Such a simple thing — throw some potatoes into a pot, then mash them up, but there’s more to creamy mashed potatoes than that. I tend to make mashed potatoes a day ahead of a big family dinner and gently reheat in the oven; microwaving them tends to change the texture. Alternately, make them earlier in the morning and keep them warm by covering a pan with plastic wrap and nestling into a simmering pan of water. This simulates being held in a steam table. Here are a few key tips, many gleaned from my studies at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.
Key tip #1:
Always start potatoes in cold water. Don’t plop them into boiling water. Cook them at a modest simmer for about 20 minutes and they will have a smoother end texture and cook more evenly.
Key tip #2:
Slice peeled potatoes or if you’re more adept with a knife, chop into even chunks for even cooking
Key tip #3:
Two camps of thought exists on the type of potato to use. Some swear by Yukon Gold, others say go with classic Russetts. Either are fine.
Key tip #4:
Never try to mash cold potatoes. It has to do with some chemical-y thing with the starch. If your potatoes go cold, heat them up again (in warm water, a microwave) and then try to mash them.
Key tip #5:
Use room temperature or warm milk when mashing. Let butter soften to room temperature, too. It will be easier to mash and won’t cool down the potatoes. (See Tip #4)
Key tip #6:
Don’t even think about putting potatoes into a food processor. The result will be a gluey mess. I prefer using a food mill to mash them, other people swear by a ricer. My mom prefers a 1969 hand-held electric beater. My friend Chef John in the video below prefers a specific kind of masher. Honestly, you can always just use a fork too. The key, though, is no food processor.
Key tip #7
Save the drained potato water. It’s gives body to gravy and also makes a terrific base for soups, so try not to throw it out.
Perfect Mashed Potatoes
2 1/2 pounds of potatoes, Yukon Gold or Russet, peeled
8 oz of butter
1/2 cup milk, heated
Plenty of salt and pepper
Peel the potatoes and then slice into even pieces. Add them to a pan of cold water and then bring to a gentle boil. Cook until the potatoes are soft enough to pierce with a paring knife, about 10 minutes. Drain. While still warm, add the heated milk the butter, salt and pepper and mash or process through a food mill or ricer. Taste. Add salt and pepper until it taste good to you.
- Parmesan mash: I’m a big fan of grating in about a tablespoon of fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano into potatoes and grating it into them.
- Mixed root mash: Lately, I’ve been a big fan of adding a turnip and/or a rutabaga into the whole mix, thanks to Diane Morgan’s book Roots. It adds an extra layer of complexity, an especially nice touch when pairing the mash with meats.
- Garlic mashed potatoes: add two cloves of garlic toward the end of the boiling process. Then mash them into with the potatoes.
- Olive oil mash: Substitute olive oil for all or a portion of the butter. Adds a different flavor and cuts down on saturated fats
Who wrote this recipe
Kathleen Flinn is the author of The Kitchen Counter Cooking School and the creator of Cookfearless.com