Mashed potatoes may be a no-brainer recipe to many people. It’s one of the first things a beginning cook learns to make simply because it’s so easy. However, things can and will go wrong with mashed potatoes. Have you ever had mashers that are gluey or so runny you can’t eat them with a fork? Here are some tips for both old and new cooks on how to make perfect mashed potatoes.
• Choosing the right potato to match your taste is important. I like mine a bit on the lumpy side so I get a true taste of the potatoes. For this purpose, choose a waxy potato such as Red Rose or Yukon Gold. If you are a no-lumps mashed potato fan, select russet or Idaho potatoes, both of which have a mealy texture.
• Salt the water you boil them in, and be generous. I use a couple of tablespoons per a 6-quart pot and still add more at the end. Potatoes absorb salt like a sponge, which is why you can use a potato to fix an over-salted pot of soup. Be sure to begin with cold water, not hot.
• Slice potatoes into 1/2-inch rounds or cut into 1-inch dice shapes. This promotes not only even cooking, but faster cooking. Don’t cook them whole. (You’d be surprised at how many novice cooks will try to boil whole potatoes for mashers.)
• To peel or not to peel? When using mealy potatoes, I normally peel them. When using waxy potatoes, especially Red Rose, I usually just give them a good scrubbing and leave the peel on. The skin adds visual appeal, texture, and added nutrition.
• Drain the cooked potatoes thoroughly, then return to the hot pot over the hot (turned off) burner and let the residual heat evaporate any residual water. You want them dry. Excess water will make them mushy.
• The experts suggest using a ricer or food mill instead of a masher for creamy potatoes. I use a potato masher, which does the job just fine if you are using a mealy potato. You’ll still have tiny lumps with waxy potatoes, even with a ricer. I find the masher easier and faster to use, not to mention less expensive. Ricers can be pricey. The choice is yours.
• Do all your mashing or ricing before adding any other ingredients.
• To avoid gluey mashed potatoes, do not use a mixer. Over-mixing develops gluten.
• The basic additions to mashers are butter, milk or cream, salt, and pepper. I prefer heavy cream, but buttermilk, non-fat, skim, low-fat, whole, and evaporated milk (not condensed) are acceptable substitutes. Non-dairy dieters may substitute chicken or vegetable broth. The liquid should be warm when added and the butter should be at room temperature.
• Aside from the basics, there are any number of flavorings you can add. Onions and garlic are two favorites. They should be boiled along with the potatoes from the beginning, with the garlic cloves kept whole. Other potential flavorings include sour cream, chives, bacon, rosemary, thyme, and shredded cheese. Use your imagination.
• For those big holiday dinners, consider making your mashed potatoes ahead of time and refrigerate. They can be covered and reheated in the oven or crockpot.
• Mashed potatoes may be frozen in an airtight container for up to 10 months.
• For twice-baked potatoes, you’ll definitely want to use a mealy Idaho or russet potato because the texture firms up with waxy potatoes once they are cold. These may also be made in advance and baked when needed.
Mashed Potatoes Recipe
1-1/2 to 2 pounds potatoes (see tips above on choosing the variety)
4 Tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1/4 cup heavy cream or milk, , at room temperature
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
Scrub or peel potatoes (see tips above). Slice into 1/2-inch rounds or 1-inch cubes. Cover with cold water and add a generous amount of salt. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer until potatoes are fork-tender.
Drain thoroughly, return to the hot pot, then return to the hot (but off) burner to evaporate any residual water. Mash thoroughly to desired texture. (Alternatively, rice the potatoes back into the pot, then proceed.) Stir in butter, sour cream, heavy cream, and chives. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
Serve or store for later use.
Yield: 4 servings