Macaroni salad is an American deli staple. For many people, it’s hard to imagine a picnic or summer barbecue without this salad of tender elbow noodles and creamy dressing. Although relatively easy to make, it is also easy to make it badly. Few dishes are less appetizing than a bowl of underseasoned, overcooked noodles accompanied by flavorless, limp celery, killer-sweet pickle relish, and an excess of mayonnaise. Good macaroni salad, however, is dreamy when made with perfectly cooked, well-seasoned noodles and crisp vegetables dressed lightly in mayonnaise.
To start, I focused on the pasta. I tried cooking it al dente, and although I prefer a slightly resistant texture in hot pasta, I found it overly toothsome and stiff when cold. Thoroughly cooked pasta, which offered no resistance when eaten hot, took on a pleasantly yielding and bouncy texture when cool and was also able to maintain its shape without becoming mushy. Pasta that was overcooked even just slightly tasted mushy and slimy and tore into pieces when tossed with the other ingredients.
One trick I picked up was how to turn the hot pasta into a cold salad quickly. When the hot pasta as allowed to cool on its own, it clumped together into a starchy mass and began to overcook as the residual heat from the pasta further softened the noodles. Going against all I had learned about how to cook pasta, I rinsed the pasta under cold water, which both stopped it from further cooking and washed away some of the extra starch. (When serving pasta hot with sauce this starch is a good thing, because it helps the sauce cling to the pasta.) I then spread the pasta out on paper towels to help drain off this extra water. Skipping this step with result in water getting caught in the curves of the macaroni and will turn the dressing watery.
I found the pasta was best mixed with the classic assortment of fresh vegetables and seasonings: celery, red onion, hard-boiled eggs, and sweet pickles. Fresh parsley adds a clean, herbal flavor, and a little mustard provides some kick. Wary of burying this fresh-tasting mixture with too much mayonnaise, I stared off using only 1/2 cup per pound of pasta, but found the pasta readily soaked up mayonnaise until I hit 1 cup. Although many recipes call for vinegar, I prefer the light, fresh acidity of lemon juice. The salad tastes best when allowed to cool for at last an our in the refrigerator. The seasonings mellow substantially, so use a liberal hand with salt and pepper.
Click HERE for my Macaroni Salad recipe (with a few variations)
In the video, you will see a fast, easy and frugal recipe for macaroni salad.