Prepare to be scandalized. This Puerto Rican Potato Salad is creamy, loaded with spices and aromatics, and *gasp* a sweet element! No, Messy Boots, it’s not raisins. Stay with me.
This flavor-packed side dish has crossed the sea from Puerto Rico to the mainland, and for a good reason. We know what we’re doing when it comes to this dish. Anyone who didn’t grow up eating it remembers their first bite of this recipe. Those of us who know what’s going on watch their reaction when they bite into the surprise ingredient. It never disappoints. And they are forever a fan
What makes Puerto Rican Potato Salad different?
Enough drawing this out. The sweet element that I know you’re dying to find out more about is apples. Again, not raisins, so that should restore some of your faith in me.
While you may- at first glance- turn up your nose at the thought of pairing apples and potato salad together, I have to implore you to not be so dismissive. I mean, plenty of Southern potato salad recipes call for sweet pickle relish in theirs. I know a few “Madears” and “Memaws” that even throw sugar in theirs. As the old saying goes, “Don’t knock it ’til you try it.”
Apples are crunchy and sweet. They play so well with the soft, floury potatoes and the rest of the ingredients in this flavorful salad that you are sure to shake your head in agreement that it is, in fact, a genius ingredient in potato salad.
When do Puerto Ricans serve this Potato Salad?
Not only a simple accompaniment to a weeknight dinner, this spud salad also makes an appearance at every celebration, party, or holiday dinner on the Puerto Rican calendar. Because it’s inexpensive to make and feeds a large crowd, it, like the U.S. version, is a popular food choice for massive gatherings. Even if you’re not hosting large crowds, it still makes sense to prepare this salad to serve as a side dish since it stores so well in the fridge. The flavors deepen as the salad sits, so the next two days of eating are better than the first.
It’s eaten at the same events and in the same ways as in the U.S. Any time you have people gathering, there’s sure to be a massive tray of this salad on someone’s rickety, old card table. This potato salad shows up at every function I’ve ever been to hosted by a Puerto Rican.
What do I need to make Puerto Rican Potato Salad?
To make this potato salad grab Russet potatoes, eggs, an apple, sweet bell pepper (yellow, red, or orange), red (purple) onion, apple cider vinegar, pitted manzanilla olives, roasted red peppers, adobo, paprika, pepper, garlic powder, oregano, dijon (or yellow) mustard, and mayonnaise. I also add sofrito and cilantro to my potato salad for even more sabor.
Cooking takes place in a large pot. A 6-quart stockpot is perfect for this. This salad is best when cold. As a result, plan ahead to allow for enough chilling time before serving.
What are the best potatoes to use for Puerto Rican Potato Salad?
Because of its starch content, I prefer to use Russet potatoes for my potato salad. Since the novelty, waxier potatoes, like new potatoes and even Yukon golds, weren’t really a thing in PR, it’s also the more traditional potato to use here.
Russets absorb a lot of that flavor from the spices and the dressing we’re tossing it in, which means our finished dish is much more flavorful. Using Russets also means that if you overcook them, they will go from “perfect for potato salad” to mashed potatoes pretty quickly. Sometimes, I’ll do half-Russet, half-Yukon gold for a slight contrast in flavor and color if I have them. I recommend using either of those potatoes for this recipe, but Russets are best because they’re more readily available.
On your cutting board, cut the peeled potatoes into 1/2-1-inch thick chunks using your chef’s knife. Cut the potatoes into quarters lengthwise. Once you have those “wedges” of raw potato, cut across their width in 1/2-1-inch thick pieces.
I cut the potatoes thicker or thinner depending on when I want to serve the potato salad. If I waited too long to start the prep, I cut them thin to cook and cool them faster. I cut them on the thicker side, so the potato salad is more rustic if I got my life together and planned ahead. Never do I boil the potatoes whole. That just wastes more of my and my kitchen’s energy.
Can I leave out the eggs?
Throw the cut potatoes into your large stockpot along with the raw eggs. If you aren’t a fan of eggs, go ahead and leave them out. You can replace them with another potato so your salad isn’t too mayo-y- which shouldn’t even be a thing because there’s no such thing as too much mayo.
Fill the pot with cold water, making sure the water is at least 5-inches above the potatoes and eggs. Set the pot over a medium-high burner and bring the water to a gentle boil.
