Grandma’s Secret Ingredient

My family takes potato salad very seriously.  It’s not unusual to find four or five bowls of the stuff at any family reunion or potluck.  And they are all roughly based on the same recipe.  My grandma’s potato salad.  A recipe that was probably never written down so we all remember it the same but each make it slightly different with our own little twists.  But we all use her “secret” ingredient, and even in all the differences, they taste very similar.

My version uses red potatoes and red onion, and a little dash of dill.  But the real secret to Grandma’s potato salad is pickle juice.  You can bet that in the depths of every family member’s fridge there lives a jar of dill pickles (and even if the pickles are gone the jar of juice is still there).

potatosalad3

I’ll be honest and tell you that I’ve never measured the ingredients for this salad.  The other secret to perfect potato salad is to taste as you go.  Start with small amounts of the saucy ingredients, then add and tweak until it’s juuuuust right.  Just like Grandma would do.  Mine might not be exactly the same as hers but I think I’ve hit the high points and I’d like to think she’d be proud of my efforts.  I’m sure she would tell me she was in any case (don’t tell my cousins but I’m pretty sure I was her favorite).  I’d give just about anything to share a bowl of this with her right now.

Potato salad my Grandma Garner would be proud of.

Potato salad my Grandma Garner would be proud of.

Grandma’s Potato Salad (the April version)

4-5 pounds red potatoes
1/2 -3/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
2-3 stalks celery, finely chopped
4-5 boiled eggs, roughly chopped
3/4 cup chopped dill pickles (I like the crunchy baby dills)
3/4 cup black olives, halved (optional if you like olives)
1/2 cup+ mayonnaise (I strongly prefer the Best Foods/Helmann’s brand)
A big squirt of yellow mustard
1/4 cup+ dill pickle juice
A big pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tsp. fresh or dried dill
Dash of paprika

Cut potatoes into thick slices (2-3 pieces per potato).  If you choose to use russet potatoes instead, cut them like this, boil, cool and THEN peel them.  Makes a big difference in the texture.

Slicing the potatoes instead of chopping makes a big difference in texture!  Chop after they are cooked, not before.

Slicing the potatoes instead of chopping makes a BIG difference in texture! Chop after they are cooked, not before.

Cover with water and cook until fork tender but not mushy.  Drain water and rinse to cool, drain again and set aside until cool enough to handle. Slice/chop potatoes into a large bowl (you can peel them if you want but I don’t).

I use a rough slice/chop method instead of your normal dice.  I like the variety of texture you get with some mashed bits and some bigger chunks.

I use a rough slice/chop method instead of your normal dice. I like the variety of texture you get with some mashed bits and some bigger chunks.

Add onion, celery, eggs, pickles and olives and stir to mix.  Add a couple of big spoonfuls of mayo, a big squirt of mustard and pour in the pickle juice.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, dill and paprika.  Swirl the sauce and seasonings together a bit and then mix into the potato mixture.  Mix well, kind off mixing/mashing together to really blend the saucy stuff into the potatoes.  Then taste.  Is it too dry?  Add mayo.  Too bland?  Add mustard.  Need a little more zing?  More pickle juice.  Make sure you have enough salt and pepper.

This is the look you're going for.  Not goopy, but not dry.  Use enough mayo to moisten all the ingredients but don't overdo it.  In the end you want the potato to be the star of the dish, not the mayo.

This is the look you’re going for. Not goopy, but not dry. Use enough mayo to moisten all the ingredients but don’t overdo it. In the end you want the potato to be the star of the dish, not the mayo.

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