America's Test Kitchen is a real 2,500 square foot test kitchen located just outside of Boston that is home to more than three dozen full-time cooks and product testers. Our mission is simple: to develop the absolute best recipes for all of your favorite foods. To do this, we test each recipe 30, 40, sometimes as many as 70 times, until we arrive at the combination of ingredients, technique, temperature, cooking time, and equipment that yields the best, most foolproof recipe. America’s Test Kitchen's online cooking school is based on nearly 20 years of test kitchen work in our own facility, on the recipes created for Cook's Illustrated and Cook’s Country magazines, and on our two public television cooking shows.
Potato salad is an easy dish to make and transport to a summer potluck. But all too often the star of the show is mayonnaise, rather than the recipe’s namesake ingredient. We found that the secret to a creamy and light potato salad is to emulate the Austrians: Ditch the mayo and look to the soup pot.
We boil the spuds in a shallow pan with chicken stock, water, sugar, and salt, which leads to deeply flavored potatoes. We also found that adding a surprising ingredient, white vinegar, expanded the window of time during which the spuds go from properly cooked to mushy and broken.
This is because potato cells are held together by pectin, a large molecule that acts as a glue. This glue weakens when heated in water, allowing the cells to come apart, which first softens the potato and then breaks it apart. Vinegar’s acidity slows the breakdown of pectin, expanding the amount of time between the point when a potato starts to soften and when it fully breaks down.
We use Yukon Golds in this dish, as they have just enough starch to contribute creaminess without breaking apart. To finish our potato salad recipe, we add mashed potatoes to the dressing, which thickened it perfectly every time.
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