A few years back when I lived in Nashville, I was invited to a dinner party where there was a sort of interactive cooking demonstration going on with the hosts. Mashed potatoes were on the menu and after one of the ladies peeled the russets, the other one sliced them in very large chunks, added an astonishingly small amount of water to her pot and proceeded to season the water with salt…and pepper. I was quite intrigued with the pepper, I must say. I continued to keep an eye on the procedure with a looming sense of dread, watching the water bubble away until a lot of it had evaporated. A few minutes later, barely into the required cooking time, one of the women produced a potato masher and began churning the almost raw/half-done potatoes with the thing – water and all! She pushed and turned the instrument with abandon, red-faced from her effort, as I watched horrified on the sidelines at this Masher Massacre. I only prayed that my face didn’t belie my inner thoughts, especially when we were served. As much as I adore potatoes of any kind and as much of a well-mannered guest that I believe myself to be, these “mashed potatoes” were nothing shy of inedible.
That was a real shocker for me since I grew up eating (and preparing) fluffy, buttery, silky mashed potatoes and, I suppose, thought everyone else did, too. Making delicious mashed potatoes isn’t difficult. You just need to get down a few basics for this classic side dish.
Here are my pointers:
- Russets and Yukon Golds make the best mashes.
- Peel your potatoes before cooking. Since potatoes have enzymes that oxidize when exposed to air, they have a tendency to turn an ugly gray-black within a few minutes of being peeled or sliced. To keep them from turning an unappetizing color, keep a bowl of cold water handy. After I peel each one, I plop it in the bowl. After all the potatoes have been peeled, I change the water. After dicing each one, I throw them in a cold bath again before transferring them to my pot (with fresh water once again) for cooking.
- After cooking, the key is to drain the potatoes well. Drain first in a colander, then return the potatoes to the still hot pot and the residual heat will evaporate any remaining moisture.
- Warm your milk and butter before adding to the potatoes.
- Use a hand-held mixer and mix just until the potatoes are smooth. Overmixing can turn your potatoes into a gluey mess.
- Don’t skip the salt – potatoes need a lot of seasoning.
The Stock Pot: Fundamental Recipes: Mashed Potatoes
- 4 pounds potatoes, russets or Yukon Golds
- kosher salt
- 1 cup whole milk
- ½ cup half-and-half
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
- freshly ground black pepper
- Peel the potatoes, rinse and cut into 2-inch pieces. Cover the potatoes with cold water by 1-inch in a Dutch oven or large pot. Salt the water well. Bring the water to a boil and simmer, uncovered, until the potatoes are fork tender, about 20 minutes.
- A few minutes before the potatoes are cooked, warm the milk, half-and-half and butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat until the butter is melted.
- Drain the potatoes well in a colander; transfer the potatoes back to the pot and allow the residual heat to evaporate any remaining moisture. Add in the hot milk mixture; using a hand-held electric mixer, mash the potatoes just until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Planning: I always peel my potatoes the day before and cover them with cold water and plastic wrap to refrigerate overnight. Not only does it give me a jump on preparation, but it also helps remove excess starch, making for an even silkier mash. If you choose to make the mashed potatoes in advance, you can gently reheat in a double boiler. Also, a cast iron Dutch oven is the perfect pot for mashed potatoes since it retains heat so beautifully, helping to keep your spuds nice and warm. However, place a clean kitchen towel over the top of the pot before covering. Any condensation will drip onto the towel, not on your potatoes.
Product Purity: Yukon Golds are my favorite choice of potato. They’re golden and buttery.