking eggs, it’s always best to put potatoes in cool water and bring them to a boil.
Why? Because it helps the potatoes cook evenly.
If you put potatoes in a pot of boiling water, the potato police won’t come to arrest you.
However, your potatoes will cook quickly on the outside while the insides remain raw.
As the potato cooks in the boiling water, the outsides turn into mashed potatoes while the insides are far from fork-tender.
Always place potatoes in a pot of cool water, and set the timer the minute you crank up the heat (not when it comes to a boil).
Tips for Boiling Potatoes for Potato Salad
Potato salad seems simple, but it can go wrong in many ways.
Here are a few tips to ensure your potatoes are picnic-perfect and explode with flavor.
1. Always salt your water. Don’t be shy about heavily salting your water.
While the potatoes cook, they absorb all that wonderful salt water for a perfectly seasoned potato.
2. Add vinegar to your boiling water. Vinegar is every potato cook’s best-kept secret. It serves two functions.
First, it keeps the outside of the potato firm so it doesn’t become mushy in the cooking process.
Second, it delivers a punch of tart flavors that pairs well with creamy additions.
3. Let your potatoes cool. After the potatoes finish cooking, drain your potatoes in a colander, and don’t rinse them!
Rinsing them washes away all the flavor from the seasoned water.
Let them rest at room temperature, or pop them in the fridge.
Mixing mayo-based dressing with warm potatoes will make the mayo oily. No one wants that!
4. Pick the right potato. Even if you follow all these tips, it’s all in vain if you opt for the wrong potato.
Starchy potatoes are great for mashed potatoes but not ideal for potato salad.
I always used waxy potatoes (like Fingerling or yellow potatoes) for the perfect potato salad.
They hold up well in the water and retain firm skin once cooked.
5. Don’t bother peeling raw potatoes. The skin on raw potatoes is very stubborn when raw and is very time-consuming.
However, after the potatoes cook, the skin slips like a glove.
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