There’s an old kitchen adage that goes: How do you improve the flavor of salt? Answer: Sprinkle it over a beefsteak. The cooks at America’s Test Kitchen are always trying to improve the taste of our favorite dishes, sometimes with simple ideas. Take Macaroni Salad, for instance, the old picnic standby. Most of us just toss together cooked noodles, mayo and seasoning. What more could there be?
But the persistent testers at the New England kitchen found that just a few “tricks” can enhance the taste and consistency of traditional macaroni salad. Like the rest of us, they noted that the mayonnaise we glob on the salad gets soaked up quickly by the noodles. Then we add more and that makes for a greasy salad.
ATK Solution: Instead of draining the cooked noodles completely, leave a little dampness. The macaroni will absorb the extra water and make the consistency perfect. If the salad dries out after sitting too long, add a bit more water rather than more mayo.
Spicy It Up
In addition to the onion, celery, parsley, Dijon mustard, cayenne and lemon juice, testers suggested a bit of garlic powder. Real garlic, they said, was too harsh. ATK also found that tossing the pasta with seasonings before adding the mayo made for a fresher, brighter salad.
By all means, use real Hellman mayonnaise—though testers found the reduced fat version was “not bad.” But avoid the non-fat salad dressings that tend to have an overly-sweet taste. The test panel’s most highly recommended elbow noodle was Barilla, but not Barilla Plus, the multi-grain alternative that tasted like it was “fortified with sawdust.”
With just a few simple changes, you can bring a whole new dimension to this quick and easy favorite. For a dressy macaroni dish, I prefer Tuna Noodle Salad, that includes more vegetables (thus, more chopping), tuna, cheese, and canned peas. The recipe makes a huge bowl—enough to feed twelve.
Cool and Creamy Macaroni Salad
- Table salt
- 1 lb. elbow macaroni
- ½ small red onion, minced
- 1 rib celery, minced
- ¼ cup minced fresh parsley leaves
- 2 Tbs. lemon juice
- 1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
- ⅛ tsp. garlic powder
- pinch cayenne pepper
- 1 ½ cups mayonnaise
- Ground black pepper
- Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add 1 tablespoon salt and macaroni and cook until nearly tender, about 5 minutes. Drain in colander and rinse with cold water until cool, then drain briefly so that macaroni remains moist. Transfer to large bowl.
- Stir in onion, celery, parsley, lemon juice, mustard, garlic powder, and cayenne, and let sit until flavors are absorbed, about 2 minutes. Add mayonnaise and let sit until salad texture is no longer watery, 5 to 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve. (The salad can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Check consistency and seasonings before serving.)