Nana Recipe Wednesday–Classic Potato Salad

by Sarah on April 11, 2012

I have to tell you the truth Readers, there just isn’t a potato salad that even matches up to this one–not even close.  Now listen, I’ve had some decent potato salads at delis and at restaurants, and some serviceable salads elsewhere—but I always think to myself, “Gee, that wasn’t as good as Nana’s”.  You see, Nana’s potato salad was special.

And not just because she was my Nana, mind you.  It was one tasty bound salad.  (A bound salad is one that the ingredients have been bound together by a thick dressing–like mayonnaise or yogurt or a sour cream-based dressing)

This recipe isn’t on one of Nana’s hundreds of recipe cards, it’s one that I have filed deep in the recesses of my brain and in a pocket of my heart.  She taught me how to make it in her kitchen in Hayward (still one of my favorite places on earth) before some picnic–maybe a Fourth of July picnic–and it’s stayed with me ever since.  It’s funny, because when I took it to Easter (which I do every year) I talked to my Auntie Anne, who also makes this potato salad and of course remembers it slightly differently.  We don’t know if this is because Nana had modified it herself by the time she taught me how to do it, or if I subconsciously modified it, or maybe Anne changed hers up a little.  I’m going to give you the version that I make today.  But I’ll give you the options that Anne uses too, in case you want to try those for another time.  I may be trying it her way soon–she uses pickles!

This recipe makes enough for a crowd–which is good, because really, why would you want to make potato salad for just a couple of people?  Might as well make a lot.

Listen, the first secret is that you boil the potatoes in their jackets.  I cut them in half and boil them.  Nana always says you can use any potato and you can. If I’m taking the salad somewhere for general consumption, I usually use new potatoes (the red or white waxy kind) because they don’t fall apart as much. Put a lot of salt in the water.  Don’t skimp.  A handful is good.

When they are tender, drain them then peel them WHILE THEY ARE HOT.  I’m not kidding.  That is secret #2.  I’ll tell you why in a minute.  Just peel them and cut them into large-ish chunks.  If you make the pieces to small they will just turn into mush later.  Trust me on this.

Secret #3.  Season the potatoes with wine vinegar.  Red or white, it doesn’t matter.  But give them a good dousing and toss.  Taste one, you want it to taste faintly of vinegar.  The heat of the potatoes will help them absorb the vinegar and will season the potato all the way through.  Then you will have a perfectly seasoned potato with which to make your potato salad.  You get where I’m going?

Now give them a decent shower of salt and pepper, toss again and just go read the paper or something until they get completely cool.

Or I suppose you could use this time to perfectly hard-boil some eggs, chop some celery, chop some onion, some parsley, peel the eggs, and chop the eggs.  But whatever.

You know how to hard-boil and egg don’t you?  Eggs in pan.  Cover with cold water.  On medium-high heat.  Bring to a boil.  Turn off heat.  Cover.  Leave for ten minutes.  Rinse with cold water until the eggs are cold.  Peel.  The end. No unsightly green rings or rubbery whites.

So when all the potatoes are cool, I would highly recommend that you use your hands to mix everything through.  Using your hands seems to keep the potatoes from turning into mush quite as much.  Besides, later you get to lick your fingers.

Do not try to be judicious with the mayonnaise and do not try to use an inferior brand of mayonnaise or you will be saddened at the outcome.  I think it is wise to make this salad the day before you are planning to eat it because it just tastes better the next day–it actually IMPROVES with age!  Just like Nana!

This year we ate all the potato salad on Easter and I was pretty bummed that there weren’t any leftovers.   Doesn’t it look good?   So the real secret here is making sure that the potatoes are seasoned all the way through the process: Boiling in the skin, heavy salt in the water, vinegar/salt/pepper on hot potatoes, and making sure we use plenty of good quality mayo, Dijon and fresh produce for crunch and flavor.  And Nana’s love.  That’s the other secret.

Nana's Classic Potato Salad


  • 5 pounds potatoes, cut in half (new potatoes don't fall apart as much)
  • 1/4 cup wine vinegar
  • salt, pepper
  • 4 ribs celery, small dice
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup red or green onion
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 8 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
  • 2 1/2 cups Best Foods mayonnaise
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup Dijon mustard (to taste)
  • (optional: gherkin pickles, chopped)


  • Cut potatoes in half and place in a large stockpot. Fill with water and add a handful of salt. Bring to a boil. Cook until potatoes are tender. Drain.
  • While potatoes are hot, peel and coarsely chop into large chunks and place in a large mixing bowl.
  • Sprinkle with vinegar, salt and pepper and toss. Let stand and come to room temperature.
  • Add rest of ingredients and gently mix with hands.
  • Taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper or more mustard if you prefer.
  • Best if made a day ahead.

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