Now, it only takes a good 10 minutes for the eggs to cook to hard-boiled. I add the eggs now because I hate the stress of not doing so.
First and foremost, adding a cold egg to a boiling pot of water is just asking for it to crack. Then you’re left with albumen floating around in your cooking water, which ends up on the potatoes, and a whole meltdown happens.
Another issue I have is that I always forget to pull the eggs out early enough to let them warm up to avoid cracking them in the boiling water. That, or I “plan” to wait until 10 minutes before the potatoes are done and add them. This always means I forget to add them at all because I busy myself with other things.
How long do I need to boil the potatoes?
After the water in the pot comes to a boil, reduce the temperature to medium-low. Typically, when cut like this, the potatoes only need to simmer for 12-15 minutes. You don’t want to boil the potatoes too long, or they’ll turn mushy. Take the tip of your knife and run it through the center of the thickest potato you can spot. If it slides through with a little resistance, it’s time to remove them from the heat. It’s better to pull the potatoes off of the heat while they’re a little firm inside than to let them boil too long.
Drain the potatoes in a colander set inside of your sink. Even if the potatoes are still a little firm at this point, carryover cooking finishes them off. This is why it’s essential not to overcook the potatoes.
Allow the potatoes and the eggs to continue to drain and cool in the colander at room temperature while you prepare the aromatics and dressing for the potato salad.
Why does Puerto Rican Potato Salad have apples in it?
Like many of the anglicized dishes that Puerto Ricans eat, the apple addition was probably birthed during the U.S. colonization period; at least, that’s what my mother said. When fruit that was commonly eaten in the States was introduced to the Puerto Ricans, they did what we always do and made it taste even better.
I mean, have you seen the fruits that grow on trees in the back- and front yards in PR? Apples probably didn’t impress a single person on the island. It would make sense to use this rather bland fruit to add some excitement to what was probably also a bland potato salad. That’s my theory anyway. Regardless, the apples are here to stay.
The apples I prefer to use are either gala or honey crisp. Both are sweet, tart apples that also add a bit more color to my salad. They are firm-fleshed apples with a honey flavor. Both combine so well with the creamy mayo and pungent spices that they are always my go-to’s. Some folks in my family prefer to use Granny Smiths, so that’s another option if you’re more of a fan of sour flavors. Avoid apples like red or golden delicious. They are too mealy and mild to make a massive flavor contribution to this recipe.
Cut the apples into quarters. After you remove the core and stem, cut each quarter in half lengthwise (leaving you with eight slices of apple). Slice the apples across their width into 1/4-inch thick pieces. I do the coring after quartering the apples because it’s easier than trying to remove the core and seeds from an eighth of an apple. Do whatever is comfortable for you. Just make sure you remove the seeds and cut the apples to the same size as the potatoes.
How do I keep the apples from turning brown?
Don’t make this effort to create a bomb potato salad go to waste by ending up with brown apples in the salad. To prevent oxidation of the apple’s flesh, toss the pieces in apple cider vinegar. The acidity of the vinegar inhibits the browning of the apples, which keeps them looking pretty. If you don’t have apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, white vinegar, or lime juice will work.
Toss the apple pieces in the vinegar and let them sit while you prep the rest of the ingredients.
What other swaps and substitutions can I make in this Potato Salad?
Puerto Rican potato salad is not for those who are afraid of flavor. My potato salad, especially, isn’t. Mine out-flavors most Puerto Rican potato salads because I’m about that life.
Add the diced red onion, cilantro, bell pepper, sliced olives, roasted red pepper, and sofrito to a large mixing bowl. One thing we like to do is garnish the hell out of our food. Reserve some of the cilantro and roasted red pepper for garnishing the potato salad later. Without it, you may be considered suspect.
When it comes to the fresh bell pepper, choose one that adds color to the salad. I prefer yellow since there’s no other food in the dish with the same color, well, the yolks, but they don’t do much. Red or orange also work here. Olives are optional since I know some folks hate them. Replace them with kosher dill pickles or even sweet pickles. You can replace the cilantro with parsley, and the red onion can be replaced with yellow or a shallot.
Can I use salad dressing whip instead of mayonnaise?
