Potato salad & coleslaw: Fast, easy, and homemade

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EVERYONE knows how to make potato salad and coleslaw, right?

…Right?

Surprising how many folks still resort to the supermarket deli section for their cookout sides. Trust me: you can do better.

Here’s how.

My Irish grandma was a good “plain cook.” Meat and potatoes. Sandwiches and potatoes. Potatoes and potatoes. You get the picture.

So it’s no wonder she knew how to make potato salad – at the drop of a hat. Or the drop-in of a family member, more like it. When we visited Grandma, the coffee was always perking, and we could rely on the table being fully laden with goodies.

Sandwiches were a given; turkey, or ham and cheese. But every now and then, to the consternation of us kids, Grandma would make crab cakes.

CRAB cakes – ewwww……. We’d arrive to find fat, golden, potato-shaped cakes, loaded with fresh crab, heaped on a plate in the center of the table. On each side, a large bowl: one with potato salad, one with coleslaw.

No way would I touch crab cakes as a kid – one of those prejudices I regret, wishing today for a do-over.

But potato salad? Coleslaw? YES, please!

Grandma would make me a special sandwich, over my mom’s protests that I should eat what was set in front of me. And I’d enjoy that sandwich with coleslaw, potato salad, potato chips, and a bottle of pop from the wooden case in the cellar. Heaven.

Grandma is gone, along with her crab-cake recipe. But thankfully, her potato salad and coleslaw live on. If you’re willing to forgo the deli line, and are looking for recipes for these signature cookout sides – you’ve found them.

 

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For me, coleslaw begins not with a cabbage, but with a bag of “coleslaw” – chopped purple and green cabbage, and carrots.

For those of you who enjoy chopping your own coleslaw veggies, more power to you. Call me lazy, but when I can grab a ready-to-go bag for $1.59, I’m there.

Along with 1 pound of bagged coleslaw or chopped cabbage, you’ll need the following:

1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1 teaspoon celery salt
2 ½ tablespoons white vinegar

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Whisk the dressing ingredients together until smooth. By the way, this makes a delightful “coleslaw dressing” for any type of salad.

Refrigerate the dressing until just an hour or so before you’re ready to serve the coleslaw.

When you’re readying the burgers and dogs for the grill, place the cabbage in a large bowl. Add the dressing, stirring and tossing to coat. Set aside for an hour or so.

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Serve to great acclaim.

Yup, that’s it. Easy, right?

Yes, you in the back there – you have a question?

“I’m going over to someone’s house for a cookout. Can’t I make it all ahead of time?”

You can, indeed; just be aware that after a couple of hours, the slaw will shrink way down, and eventually start to become watery. I’ve done the tests; this coleslaw’s at its best within 2 to 3 hours of the dressing being combined with the cabbage. So plan accordingly. Or just accept that the 6 cups or so of slaw you started out with are now down to about 4 cups.

This recipe serves about 6 people. Cooking for a crowd? The recipe’s easily doubled.

OK, that was the “hard” recipe. The potato salad is even easier!

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Potatoes. Mayo. Italian salad dressing.

How much of each?

Depends on how many people you’re serving. I find about half a pound of potatoes for each person is sufficient.

For purposes of this blog post, I started with 3 pounds of potatoes – which yielded about 7 1/2 cups of potato salad.

Since I don’t peel the potatoes (the skins are full of fiber), I like to use a red variety; they make a pretty salad.

Whatever you use, make sure it’s a boiling (not baking) variety: e.g., red, white, Yukon Gold, chef’s, etc. Not Russet.

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Cut the potatoes into cubes; about 3/4″ is the size I like.

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Put the potatoes in a large kettle, and add water until they’re covered by about 3/4″. Add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt per cup of water; this will bring out the potatoes’ flavor.

So which is it, 1/4 teaspoon or 1/2 teaspoon? I like my potatoes salty, so I use 1/2 teaspoon; but let your own taste buds be your guide.

Watching your sodium? Omit the salt.

Get a timer ready. Bring the potatoes to a full boil. Not a simmer (upper left), or a hard simmer (upper right), but a full, rolling boil.

When the potatoes start to boil, set your timer for 7 minutes. After 7 minutes, remove a potato cube from the water, run it under cold water, and take a bite.

Is it too hard? Continue to boil. Just right? Quickly pour the potatoes into a colander to drain.

It’s important that you cook these potatoes to the right degree of “done-ness.” Not long enough, they’ll be crunchy; too long, they’ll be mushy, and turn into mashed potatoes when you add the dressing and mayo.

