It’s a yoshoku (Japanized) dish — one of the many that were created and popularized in Japan after it opened its borders to Western trade and culture during the Meiji era. Along with fried dishes like tonkotsu, the Japanese gave the Western potato salad their own spin and the result is a texture-rich and highly nuanced potato salad.
You can prep the components of Japanese potato salad in any order but I do have a formula to save time. It might sound frenzied but it really is possible to prep everything almost simultaneously.
- Boil the potatoes.
- While the potatoes cook, brown the bacon in the oven, oven toaster or air fryer.
- Salt the sliced carrot and cucumber.
- Boil the eggs.
- Drain the sweet corn kernels.
- Mash the potatoes.
- Chop the bacon.
- Squeeze the carrot and cucumber.
- Shell and roughly chop the eggs.
- Toss everything together.
A kilogram of potatoes went into this salad. They were peeled, quartered and dumped into a pot. Tap water was poured in, enough to completely submerge the potatoes, then sprinkle in salt. I added two tablespoons. Bring the water to a boil then lower the heat, cover the pot and simmer.
While the potatoes were on the stove, I took three rashers of bacon, arranged them on a rack and cooked them in the oven. Why the oven? There’s a post dedicated to that topic and you can just read it.
The better way to cook bacon
The better way to cook bacon is to arrange the rashers on a rack set on a tray, stick in the oven and allow the bacon fat to collect in the tray.
So, with two components of the salad cooking away, I peeled a carrot, cut it into halves and sliced it thinly. I did the same with a cucumber but minus the peeling. I placed both vegetables in a colander set over a bowl, sprinkled in salt, tossed them thoroughly and left them while I prepared the rest of the ingredients.
Why salt the carrot and cucumber? To draw out the water. Not only does removing water make the vegetables more crisp, it gives them flavor too. That water you’re removing will not dilute the flavors of the salad and also help prevent the salad from turning watery while you’re chilling it.
While the salt is doing its job, boil your eggs and remember to dump them in cold water after you scoop them out to stop the cooking immediately. It’s the best time too to open a can of corn and drain the kernels.
By the time you’ve done all that, the bacon should be ready to come out of the oven (or oven toaster or air fryer). Remove from the heat but leave the browned rashers on the rack.
Pierce a piece of potato at the center with a skewer or a thin knife. If it goes all the way through without resistance, scoop out, and transfer to a mixing bowl.
Drizzle in rice vinegar. While still hot, coarsely mash the potatoes. The back of a fork will do the job if you don’t have a potato masher. But you have to mash them before they cool because potatoes break apart more easily while they are still steaming. And you want that steam to come out and dissipate rather than cool and settle back into the potato flesh.
What kind of mashing are we talking about here? Well, we’re making a potato salad; not mashed potatoes. You just want to break the potatoes into smaller and uneven pieces. Smaller so you can easily toss the potatoes with the rest of the ingredients and uneven so that your salad will have better texture.
While the potatoes cool to room temperature, chop the bacon and dump into a bowl lined with paper towels to remove excess fat.
Squeeze the salted carrot and cucumber to press out as much water as you can. Should they be rinsed before squeezing? Ordinarily, I’d say yes but, in this case, I find it better that they be squeezed unrinsed. They come out better flavored that way.
Shell the eggs and roughly chop. How large should be chopped pieces be? There really is no rule. I prefer the egg whites to be about half-inch pieces but you may chop the eggs into smaller or larger pieces.
To the cooled potatoes in the mixing bowl, add the squeezed carrot and cucumber, chopped bacon and egg, and sweet corn kernels. Drizzle in Japanese mayo and sprinkle in pepper and a little salt. Not too much salt at this point. The potatoes had already absorbed salt during boiling, and the carrot and cucumber had been salted too. So, go easy on the salt.
Toss everything together. Toss, not mix. Toss thoroughly but gently. You just want everything evenly distributed. Taste. Add more salt, if needed. If the salad appears too dry, add more Japanese mayo and toss again.
Japanese potato salad
- 1 kilogram potatoes - peeled and quartered
- 2 tablespoons rock salt
- 1 small carrot
- 1 medium cucumber
- 2 teaspoons rock salt - divided
- 3 rashers belly bacon
- 3 eggs
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- ⅓ to ½ cup sweet corn kernels - (canned was used here) drained
- ½ cup Japanese mayo - you may need more
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- Place the potatoes in a pot and cover with tap water. Add the salt and bring to the boil.
- Cover the pot, lower the heat and simmer until soft.
- While the potatoes cook, peel the carrot, halve and thinly slice.
- Halve the cucumber and thinly slice.
- Place the carrot and cucumber in a colander, sprinkle in a teaspoon of salt and toss throughly. Set aside.
- Cook the bacon until browned and crisp.
- Boil the eggs for 10 to 12 minutes depending on how large they are then dump into a bowl of cold water.
- Scoop out the potatoes, transfer to a mixing bowl and, while hot, drizzle in the rice vinegar and mash coarsely. Cool.
- Chop the bacon.
- Squeeze the salted carrot and cucumber to remove as much water as you can.
- Roughly chop the hard-boiled eggs.
- To the cooled potatoes, add the bacon, carrot, cucumber, chopped eggs and sweet corn.
- Add the Japanese mayo, sprinkle in pepper and the remaining teaspoon of salt, and toss.
- Taste, add more salt if needed, and toss again.
- If too dry, add more Japanese mayo, two tablespoons at a time, and toss after each addition.
- Chill your Japanese potato salad well before serving.