Potato salad isn’t usually an exciting dish, but you can count on it showing up at most backyard barbecues. Most of the time it ends up being a tediously bland version that I push around my plate and discreetly shuffle into the garbage when its maker isn’t paying attention. But potato salad doesn’t have to be this way. A good potato salad has perfectly cooked potatoes, delivers on flavor, and can be nearly as interesting as the main dish. For example, this smoked potato salad inspired by Steven Raichlen is smoky and intensely flavored with Dijon and whole grain mustards and a tart pickle crunch. It’s a version that is unlikely to find itself in the trash.
Choosing the right type of potatoes is important. In general, you have two types: starchy and waxy. Starchy potatoes, as you might guess, have a higher starch content and are well suited for mashed or baked potatoes. Waxy potatoes are lower in starch, higher in water content, and hold up their shape well during cooking. Because they are less likely to disintegrate, waxy potatoes are generally a good choice for potato salad. Red, blue, and fingerling potatoes are all good examples of waxy potatoes. Idaho and Russet potatoes fall into the starchy category. Yukon gold potatoes bridge the gap between categories, making them a good all-purpose potato. For this recipe, I use a mix of baby red and Yukon gold potatoes.
When making any potato salad, I recommend tasting the dressing before dumping it over the potatoes. It is much easier to adjust seasoning while the dressing is still in the bowl by itself. I used two types of mustard for this potato salad. The Dijon adds that familiar mustard zing and the whole grain mustard seeds give textural contrast. If you can find the cornichon pickles, definitely use them. The extra tartness they bring to the dish pairs well with the natural sweetness in the potatoes. Of course, dill pickles work fine too, but cornichons are preferred.
When cutting up the potatoes, I try to get roughly uniform bite-size pieces.. This will help the potatoes cook evenly and avoid the mishap of crunchy potatoes ruining the eating experience. If you are in a hurry, it is not strictly necessary to smoke the potatoes, which can take some time. Instead, during the simmering step, cook the potatoes until they are fully done and skip the smoking process. Either way, this potato salad is delicious, but smoking the potatoes definitely adds character.
The next time you are faced with making a potato salad for a barbecue or event, consider trying out this smoked potato salad. It will be a welcome change to the boring stuff you’ve probably been subjected to.
Potato salad regularly makes an appearance at backyard barbecues across the country, but is so often some tediously bland version. This smoked potato salad livens things up with a kiss of wood smoke and a punchy dressing.
- 2 pounds waxy (see notes) potatoes, scrubbed and cut into roughly equal bite-size pieces
- 2 eggs, boiled and coarsely chopped
- 1/2 small shallot, finely chopped
- 2 scallions, thinly sliced and white parts finely chopped
- 15 cornichons (see notes), coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup good mayonnaise
- 4 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 4 teaspoons whole grain mustard
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- Smoked paprika for garnish (optional)
- Set up your smoker for a 225°F cook.
- Add the mayo, mustards, vinegar, shallots, cornichons, and scallions to a small bowl and mix to combine. Adjust seasoning, adding salt, pepper, or more vinegar to taste. Fold the chopped eggs into the dressing, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use.
- Meanwhile, place the potatoes in a medium saucepan, cover with cold water, and set over high heat. Generously salt the water.
- Bring the potatoes to a boil, give them a stir, and lower the heat, simmering the potatoes until they are just starting to become tender. You should be able to pierce them with a fork, but there should be resistance. You don’t want them fully cooked.
- Shock the potatoes in an ice bath to stop the cooking process and thoroughly drain. Place the drained potatoes in a disposable aluminum pan, drizzle with the olive oil, and toss to coat. Generously season the potatoes with salt and pepper.
- Smoke the potatoes in the aluminum pan until a fork or skewer can easily be inserted without resistance, about 1 hour 40 mins, stirring once for even cooking. Remove the potatoes from the smoker and allow to cool slightly.
- In a large bowl, toss the warm potatoes with the dressing to coat. The potato salad is delicious served warm, but you can refrigerate and serve cold if desired. Optionally, dust with smoked paprika before serving.
- I like a mix of baby red and Yukon Gold potatoes.
- Waxy potatoes are lower in starch and hold up better in potato salads than Russets or Idaho potatoes will.
- Cornichons are small French pickles with a different flavor profile than regular dill pickles — more tart and often made with tarragon. If you cannot find them, feel free to substitute half as many baby dill pickles.
Keywords: Potato Salad, Smoked Potatoes