Um, yeah, I guess. I have a thing about “salad dressing whip.” I probably feel about it the same way you (if you’re asking) feel about mayo.
Yes, you can use it, but it’ll taste sweeter than my original recipe. Just a chef’s note: the “anti-mayo” whip has the same ingredients as mayo but with more sugar added. So, when it comes to this recipe, mayo is still the better of the two.
Add the mayo and the dijon mustard to the bowl with the veggies. You can substitute yellow mustard or even brown mustard here if you don’t have or like dijon.
Use a large mixing spoon or a rubber spatula to stir the veggies and condiments until smooth.
How far ahead can I make the mayo dressing?
Next, add the spices to the bowl. Don’t skimp on the spices. Remember, potatoes don’t taste like much besides earth on their own, so you want to give them a fair amount of spice to jazz them up. Stir the spices into the dressing mixture well.
This dressing can be made up to two days before making the salad itself. Just prepare it as instructed and store the dressing in a tightly-sealed container.
This one’s free: this dressing is great to use for chicken, egg, or tuna salad. Macaroni salad, too, tastes great with this dressing base.
Peel, then chop the hard-boiled eggs after they’ve cooled. I just give mine a really rough chop. I also bank on the majority of the yolks popping out from the whites as I cut. Don’t be too fussy here. It’s all going to the same place.
Chuck the eggs into the bowl with the dressing. Add the potatoes. It’s okay if the potatoes are still warm. I actually find this works to our advantage flavor-wise. The still-warm potatoes absorb more of the dressing and seasoning than they would if still cold. Adding them to the dressing instead of pouring the dressing over them also makes mixing easier.
How far ahead can I make the potato salad?
Puerto Rican potato salad (any potato salad really) tastes best when made at least 12 hours in advance. I like to make mine the evening before I plan to serve it. Doing so allows the potatoes to cool completely. It also gives them a chance to soak up all of those other ingredients as they join together in holy flavor matrimony.
You can cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap or foil and transfer it to the fridge. When you’re ready to serve it, you need to give it a quick stir to mix up the mayo dressing. The top usually does this thing where it looks glazed over. A quick stir will set the world right again. If you find your potatoes have soaked up too much of the mayo, deposit another cup of mayo on top and stir it in. Give everything a taste and add more adobo or pepper as desired.
Don’t forget the garnish! I just slice a roasted red pepper into strips, which I then form into a bootleg rose. Listen, the more gawdy your garnish, the more authentic the potato salad is.
What dishes are commonly served with Puerto Rican Potato Salad?
We often serve a few staple dishes with this Puerto Rican potato salad. Among them are:
- Pernil (Puerto Rican Roast Pork Shoulder)
- Arroz con Gandules (Puerto Rican Rice with Pigeon Peas)
- Chuletas Fritas (Pan-Fried Pork Chops)
- Pavochón with Mofongo Stuffing
While these are all tradition Puerto Rican recipes, I love to pair this potato salad with recipes from my other culture, as well:
- the fried chicken from this Chicken and Waffles recipe
- Gumbo (yes, gumbo) with Andouille Sausage, Chicken, and Seafood
- Blueberry Balsamic Grilled Pork Chops
Most of your BBQ favorites will complement this salad tastefully.
How do I store leftovers?
Cover leftover potato salad and store it in the fridge for 3 days.
Usually, the potato salad will look “dry” the longer it sits. All it needs is a quick stir to make it creamy again. Avoid leaving it out for long periods as the mayonnaise will spoil. If you don’t eat it within 3 days of making it, it’s best to throw it out…and seek therapy for why you can’t complete important tasks.
Can I freeze this Potato Salad?
I wouldn’t freeze this, or any, potato salad. Between the eggs and the mayonnaise, there’s just too much funkiness going on to mess with freezing.
With the make-ahead friendliness of the dressing and boiling of the potatoes, I think it’s a relatively easy recipe to make the day before serving. Skip the freezing in this recipe.
So, it’s not raisins, and plenty of Puerto Ricans (and those who aren’t Puerto Ricans) can attest to the deliciousness of this Potato Salad with apples. Now I want you to give it a chance and try it for yourself. No rude comments about how nasty it sounds; taste it. You’ll see millions of us can’t be wrong. Don’t forget to share this recipe on your Sides board and tag me when you make it.
