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 ingredients of your choice (e.g., onion, peas, string beans, apple, or canned tuna), 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 for six servings)
- 2 tsp kosher salt (Diamond Crystal; use half for table salt) (for cooking the potatoes)
- ¼ cup frozen or canned corn
- 1 large egg (50 g w/o shell)
- 1 Persian cucumber (or ½ Japanese cucumber; 3 oz for six servings)
- 2 oz carrot (2 inches, 5 cm for six servings)
- 1 tsp kosher salt (Diamond Crystal; use half for table salt) (divided; for the cucumber and carrot)
- 2 slices Black Forest ham (1.9 oz, 54 g for six servings)
- Gather all the ingredients.
To Prepare the Potatoes
- Peel the potatoes and cut them into 1½-inch (3.8 cm) pieces (I usually cut one russet potato into four pieces). They should be roughly the same size so that they’ll cook evenly.
- Put the potatoes in a medium pot and add cold water to cover the potatoes by 1 inch (2.5 cm). Add the salt for cooking the potatoes and start heating the pot over medium-high heat. To save energy and time, cover the lid, leaving it slightly ajar to avoid a boil over. Tip: Start cooking the potatoes in cold water to heat them up slowly so they cook through evenly.
- Once the water is boiling, remove the lid and reduce the heat to medium. Cook on a gentle boil until a skewer goes through a potato smoothly, about 15 minutes.
- Put the lid back on, leaving a gap on one side, and drain the water completely from the pot. Put the pot with the potatoes back onto 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 it from the heat.
- Mash the potatoes lightly, leaving some small chunks for texture. Transfer the potatoes to a large bowl.
- While the potatoes are hot, add the rice vinegar and freshly ground black pepper. Set aside to cool.
To Prepare the Other Ingredients
- While you're cooking the potatoes, you can start preparing the other ingredients at the same time. Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Boil the frozen corn for 5 minutes (or follow the package instructions.)
- Drain the corn in a fine-mesh sieve and set aside to cool. Using the same pot, start boiling an egg from cold water over medium heat. Once boiling, set a timer for 11-12 minutes and reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer.
- When the timer goes off, shock the egg in cold water until cool and remove the shell.
- Slice the egg and chop it into smaller pieces. Set aside to cool.
- Peel the cucumber (leave some skin on to create a striped pattern), and thinly slice it. If you're using a large cucumber, you may need to cut it in half or quarters lengthwise before slicing it.
- Cut the carrot in half or quarters lengthwise, and then cut them into super-thin slices. You may use a mandoline slicer to help you cut it 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 the water and let cool. If you use this method, skip the salting process in the next step.
- Sprinkle half of the salt (for the cucumber and carrot) over the cucumber slices, knead them with your hands, and let them stand until they release their moisture, about 5 minutes. You will see small beads of liquid form on the surface of the cucumber slices. Tip: Salt draws out moisture from the vegetables through the process of osmosis. You don't want the vegetables to release moisture and dilute the flavors of the potato salad.
- Sprinkle the other half of the salt over the carrot slices, knead them with your hands, and let them stand until they release their moisture, about 5-7 minutes.
- Put the cucumber and carrot slices in a sieve and quickly rinse under cold running water to get rid of the salt.
- Squeeze the cucumber and carrot slices to remove any moisture and set aside.
- 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 two-thirds of the Japanese mayonnaise and combine well.
- Taste and see if you want to add more mayonnaise. I added the remaining one-third of the mayonnaise. 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. The post has been updated with new images, a new video, and blog content.