“Who bring the salad?”
When someone in my family asked that question, it meant one thing: “Who brought the potato salad?” No macaroni salad. No pasta salad. No green salad. (I didn’t know green salad was even a thing until I was about 20.)
Potato salad is a staple at all cookouts, and with summer winding down this weekend with some of the last cookouts of the year, you can expect to see that dish in abundance. Why? Because according to one survey, potato salad is the second-most popular cookout dish, behind baked beans.
A good potato salad has few ingredients, like mayo, eggs, a little mustard, celery, salt and pepper to taste, and maybe a secret ingredient or two that auntie also used (and refused to tell everyone, including her children, who could only see the recipe after she died). And if you’re in charge of the salad, you best bring your A-game. Not, “better bring” or “hope to bring”; best bring, which as we all know, is as serious as it gets.
But every now and then, someone tries to up their potato salad game but instead gets met with, “what fool …,“ in a tone you only hear if you forget to say “Amen” after the preacher. I’m here to help you out. To avoid the “what fool,” make sure you don’t add any of these items to your potato salad.
Walnuts: Remember the first rule of potato salad. It does not crunch. There are some bougie recipes out there that call for walnuts and that’s simply, well, nuts. If you want to get the side-eye from a whole bunch of people (and suffer embarrassment when no one touches what’s in that bowl) then, by all means, add walnuts. I’d avoid it. Me, I go by the “no nuts of any kind” rule.
Raisins/dried cranberries: When I was a child my grandmother and aunt (her sister) would each use these phrases when I did something dumb. My grandmother: “Boy, you out yo’ mine?” (When she said it she cut the ‘d’ short on “mind,” so it sounded like, “mine.”) My aunt: “Honey child, please.” When their voices started going up an octave, I knew I was in big trouble. I went to a party recently and someone put raisins in potato salad, and I heard my grandmother and aunt’s voices converge in my head. “You out yo’ mine, honey child, please.” Yes, it was that bad, looking like a bunch of rabbit turds mixed in the salad. Side-eye time.
Fruit: Fruit is good on a hot summer day. Peaches. Plums. Cherries are my favorite. Fruit does not go in the salad. So imagine how perplexed I was when a friend told me there was such a thing as pineapple potato salad. I thought he made that up, until I discovered, to my surprise, it’s true. Not only is it true, but there’s also a raging debate over whether you should grill the pineapple first or just use diced fruit from a can. OMKAlen of EllenTube fame said it best when he saw pineapple in this beloved dish. “This ain’t no potato salad.” Or as my aunt would say, Honey child, please.
Cornichons: I’m a salad purist and like it basic, though a little relish can be okay. Cornichons are tiny, tart pickles made from gherkins, which I once thought were mythical creatures. Cornichons are made from mini cucumbers. So now you know all the reasons you shouldn’t use cornichons in your salad. It’s really a cucumber—and you wouldn’t put a whole cucumber in your salad would you? Cornichons are too tart— and ain’t nobody gonna have any extra little baby cornichons if you need them at the last minute, because they won’t know what they are.
Peas. Potato salad recipes from South Africa call for peas. I’m certainly not going to denigrate anyone’s cultural preference but, You out yo mine? Rumor has it peas are good for a few things, though I can’t think of what. But I can think of what peas are not good for: putting them in a salad. Of everything on this list, peas would be my least favorite. I just can’t imagine getting a nice forkful of creamy salad and biting into a vegetable I used to dump in the toilet to convince my mother I actually ate them. That leaves just one more item.
Cheese. Cheese does go with potatoes, if they’re baked, scalloped, or pan-fried. Chunks of cheese (or shredded, for that matter) don’t belong in potato salad. It throws the taste off, especially when someone tries to get fancy and uses gorgonzola, which is a blue cheese, which is feet stinky. Cheese in salad mixes as well as Kim Kardashian and Kanye. Just keep them apart.
Ray Marcano is a longtime, award-winning journalist who has written and edited for some of the country’s most prominent media brands. He’s former national president of the Society of Professional Journalists, a two-time Pulitzer juror, and a Fulbright Fellow.
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