Puerto Rican Potato Salad (Ensalada de Papa)
- 2 1/2 pounds (1 kilogram) russet potatoes peeled and quartered, then cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
- 3 large eggs optional
- 1 Honey Crisp apple (or Gala or Granny Smith), cored, cut into eighths and sliced 1/4-inch thick
- 1 tablespoon (15 milliliters) apple cider vinegar (or lemon juice, lime juice, or white vinegar)
- 1/2 cup ( 1/4 of a large or 26 grams) red onion diced
- 1/2 cup (1/2 a medium or 88 grams) sweet bell pepper diced
- 1/4 cup (half a bunch) cilantro or parsley, chopped
- 1/4 cup (74 grams) roasted red pepper (mild) chopped
- 1/4 cup sofrito optional
- 8 manzanilla olives pitted, sliced
- 2 1/2 cups (575 grams) mayonnaise
- 1 1/2 tablespoons (24 grams) dijon mustard (or yellow mustard)
- 2 teaspoons (5 grams) adobo (or seasoned salt), plus more to taste
- 1 teaspoon (3 grams) granulated garlic powder
- 3/4 teaspoon paprika
- 3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- sliced roasted red peppers
- chopped cilantro or parsley leaves
Boil, then Drain the Potatoes and Eggs
- Add the potatoes and the raw eggs to a large stockpot. along with the raw eggs.Fill the pot with cold water, making sure the water is at least 5-inches above the potatoes and eggs. Bring the water to a gentle boil over medium-high heat.
- After the water in the pot comes to a boil, reduce the temperature to medium-low. Simmer the potatoes and eggs for 12-15 minutes, or until the tip of your knife, inserted into the center of the thickest potato- meets with a little resistance.
- Drain the potatoes in a colander set inside a sink. Allow the potatoes and to drain and cool in the colander at room temperature while you prepare the potato salad dressing.
Prepare the Potato Salad Dressing
- In a bowl, toss the apple pieces in the apple cider vinegar and let them sit for 5 minutes. This step will prevent the apples from oxidizing too much.
- Add the red onion, bell pepper, cilantro, roasted red pepper, sofrito, and the olives to a separate, larger mixing bowl. Stir the mayo, dijon mustard, adobo, granulated garlic, paprika, oregano, and black pepper into the veggie mixture until smooth using a large spoon or a rubber spatula.
Finish the Potato Salad
- Peel, then chop the hard-boiled eggs after they've cooled slightly. Add the eggs and potatoes to the bowl with the dressing. It's okay if the potatoes are still warm. The still-warm potatoes absorb more of the dressing and seasoning than they would if still cold. Fold the potatoes and eggs into the dressing mixture ensuring they are evenly coated. Add more mayonnaise as desired.
- Cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap or foil and transfer it to the fridge. Chill the potato salad completely or for 8 hours (overnight is best).When you're ready to serve it, stir to mix up the mayo dressing. If you find your potatoes have soaked up too much of the mayo, deposit another cup of mayo on top and stir it in. Taste the salad and add more adobo or pepper as needed.
- Slice a roasted red pepper into strips, then form it into a rose. Garnish the potato salad with this rose or with sliced olives or chopped cilantro. Serve the potato salad well-chilled.
Swaps and Substitutions:
- use Yukon gold or red new potatoes (cut in half) instead of Russets.
- Red or orange bell peppers or sweet snacking peppers may be used in place of the yellow bell pepper.
- Omit the olives if you hate them or replace them with minced dill, sweet, or spicy pickles.
- Replace the cilantro with parsley if desired.
- The red onion may be replaced with a yellow onion, sweet Vidalia onion, or shallot.
- Salad dressing whip can be used instead of mayonnaise.
- Yellow, brown, or spicy brown mustard can replace the dijon. The mustard may be omitted altogether, as well.
Notes on the Potato Salad Dressing:
- The dressing can be made up to two days before making the salad itself. Just prepare it as instructed and store the dressing in a tightly-sealed container.
- This dressing is great to use as the dressing base for chicken, egg, macaroni, or tuna salad.
- Cover leftover potato salad and store it in the fridge for 3 days.
- A quick stir is needed before serving the salad.
- Avoid leaving the potato salad out for long periods as the mayonnaise will spoil.
- Discard any leftover potato salad after 3 days.