Next Time You Make Potato Salad Dress It Like Bobby Flay

Celebrity chef Bobby Flay has as much of a knack for dressing potato salad as Julia Child. Nowhere is this more apparent than when he makes his German version of the classic side dish. In a video on YouTube, he drops the bits of thick bacon he's cut up to into a pan with his signature flair. Next to the smoke-flavored meat, red new potatoes and chopped onion halves bubble in a pot a few burners over, creating an aromatic delight in his kitchen.

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For the uninitiated, it may seem like the dressing part of his German potato salad recipe is coming way, way down the road. However, the fatty bacon and the drippings it'll leave behind are just the first step in the dressing of his potato salad. It's no exaggeration to say that, for Flay, the process of making potato salad is the process of making the dressing for it. It's all one unified project, with no ingredient being more important than another.

He cooks the bacon to a golden brown crispy before he scrapes it from the pan, taking care to leave the grease in its skillet. Diced red onions get tossed into the bacon fat, becoming the next step in the dressing equation. He willingly pushes past his preference for canola oil in this dish because the bacon-soaked onions will add a smoky and savory flavor and caramelized texture that's central to the dressing's flavor profile.

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A traditional potato salad dressing

Many potato salad recipes around the world call for mayo as a key ingredient. Not Bobby Flay's dressing. The mustard, vinegar, and olive oil he adds to the salad puts it squarely into the vinegar-based salad dressing category. This is a nod to the potato salad's earliest American ancestor. The Spanish, who introduced the spud salad to the New World in the 16th century, included plenty of vinegar, spices, and a little wine in their starchy tuber concoction. German settlers added hot potatoes and bacon to the mix, a tradition that Flay embraces and then builds upon by upping the flavor with a little salt and pepper and lots of chopped green onions.

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Mayo, or Miracle Whip as the case may be, as a base dressing for potato salad, didn't become a thing until the 20th century. Same goes for adding ingredients, like hard-boiled eggs, pickle relish, roasted veggies, dill, and other regional particulars in the dish. Spud salads became cold instead of hot somewhere along the way, too.

Getting the potatoes right

When Bobby Flay makes potato salad, even the way he prepares the star tuber supports his quest for the perfectly dressed dish. Rather than allowing the potatoes to cool, he starts cutting them up and dressing them while the heat of the flame is still on them. His rationale for doing this? The heat opens the pores and starches in the spuds, allowing the flavors of the dressing to soak into the depths of the potatoes. All the bacon and its rich, smoky drippings, Dijon mustard, green onions, cider vinegar, olive oil, caramelized red onions, and a sprinkle of parsley work together to give the tastebuds a sample of each element of the dressing in every bite.

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The type of potatoes a chef chooses can also make or break a potato salad recipe. Flay doesn't go for an Idaho or russet potato that you might use to make a batch of baked potatoes. Instead, he opts for a waxier potato, the new potato. These types of potatoes have a lower starch content compared to their russet cousins. That, coupled with their high water content, ensures that the vibrant red-skinned spuds Flay tosses into his German potato salad don't crumble excessively or break apart as they tumble through the dressing. All of this leaves the celebrity chef with an elegantly dressed potato salad that looks as stunning as it tastes.

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