A classic, home-cooked dish for over one hundred years, Japanese Potato Salad is distinct because of its colorful addition of fresh vegetables, creamy texture, and rounded flavor. It’s the ultimate crowd-pleaser!
Summer cookouts and holiday get-togethers are where potato salads typically shine, but this recipe for Japanese Potato Salad (ポテトサラダ) is one I enjoy making year-round. In Japan, it shows up in bento boxes, convenience stores, and even as a bar snack at izakaya.
Today, let’s learn how to make this classic, all-Japanese potato salad that will be loved across ages.
What is a Japanese Potato Salad?
A Brief History
It may surprise you when I say potato salad has been a popular menu item in Japan for at least 125 years. That’s right!
As with many other yoshoku dishes (such as Curry Rice, Croquettes, and Tonkatsu), potato salad is thought to have made its first appearance during the Meiji Era (1868-1912). After a Japanese chef supposedly tried to recreate the popular Eastern European Olivier Salad (also known as Russian Salad), this Japanese version quickly gained popularity.
What Makes It Different?
German and American potato salad recipes are often vinegar-based with tender chunks of waxy potatoes and ingredients like mustard, bacon, and fresh parsley or chives. But in the Japanese version, you will find a variety of colorful ingredients including carrots, corn, hard-boiled eggs, cucumber, and ham.
The vegetables add sweetness and substance to the salad, and the simplicity of seasonings delivers a balanced flavor. There is less of an acidic base because of the absence of vinegar.
Every family in Japan has its own take for the potato salad, and that’s one of the many things I love about it. You can add other fresh ingredients of your choice (e.g., onion, peas, string beans, or apple), and it will be just as nutritious and eye-catching.
The potatoes are almost completely mashed (but I recommend leaving a few chunks), so the texture is creamy. Most importantly, the key difference in flavor comes from the type of mayonnaise we use (more on this below).
How to Make Classic Japanese Potato Salad
Most of the ingredients for this potato salad can be found in a regular supermarket. However, to make it distinctly Japanese, I highly recommend using Japanese mayonnaise, which adds a rich and tangy component that can’t be substituted. You can find the famous, red-capped squeeze bottle of Kewpie mayo in most Asian grocery stores, but if you have a little bit of time, try this homemade version of Japanese mayonnaise!
Ingredients You’ll Need:
- Russet Potatoes – Waxy potatoes are commonly suggested for potato salad, but there is a reason we use a starchier potato for this recipe. Japanese potato salad is creamier in texture than its western counterpart, and while we don’t mash them all the way, the texture of russet potatoes makes it easy to break up while mixing.
- Corn – I love the addition of corn in potato salad. The tiny kernels are packed with sweetness and embody the flavors of summertime. You can use canned or frozen for easy preparation.
- Carrots – This adds another element of natural sweetness to the salad. If you can cut the carrot into super-thin slices (with a knife or mandolin slicer), just sprinkle salt to make them tender. However, if you struggle to slice super thinly, just blanch them quickly (or use a microwave) till carrots are just tender.
- Cucumber – Mixing thinly sliced cucumber into the salad gives it a refreshing flavor, not to mention a nice crunch!
- Boiled egg – Egg and potatoes are extremely complementary. Plus, the added protein makes it a substantial dish.
- Ham – Instead of the traditional bacon, we use ham in Japanese potato salad. It’s less oily with a nice amount of salt that brings out all the other flavors of this recipe. If you don’t eat meat, simply omit it!
- Seasonings – Japanese mayo, rice vinegar (gives the salad a slight zing), salt, and pepper.
Much like potato salads in the US, Japanese potato salad is a popular party dish. It has the perfect balance of rich, tart flavors with a touch of sweetness and a pleasant variety of textures.
6 Helpful Tips When Making Potato Salad
- Cut ingredients into a bite-sized, uniformed shape – Because the potatoes are mashed and have a smooth texture, all the other ingredients should be in small pieces so they incorporate well into the mixture.
- Remove excess moisture from all ingredients – Excess moisture will ruin the texture and flavors of potato salad. So it’s key to withdraw the moisture from cucumbers, carrots, and potatoes before mixing them all together.
- Add seasonings to hot potatoes – The potatoes will absorb flavors well when they are still warm. So add rice vinegar, salt, and pepper, except for the mayonnaise! Read next.
- Let the potatoes cool – Hold on to the mayo. If you mix mayonnaise while the potatoes are hot, the mayonnaise will separate. Therefore, work on other ingredients while the potatoes cool down. It’s good idea to start cooking the potatoes first to give plenty of cooling time.
- Gradually add mayonnaise – We all want to use less mayonnaise for health reasons, but mayo here is the main flavor so you can’t just skimp them. Instead of adding all at once, add 2/3 of the mayo first, and see if you want to add the rest. Sometimes a sprinkle of salt can bring out the flavors you need.
