potato salad: a story of divided loyalties (and a recipe)

I recently was at a family gathering in South Dakota, and my Aunt Donna proudly served her traditional potato salad.  It was the recipe that she had learned from her mother.  She clearly went to a lot of effort to make 10 pounds of it.  Everyone raved about it and many had seconds, including my brother’s girlfriend (now she’s a shoo-in to the family).

Aunt Donna's potato salad

I did not eat any of it.

I really wanted to like it, but I knew better than to put some on my plate and deprive someone else of a second helping.  I dislike Miracle Whip, yellow mustard and hard-cooked eggs, and putting these three ingredients together in one salad comprises the trifecta of my picnic nemeses.  I knew this from past experience.  I hoped that my abstention from potato salad consumption would go unnoticed . . .

. . . but my Aunt Pat noticed.  (She notices everything.)  She confiscated my Dupic Family Membership Card and gave it to my brother’s girlfriend.

Just kidding.  But I did have some ‘splainin’ to do:  “I don’t eat that kind of potato salad.”  What kind do you eat?  “Well, I like the kind with vinegar-based dressing.”  [Puzzled look.]  “I don’t really like hard-boiled eggs,” I tried to explain.  Somehow, the discussion of this topic fizzled out, but I was left wondering how I came to like a completely different kind of potato salad.

All my life, I avoided the chilled, yellow, mayonnaisey potato salads.  But if I ever found myself in a German restaurant, it was like, bring on the hot, vinegary potato salad!  Hey, are you going to finish that potato salad?

So I did some “research” on potato salad.  (I googled the interwebs.)  I learned that while there are near infinite ways to make potato salad, there are three broad categories in which most recipe variations fit:

1.  American Potato Salad:  Potatoes dressed with mayonnaise, yellow mustard, hard-cooked eggs and other ingredients.  Served chilled.

2.  Northern German Potato Salad:  Potatoes dressed with mayonnaise and other ingredients.  Served chilled.  (Similar to the American-style salad.)

3.  Southern German Potato Salad:  Potatoes dressed with whole-grain mustard, bacon and a vinegar-based dressing.  Served warm.  (Munich is in Southern Germany.  Perhaps this is why this is the kind of potato salad that is typically served in Oktoberfest-style German restaurants.)

In summary, my relatives enjoy good old American-style potato salad.  God bless them.  I prefer Southern German-style potato salad, or kartoffelsalat, and here’s my beloved recipe:

Carrie’s Southern German-style potato salad (kartoffelsalat)

6 – 8 servings


2 pounds red potatoes, sliced in 1/4-inch half moons

4 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

 4 shallots, minced (about 3/4 cup)

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

1/4 cup water

2 1/2 tablespoons coarse-ground mustard

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


Put the sliced potatoes in a medium stock pot and fill the pot with enough water to cover the potatoes by about 2 inches.  Cover the pot and bring to a boil.  Drain the potatoes as soon as they are fork tender, about 10 minutes.  Transfer the drained potatoes to a large serving bowl and cover the bowl with a kitchen towel to keep the potatoes warm.

Use the same pot to cook the bacon until crisp over medium-high heat.  Use a slotted spoon to transfer the bacon to a plate lined with paper towel.

Reduce the heat to medium.  Add the shallots to the bacon drippings and cook until softened and just starting to brown, about 1 -2 minutes.  Add the flour, sugar, vinegar and water, and whisk until combined and thickened, about 1 minute.  Pour the dressing over the warm potatoes and add the mustard, salt and pepper, to taste.  Toss the potatoes to coat with the dressing and then mix in the bacon pieces.  Serve warm.


6 responses to “potato salad: a story of divided loyalties (and a recipe)

  1. You really are missing out!!!!

  2. Angela Wawrzynaik

    You’re too funny!! And weird!! But we love you anyway! 🙂 I will try to get your Dupic Family Membership Card back from Pat next time I see her! 😉

  3. I loooove Hy-Vee mustard potato salad (not sure where in SD you were, if you know of Hy-Vee). And being German, I love that warm, viniger kind, too (I take out the bacon).
    But I have lived in the South for a while now and they love their mayo and egg salads, which are just gross and not potato salad to me. It’s crazy how regional the dish is. And everyone has a kind they love and dislike, it seems!

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