Recipe: Perfect Mashed Potatoes

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. 

Variations:

- 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

About katflinn

Kathleen Flinn is the author of "The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry" and "The Kitchen Counter Cooking School." Her third book, "Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good" will be published in April 2014. All are published by Viking/Penguin.

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