The 411 on Perfect Mashed Potatoes
Potatoes can be tricky little buggers. We all picture fluffy, warm pillows of mashed potatoes brought to the table with perfect timing and super smiling faces, but sometimes we get lumpy, cold chunks whose only real use is flinging across the table via your sister with her spoon sling-shot (I speak from experience…thanks, Anne). But potatoes don’t have to be tricky! They can be mistake-free with a few key rules. Here are the rules I’ve learned over the years and how to apply them.
1. Choose the right potato/potahtoe
Decide how you like your potatoes and choose your potato accordingly! Waxy potatoes, such as Yukon Gold have lower starch content and are “chunkier”. Potatoes like Russets, on the other hand have a higher starch content, take on more water during boiling, and therefore puree smoothly. For Thanksgiving, I like nice chunky Yukon Gold potatoes that I can sink my teeth into. However, for matching with tender short ribs that fall apart in their cabernet sauce, I like pairing with silky Russet pureed potatoes.
2. Start potatoes in cold salted water, then boil
Potatoes will cook unevenly if you throw them into boiling water, as the outside of the potato cooks more quickly than its interior. Salt is there for flavor. Throwing them into cold water also helps you prep in advance. I remember my mother peeling her potatoes, throwing them in cold water, and leaving them for hours before salting & boiling so that she could do the million other things she did before prepping a perfect dinner.
3. Rice or beat, but NEVER use your food processor
I have tried two dumb things exactly once: using my immersion blender on my potatoes and taking the biggest jump at the snow terrain park. I will never use my immersion blender again. Machines with blades break down the starches and turn them into paper mache’ glue. You can use a potato ricer, food mill, or mixer, but don’t use anything with fast-moving blades such as blenders, food processors, or immersion blenders. My favorite is the KitchenAid Mixer with a beater attachment. It makes light, fluffy potatoes and I can easily mix all ingredients.
4. Use warm ingredients
You are making warm potatoes. So it makes sense to add warm or room-temperature ingredients. Butter and milk should be warmed slightly. Yogurt and olive oil should be room temperature. Garlic should be sauteed.
5. Yes, you can make them in advance!
There are two options for making mashed potatoes in advance. Option one is to keep them warm by placing them in a glass double-boiler, covering lightly (I use a kitchen towel), and stirring infrequently. Option two is placing them in a glass bowl, dotting with a little butter & olive oil, and microwaving in 30-second intervals, mixing in between. Option two is great for making your potatoes day-of or early morning.
6. Mix in ingredients a little at a time
I never make potatoes the same way, I rarely use the same ingredients, and I certainly don’t measure anything. Start by adding your “liquefier” ingredients that will make your potatoes silky. Those are milk or greek yogurt. Only add enough to start breaking down the chunky potatoes. Add your flavors of garlic, butter, olive oil or rosemary milk next. Add salt and pepper. Then start all the process over again, adding a bit at a time until you’ve reached the texture, flavor, and S&P that you like!
Now that you know the rules I follow, you can make all the mashed potatoes you want! And although I say I never use the same ingredients, here are a few Mashed Potato Versions.