I love potato salads of any kind; they are usually what I go for first at a barbecue or other warm-weather get-together. And yet I can’t tell you how many times I’ve botched my own attempts at making a good potato salad. The potatoes have ended up either too mushy and falling apart or too hard and unyielding. I finally figured out that the right variety of potato makes all the difference.
A potato is a potato is a potato, I used to think. Not so. And this is particularly crucial to those of us living in new places where the potato varieties are unfamiliar and labels can be confusing. Here’s what I’ve learned: Leave starchy potatoes (mehlig kochend in German) such as U.S. Russets for mashed potatoes. Waxy potatoes (festkochend) such as fingerlings and most red potatoes are best for potato salads because they hold up well after cooking and their low-starch content makes for the perfect bite. And you can’t go wrong with those in-between potatoes (vorwiegend festkochend, or “primarily waxy”) such as Yukon Golds — they are all-purpose and work well mashed or in salads. In Germany, these three types are clearly marked on the packaging or bin labels.
This Austrian-style potato salad is a great side dish to schnitzel, an Easter ham, or other heavier dish because it’s mayo-free, light, and refreshing. Cooking the potatoes in vinegar and broth not only imparts extra flavor, but it also ensures the potatoes reach the right consistency. I love the bright crunch of cornichons, minced onion (or shallot) and chives. I found this recipe in Cook’s Illustrated, and finally I’ve made a good potato salad!
Austrian-Style Potato Salad
- 2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes (or other waxy or all-purpose potatoes), peeled, quartered lengthwise, and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices (Note: I cut mine smaller than 1/2-inch, and next time I would cut them even thinner — 1/4-inch or less — for a more authentic Austrian presentation)
- 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 cup water (I added almost a whole cup more to cover potatoes, and it still boiled down fine)
- Table salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (in one batch I used grain Dijon mustard, in another I used smooth — we preferred the grain mustard)
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil (we preferred less oil than this – just a Tbs. or so)
- 1 small red onion , chopped fine, about 3/4 cup (we preferred a less-bitey shallot)
- 6 cornichons , minced, about 2 tablespoons (if you can’t find cornichons, another small mild dill pickle)
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
- Ground black pepper
- Bring potatoes, broth, water, 1 teaspoon salt, sugar, and 1 tablespoon vinegar to boil in 12-inch heavy-bottomed skillet over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook until potatoes offer no resistance when pierced with paring knife, 15-18 minutes. Remove cover, increase heat to high (so cooking liquid will reduce), and cook 2 minutes.
- Drain potatoes in colander set over large bowl, reserving cooking liquid. Set drained potatoes aside. Pour off and discard all but ½ cup cooking liquid (if ½ cup liquid does not remain, add water to make ½ cup). Whisk remaining tablespoon vinegar, mustard, and oil into cooking liquid.
- Add ½ cup cooked potatoes to bowl with cooking liquid mixture and mash with potato masher or fork until thick sauce forms (mixture will be slightly chunky). Add remaining potatoes, onion, cornichons, and chives, folding gently with rubber spatula to combine. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature; it tastes best after resting at room temperature for an hour or so to let the flavors mingle and the potatoes soak in more of the dressing.