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Place the hot, drained potatoes into a large bowl. Drizzle generously with Italian salad dressing, tossing to coat.

How much salad dressing? Gosh, maybe 3 tablespoons or so? Trust me, Grandma didn’t measure – she just shook the bottle over the hot potatoes and stopped when she’d added enough.

Gently stir and toss the potatoes to distribute the salad dressing.

When the potatoes are completely cool (or lukewarm, at least), add mayonnaise. For 3 pounds of potatoes, I use a heaping half cup (about 5 ounces) of mayo.

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Since stirring the potatoes always results in a layer of mayo and potato starch around the inside rim of the bowl, I like to transfer them to another bowl before serving. Not that I’m Martha Stewart or anything, but hey, why not? It’s easy enough. I also like to add a shake of paprika – because that’s what Grandma did.

This is my mom’s old green Pyrex bowl. I’ll bet a lot of you reading this remember this bowl set from your childhood: green, red, and blue nesting mixing bowls.

I smile every time I use one of these bowls. They’re old friends of mine.

Refrigerate the potato salad until ready to serve.

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Ta-da! Throw the burgers on the grill; make sure you’ve got your Beautiful Burger Buns ready.

And get ready to dish up your HOMEMADE potato salad and coleslaw.

Happy Memorial Day!

Note: These recipes aren’t on our site, thus no links here. Honestly, they’re so simple you almost don’t need a written recipe.

However, since the coleslaw dressing has five ingredients (and my memory balks at more than three), I’ve copied the ingredients onto a slip of paper and taped it inside my pantry door, for handy reference. If you’re in the “memory-challenged” stage of life, I suggest you do the same!

 

 

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. waikikirie

    Glad we can post comments again. These recipes look delish. I will be trying them out now that the summer season is here. As for those pyrex bowls, you forgot to mention the yellow one PJ. At least in my Mom’s set the yellow was the largest one.

    Reply
  2. Brenda

    Those Pyrex bowls are the best–covet Mom’s. Make potato and macaroni salads just the way I like them, but still don’t have coleslaw right, even after all these years. Hopefully your recipe will finally get me on the right track!

    Brenda, if you like a sweet/sour coleslaw, I think you’ll be very pleased with this one – everyone I serve it to loves it. Thanks for connecting here – and I’m so happy you knew what I was referring to with the Pyrex bowls mention! :) PJH

    Reply
  3. JuliaJ

    The coleslaw recipe I use is very similar–but uses cider vinegar instead. How about a macaroni salad recipe too? I never can quite get the proportions right, either too mayonnaise-y or too bland…thanks!
    I love macaroni salad made the classic way. I get my recipe from my Fanny Farmer Cookbook. I think that is about the only recipe I use from that one. Just not my go-to cookbook. Many of my classic dishes come from the Joy of Cooking. Anyway, the macaroni salad calls for cider vinegar and mayo, the usual. Elisabeth

    Reply
  4. Brenda

    Julia: I use maybe 2/3 mayo and 1/3 yogurt in the macaroni salad, lots of finely chopped onions, maybe some seasoned salt, and a splash of cider vinegar or lemon juice if it needs brightening up.

    Brenda, thanks so much for sharing. I need a good mac salad recipe, too – I’m definitely trying this. PJH

    Reply
  5. JT

    These recipes look fabulous & speak “summer”. I love Ken’s Italian salad dressing. For the coleslaw, I’m going to substitute Apple Cider Vinegar and add some Cajun spices — Thetford style.

    Oooh that sounds absolutely fantastic.-Jon

    I’d love a taste of your Thetford-style Cajun coleslaw, JT – :) PJH

    Reply
  6. mikelib

    I use the same basic ingredients (Red Potatoes & Coleslaw Mix) for a good winter Pork Chop Dinner. The coleslaw mix is sautéed in a fry pan with olive oil and garlic until wilted and is finished off with salt; pepper 2 tablespoons each of (red wine vinegar, sugar and water). I make the red potatoes the same as the recipe calls for, but don’t rinse in cold water I drain the hot potatoes and add chopped garlic, and onions chopped flat Italian parsley, and a good EVOO to coat the potatoes. Pan fry a couple of pork chops and serve with my version of hot Italian Potato Salad, Sweet and Sour Cabbage Slaw.

