After my post on how to avoid mashed potatoes (or at least, have an alternative for them), now there’s one on the mash itself. After all, that Thanksgiving turkey deserves the mashed potatoes on the side, and it deserves the best of that, too! Perfectly fluffy and creamy, and really simple to make, here’s my way to the ultimate potatoes.
First, peel the potatoes and chop them to cubes – as small or large as you have the patience for. Make sure all pieces are about the same size though – smaller pieces will cook faster, and may be too pulpy when the big chunks are still raw in the center. Count about 1 large or 2 smaller potatoes per person, and if you plan on a big party, be sure to provide some extra.
Place them in a large pot, and cover them with cold water. Most often, vegetables need to be dropped into boiling water to preserve the flavors and juices inside; however, potatoes contain a lot of starch – 60% of the dry mass is starch! – which takes a lower, steady heat to break down to digestible molecules. Hence the cold water – and some salt to flavor the taters; cover it, and bring it to a gentle simmer over medium heat.
Once the potatoes are cooked and soft, drain them well, removing most of the water – and we’re ready to mash! There are two ways of going about it, use a potato masher, or use a sieve. The potato masher is unbeatable when it comes to large amounts, however, the sieve creates a finer texture. I usually use the sieve if I’m making a single serving in a small bowl, as fitting the masher in there would be awkward.
The first step to fluffiness is mashing the potatoes really fine – if you like your mashed potatoes chunky, reserve some of the cubes for a cruder mash, and stir them in later.
On to the creaminess: the first thing to do here is the butter. Use real butter – the taste is worth it! (On an unpaid note of recommendation, if you have a chance, try Danish Creamery Butter. It’s the best out there.) Use just about a tablespoon for each serving. If you went the masher way, add it to the potatoes before mashing; this way it melts and mixes with the potatoes better. Going the sieve route, be sure to let the butter soften a bit before adding it.
Season the potatoes with some salt or garlic salt, white pepper and nutmeg. I love the more mellow flavor the white pepper gives, and it doesn’t leave little black flecks in the perfectly smooth, white potatoes. Nutmeg is my secret ingredient in just about anything – use just a dash, or even better, grate it freshly in your dish.
To achieve that perfect texture, add some milk – just a splash for a small serving; I wouldn’t use more than about 1/4 cup even for 6-8 servings. Another secret ingredient – sour cream, about a tablespoon or more per serving, and keep stirring and whipping. For really large batches, a stand mixer or an immersion blender can prove really useful and labor-saving.
If you got ready way before dinner, you can keep it warm in the oven, heated to the lowest possible setting, or you can refrigerate your potatoes, and reheat them in the microwave. Either way, stir and fluff it up well before serving – top it with paprika, dill, parsley, chives, roasted onions, or bacon bits for looks and taste.
Mashed potatoes, especially if they contain a lot of dairy products, don’t keep too well. Be sure to refrigerate any leftovers immediately, and finish them off the next day; or freeze them for up to a month. This volatility is caused partially by the dairy, especially the sour cream, and partially by the potatoes themselves. Potatoes contain mostly simple starches that break down during the cooking process, forming sugar-like complex molecules (for a comparison, glucose is a single unit, beet sugar is 2, these molecules are 10-20 units and starch is in the hundreds). Once broken down from the starch, these molecules are prime real estate for all the bacteria that cause the food to go bad! So stay safe with your holiday foods, and make your mashed potatoes fresh.
Enjoy your meal!