Editor’s note: Cook Like a Chef is a feature designed to help you master cooking techniques that will give your homemade meals professional style and carefully crafted flavor. Each month, a chef/instructor from Cascade Culinary Institute at Central Oregon Community College will walk us through a skill or recipe. You can also watch the chef creating the recipe in a video on The Bulletin’s website at www.bendbulletin.com/chef. Bon appetit!

When you’ve got a good potato salad recipe you can make with confidence, you’ve got a side dish that will complement a wide variety of foods, from barbecued meats and sandwiches to vegetarian entrees.

Cascade Culinary Institute chef/instructor Thor Erickson is sharing his recipe for a delicious potato salad without mayonnaise that can stand up to the heat of a summer dinner on the deck or a leisurely picnic lunch beside a lake. For that reason, he said, this is an excellent recipe to have in your repertoire.

“Mayo-based potato salads can spoil really fast on a hot summer day when they’re not refrigerated. This one is very simple and makes for good leftovers, too.

“I’m an ingredient-driven guy, and, with this recipe, you can really taste the potatoes. It’s this magical combination of the dressing and the potatoes, and a little bit of parsley,” Erickson said.

Go waxy, not starchy

Erickson said to be sure to pick waxy potatoes for a salad, not the starchy varieties like russets that are ideal for baked potatoes, mashed potatoes or french fries.

“Waxy are better for potato salads, like Yukon Golds or red potatoes. Some people call them ‘thin-skinned’ because you can eat the skin,” Erickson said.

Use it or lose it

Use potatoes right after you buy them. Don’t make potato salad (or anything else) with potatoes that have been sitting on your countertop or in the refrigerator for a while, warns Erickson.

“If your potatoes are sprouting, or if you see green under the skin, the potatoes contain solanine, a toxic substance that can naturally occur in potatoes. It makes the potato bitter, and it’s also poisonous and can cause gastrointestinal discomfort, or worse,” Erickson said.

Potatoes are inexpensive, so if you see green or sprouts, toss the spuds and buy fresh ones.

Firm, not mushy

Erickson told us it’s important to cook potatoes whole. Don’t cut them up before you boil them, which will make them absorb water and get mushy. They’ll be done when they’ve cooked for about 30 minutes or are easily pierced with a fork or knife.

“Here’s the point where a lot of people make mistakes. Immediately after the potatoes are done, drain them — take them out of the water and let them cool at room temperature. Don’t put them in cold water. Don’t rinse them with cold water. Don’t soak them in any water or leave them in hot water because potatoes can take on water and become mushy and waterlogged,” he said.

To peel or not to peel

If you want to take the skin off the potatoes, wait until they’ve cooled down and are only slightly warm. They’ll be easier to peel at that point.

Dressing now or later

You can make the salad dressing while the potatoes are cooling down or you can make it the next day if you’re cooking ahead.

“You can get your dressing cooking and then slice your potatoes while you’re waiting for the sugar and salt to dissolve. I like to assemble the salad in a big bowl. Pick a bowl that’s bigger than you think you need. Put the sliced potatoes in layers in the bowl. And after the dressing is done, with the sugar and salt dissolved, pour it hot over the cooled potatoes,” Erickson said. “What’s going to happen is those potatoes are going to soak all that flavor in.”

Allow the potatoes to sit at room temperature until they’re cool again, and then toss in the oil, chopped parsley and freshly ground pepper.

Taste before you serve

If you’re going to step up your game and cook more like a chef, it’s a good idea to taste frequently as you cook. Potatoes tend to soak up salt, so be sure to check them after they’ve been in the refrigerator.

“Even after the potato salad soaks up the dressing, you can taste it and think, ‘It’s perfect,’ and then put it in the refrigerator, but always taste it before you serve it. You might need to add a little pinch of salt to bring that flavor back up,” Erickson said.

When Erickson is invited to someone’s house to eat and he knows they’re grilling, he told us this is the potato salad he takes.

“I can do it pretty quickly, and it always goes with everything they may be cooking,” he said.

And you can get creative with potato salad leftovers, if there are any.

“My son had some friends over for a sleepover, and I was wondering what to make them for breakfast. I had potato salad and wondered what would happen if I put it in a hot cast iron skillet with a little olive oil,” Erickson said. “It was great: the sugar in them, along with the vinegar, caramelized, and the onions cooked a little more, and it was just great. Just adjust that salt and taste them,” Erickson said.

— Reporter: ahighberger@mac.com

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