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Mashed Potatoes, How to Make Them Perfect Every Time

Updated on November 19, 2011
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How to make perfect mashed potatoes....

Mashed potatoes. Just about the ultimate comfort food. They appear on many an American table on a weekly basis, and are always welcomed by young and old alike. They seem to be one food that appeals to even the pickiest eaters, and for true connoisseurs, the variety in which they appear can be endless.

The basic mashed potato seems to be somewhat elusive though. In theory, it's the simplest of dishes. Boil potatoes, drain them, add cream and butter, mash and serve. But there are a host of problems - they can end up lumpy, gluey, gummy, too thick or thin, under or over seasoned - for such a simple culinary application, they are rife with danger.

Never fear - the things that go wrong are easily addressed. They happen for a reason, which means they can be easily avoided. Here is how you make the perfect dish of mashed potatoes, and just as important - what NOT to do.

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The Recipe! (Sort of...)

  Some things to keep in mind:

You'll need about 1/2 poound of potatoes per person. Make sure you're using a mealy potato - not a waxy one. For more information, check out Potatoes: Making the Most of Your Tuber. Keep your pieces of potato the same size - they'll cook more evenly, which helps avoid lumps. Start the potatoes in cold water - this keeps the cooking more even as well. Use an old fashioned masher, or even better, a ricer, to keep the texture fluffier. Also - if you can find them, use Yukon Gold potatoes instead of Russet or Irish Potatoes. They are less mealy, which means a creamier, fluffier end result. 

Ok - then: (serves 4-6)

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes (or Russets if you can't find Yukon Golds) peeled and cubed
  • 1 Tbl kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • Kosher salt, and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
  1. Place potatoes in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Add half the salt. Barely cover potatoes with cold water, and place over medium high heat.
  2. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 15 minutes or so. You want the potatoes to be fork tender - easily pierced with a fork.
  3. Meanwhile, in another saucepan over low heat, warm cream and butter. Don't allow it above a simmer - you just want to warm it before adding it to the hot potatoes later.
  4. When potatoes are done, drain through a colander, shaking to remove as much water as possible. (Save the cooking water if you wish). Return potatoes to warm saucepan. Add cream and butter. Use a potato masher to mash potatoes and incorporate cream and butter. If necessary, beat with a wooden spoon until desired consistency is reached, but don't over beat, or the potatoes will become gluey.
  5. Taste, and adjust for salt and pepper.

Gummy or gluey potatoes? Never again!

  1. Never use a mixer or food processor to mash potatoes. The agitation breaks down the cellular structure far too much, and results in the wallpaper glue consistency.
  2. When mashing by hand, use an up-and-down motion instead of stirring. Again, this mashes without destroying the cellular structure.
  3. When preparing your potatoes, after they are cooked, put the drained potatoes back into the hot pot. This allows more moisture to evaporate. The drier the potato, the less likely they are to get that gummy texture.

 

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Tips and Tricks!

Some great info to help make sure every batch of potatoes you make is fabulous! I haven't tried all of these, but most of them, and they all help, depending on which finished version you'd like.

  1. Try boiling your potatoes with either chicken, beef or vegetable broth, or toss a few buillion cubes into the water for added flavor.
  2. Boil the potatoes with the skin on. Retain the nutrients and simply mash with the skins. Or let the skins pop right off after cooking, and the texture will be nicer. The skins help prevent the potatoes from absorbing so much water, and they'll be creamier.
  3. If you are preparing mashed potatoes for a crowd, feel free to make them ahead of time. Simply reheat in the microwave, or better yet, in a covered casserole in a warm oven.
  4. You can also make the potatoes ahead of time, and keep them warm in a crockpot or slow cooker until ready to serve. This frees up your oven and stove top space as well, and is great trick for holidays. You may find it useful to add a few tablespoons of cream or milk right before serving to get the texture and consistency just right.
  5. Try combining mashed potatoes with other cooked root vegetables. Sweet potatoes, onions and parsnips, turnips carrots and celery root are all delicious in combination, and take many of the same flavors with ease. You'll love the new combinations!

Leftovers? No problem!

Leftover mashed potatoes can be rewarmed of course, but they're useful for all kinds of other applications! Try one of these:

  • Use leftover mashed potatoes to thicken saues, gravies, soups and stews. A little stirred into a soup can serve much the same purpose as a roux or cream.
  • Use the leftover cooking water! It's nutrient and starch-rich, making it useful for several applications. Try using it to bloom yeast when makin breads - the yeast feeds on the starches in much the same way it would regular sugar. There are also quite a few billion potato bread recipes out there - give one a try!
  • Try using potato cooking water a shot while making gravy. This seems to work best when making cream gravies - add it when you add the milk. You'll find it makes a silky, creamy gravy with great body. The starch in the water serves to thicken the gravy as well.
  • Use leftovers to top casseroles - Shepherd's Pie is a classic. Or mix them with onions and cheese to make a filling for pierogie. Mix leftover potatoes with a little egg, form it into patties, dredge them in flour and make potato pancakes.

Changes and additions

Of course simple mashed potatoes with cream and butter are out of this world. But if you feel like changing things up a bit, try some of these substitutions! In all cases, make sure that the ingredients are room temperature or warmed. Never allow the dairy products to boil, since that will make them curdle and bread down. But heating will not only make the temperature and texture of the finished dish better, it will prevent the potatoes from dropping in temperature.

  1. Instead of cream, try using half and half, milk or even buttermilk. Buttermilk esepcially gives a fabulous subtle tang.
  2. Sour cream can be substituted for some or all of the butter as well. The same can be done with creme fraiche - and the flavors are subtle, but distinct. Cream cheese is also fabulous!
  3. Try using good homemade stocks instead of some of the cream or butter - or all of it.
  4. If using cream for your potatoes, consider whipping it well before adding it to the potatoes. Of course in this case, the cream will need to be whipped cold, otherwise it won't obtain volume. But once whipped, it can be folded into the potatoes for a a terrifically light texture and airiness.
  5. Warming liquids before use allows for the addition of herbs, garlic or spices, and during warming these flavors will gently infuse the liquid, which can be strained before adding to the hot, cooked potatoes. Add your favorite herbs - rosemary, sage, garlic, cayenne - to the gently warming liquid, and the flavor will infuse in a wonderful way.

  6. Try adding chopped green onion or handfuls of your favorite cheeses. Cheddar, blue cheese, or Parmesan are all fabulous.

  7. A teaspoon or two of baking powder will help make make the potatoes more fluffy.

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