    I found the coleslaw mix can be sautéed and can be seasoned to make any ethnic style dish (Asian, finish with garlic, ginger, soy sauce and sugar) etc.
    BTW I have my mother-in-laws reddish color bowl, great recipes.
    Thank you for the great tips! I love the one about sauteeing the cabbage, etc ahead! Elisabeth

    Reply
  7. Lori

    Thanks so much for sharing the coleslaw recipe! I bookmarked it earlier and just made it last night. It is delicious and has become my new go-to recipe. I have tried 3 others and yours is the winner by far. :) Now I have to try the potato salad recipe!

    Glad to hear it, Lori – thanks for bookmarking! Hope the potato salad comes out just as well for you. PJH

    Reply
  8. Bob

    Thanks for the Fanny Farmer Cookbook tip. On another matter, I am so fond of those Pyrex bowls which my mom had that I bought sets for each of my children telling them everything tastes better when made in those bowls! They’re available on eBay, but be warned – they are collectible and pricey!

    Reply
  9. dawn01

    My family loves potato salad my momma’s recipe she passed away in January a few week shy of her 102 birthday she always added some bread and butter pickle juice and 2 tablespoons of French dressing to potatoes while they are hot so they absorb it. Then adds mayo onion celery. Everyone loves it and it reminds them of her

    Reply
  10. Jackie

    Your salads look great and I love that they are not measured. I never believed in measuring for either one of those. That being said, I thought everyone put hard cooked eggs in potato salad. Maybe it’s a western thing. I live in Washington state. I also mix a little dijon mustard into the mayo. Sometimes, time allowing, I even throw in some bacon and some dill weed.
    I refuse to eat store bought potato salad, although I have tasted it. Does anyone know why it seems to taste like rubber tires smell?

    Reply
  11. Elizabeth

    The cole slaw is pretty much what I’ve been making for years, only we add chopped red pepper, and bit by bit I’ve been subbing plain yogurt for the mayo. Made it yogurt only last week and it tasted just as good as ever. I’d also recommend celery seed instead of celery salt–much better for you and very tasty.

    The slaw is supposed to shrink–that’s the vinegar (cider at my house) wilting the cabbage.and releasing the liquids. We always serve it with a slotted spoon, and it keeps fine for a few days. This is my go to along with country pork ribs cooked in the crock pot or real ribs smoked on my grill.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      It’s definitely great with ribs, Elizabeth – hope that’s what you’re enjoying this weekend. I add the dressing to the cabbage just an hour or so before serving, then refrigerate – it seems to taste fresher that way. Thanks for your feedback here – PJH

  12. Jeanette Bishop

    I’m sorry. I’ve grown to believe I am a potato salad purist. It’s a family thing from my mother-in-law. I’ve made potato salad this way for 60 years or more, and I’ve had raves and requests for my “recipe” almost every time I’ve made it for strangers. I’ve seen people go back to mine for refills, and bypass other potato salads on the same table.

    Others have pickles, mustard, and vinegar of one form or another. Mine is a total of 5 ingredients: It of course can be made with gold or red potatoes. But russets are my preference if you cook them correctly. I start them in a pan of cold water, heat to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook until, when tested with the tip of a sharp knife, they are tender. ‘Til done but before the skins start bursting to the extent that you can catch them at that crucial point. Leave them in skins to cool completely or until they can be easily handled. (I usually leave them overnight on terry towels.) They will have a soggier consistency, which means firmer cubes when cut, but still absorb the dressing.

    To peel, hold a paring knife turned with the sharp edge away from you, and scrape the skin off. That will take care of the eyes and blemishes for the most part without wasting a lot of the good part of the potato. I can peel 10 pounds of potatoes in about 20 minutes that way.

    Chop red onions (the sweetest ones, which are the flat, not the round, preferably) and toss through. Chop hard-boiled eggs and add. Add a sprinkling of salt. Toss together gently, Add Best Foods Mayonnaise, and mix in gently until all is covered. I have done 10 pounds of potatoes with one large red onion, 18 eggs, salt to taste, and 1 quart mayonnaise. I always have people say, “WHAT do you put in your dressing?” The answer, “Best Foods Mayo.” Then I add, “NO mustard. NO vinegar NO pickles. Postscript: Some argue for celery, but I don’t use it. It would add some crunch without hurting the flavor. I do know that if you just have to add something, canned pimientos would work without ruining it–at least for me.

    Even Best Foods has a recipe calling for mustard in their potato salad. They’re wrong. It ruins it. So don’t bother. If you want that, just go to a deli.

    Reply
  13. Jeanette Bishop

    Coleslaw. Shredded cabbage, and whatever else you want, carrots—. Dressing: Best Foods (called Hellmans in the East) cider vinegar, sugar, salt, and celery seeds. Dress and let it overnight for best flavor. This is the best!

    Reply

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