- Chill the potato salad before serving – Not only it tastes better, but chilling also gives enough time for the flavors to meld together.
What to Serve with Japanese Potato Salad
The versatility of this salad can’t be beaten, and for that reason, it’s a dish that can be paired with just about anything. Some other ways I like to enjoy Japanese Potato Salad are alongside Karaage (fried chicken) or Hambagu (Japanese hamburger steak).
If you’re having a barbecue or attending a potluck, you can find a list of Japanese recipes here that go perfectly with this potato salad.
It’s rare that we have leftovers of this dish in my house, but when we do, I love making these Potato Salad Pork Rolls.
Japanese Potato Salad
- 2 russet potatoes (1.15 lb)
- 2 tsp kosher/sea salt (I use Diamond Crystal; use half for table salt) (for cooking the potatoes)
- ¼ cup frozen or canned corn (1.4 oz)
- 1 large egg (50 g w/o shell)
- 1 Persian cucumber (or ½ Japanese cucumber; 92 g, 3.25 oz)
- 2 inches carrot (2 oz, 60 g)
- 1 tsp kosher/sea salt (I use Diamond Crystal; use half for table salt) (divided; for cucumber and carrot)
- 2 slices black forest ham (1.9 oz, 54 g)
- 1 Tbsp rice vinegar (If you don't have rice vinegar, I'd skip and do not use other vinegars as they tend to be too strong)
- freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
- ¼ tsp kosher/sea salt (I use Diamond Crystal; use half for table salt) (to taste)
- 6 Tbsp Japanese mayonnaise (I recommend with 4 Tbsp first, then add more if needed)
- Gather all the ingredients.
To Prepare the Potatoes
- Peel potato skins and cut into 1½-inch (3.8 cm) pieces (for a Russet potato, I cut into 4 pieces). They should be roughly about the same size so that they’ll cook evenly.
- Put potatoes in a medium pot, and add cold water 1 inch above the potatoes. Add 2 tsp salt and start cooking over medium high heat. To save energy and time, cover the lid, leaving it slightly ajar to avoid a boilover. Tip: We start cooking potatoes in cold water because it allows them to slowly heat up and cook through evenly.
- Once boiling, open the lid and reduce heat to medium. Cook on a gentle boil until a skewer goes through a potato smoothly, about 15 minutes.
- Put the lid on, leaving a gap on one side, and drain the water completely from the pot. Put the pot back on the stove over medium heat to let any remaining water evaporate completely, shaking the pot constantly to avoid any sticking. When there is no liquid left in the pot, remove from heat.
- Mash the potatoes lightly, leaving some small chunks for texture. Transfer to a large bowl.
- While the potaot is hot, add rice vinegar, freshly ground black pepper, and ¼ tsp salt. Set aside to cool.
To Prepare Other Ingredients
- While you're cooking the potaotes, you can start this process at the same time. Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Boil frozen corn for 5 minutes (or follow the package instructions).
- Drain the corn into a fine-mesh sieve and set aside to cool. Using the same pot, start boling an egg from cold water on medium heat. Once boiling, set timer for 11-12 minutes and reduce heat to gentle simmer.
- Once the egg is done, shock the egg with cold water until cool, and remove the shell.
- Slice the egg and chop into smaller pieces. Set aside to cool.
- Peel the cucumber (leave some skin on to create a striped pattern), and thinly slice. If you're using a large cucumber, you may need to cut in half or quarters in lengthwise before slicing.
- Cut the carrot in half or quarters in lengthwise, and then cut them into super thin slices. You may use a mandoline slicer if you can't cut thinly. Tip: If you feel your slices are very thick, salting in next step may not work. Alternatively, you can put them in a microwave-safe container and cover with water. Microwave for a few minutes, just until a skewer can pierce the carrot smoothly (don’t overcook them as they get mushy). Drain water and let cool. If you use this method, skip the salting process in the next step.
- Sprinkle ½ tsp salt over the cucumber slices, knead them with your hands, and let stand until the moisture comes out, about 5 minutes. You will see small beads of water form on the cucumber’s surface.
- Sprinkle ½ tsp salt over the carrot slices, knead them with your hands, and let stand until the moisture comes out, about 5-7 minutes.
- Put the sliced cucumber and carrot in a sieve and quickly rinse under cold running water to get rid of salt.
- Squeeze the cucumber and carrot slices to remove any moisture and set aside. Tip: You don't the vegetables to dilute the flavors or release the moisture in the potato salad.
- Cut the ham into 1-inch (2.5 cm) thin strips and set aside.
- Add all the ingredients into the bowl of mashed potatoes and mix all together.
- Add 4 Tbsp mayonnase first and combine well.
- Taste and see if you need to add more mayo. I added 2 more Tbsp of Japanese mayo (I used a total of 6 Tbsp). Refrigerate the potato salad for 30-60 minutes before serving.
- You can keep the leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on Aug 31, 2011, as a guest post at An Italian Cooking in the Midwest.