Making good mashed potatoes, a seemingly simple preparation, can be tricky. As with any preparation, using accessible real ingredients is what makes great food. The cook’s job is to respect the ingredients and help them taste as amazing as nature intended.
The best mashed potatoes I have ever made were admittedly more of a suspension of potato in butter and cream. They were delicious, but that is not always an accessible or healthy way to make them.
When I make mashed potatoes I like to use starchy or medium starchy potatoes like russet or yukon gold. I prefer to use the largest ones possible. The larger ones are quicker and easier to peel.
I peel, rinse and cut potatoes into quarters. Keep them large so they do not get waterlogged when they cook. Waterlogged potatoes don’t mash or fluff up nicely and are better suited for use in a soup.
Waterlogging is the result of over-cooked potatoes. It also happens if they are cooked aggressively. One other factor that contributes to waterlogging is if you leave the potatoes in the water after they are cooked. As a safety net, I prefer to cut mine in large pieces. Even if they are slightly overcooked they should be ok. This is because there is more potato for the water to penetrate. I also find the potatoes are fluffier when cut in large pieces.
Once they are cut I fill my pot up with cold water to ensure the potatoes are completely covered so they do not oxidize. I then season the water well with salt, so you can just taste the salt in the water. Ideally, I will not have to season the potatoes after they are cooked. A former chef I worked for would always bug me if I had to add more salt after they were mashed. I also flavour my water with bay leaves and sometimes whole cloves of garlic. The pot is brought to a boil and the heat is reduced to a simmer until they are just tender.
The potatoes are drained immediately and the potato water if desired is reserved for soups, stews or sauces.
It is of paramount importance that as much water as possible has drained off. The potatoes are returned to the pot and put over very low heat for the stove to get any bit of moisture that may be remaining. If I really want to make sure the potatoes are very dry, I put them on a baking sheet and dry them out in the oven on low heat until the moisture level is where I want it.
In a small pot I warm up whole milk or cream and make sure I have my unsalted butter at room temperature. If it is not I will warmit up with my milk or cream.
The potatoes are then mashed with a wire potato masher or put through a ricer or food mill ensuring there are no lumps.
Then the butter and milk is added it to the potatoes. I prefer using a whisk to blend it in smoothly. When I’m doing this I use the whisk like a potato masher moving up and down in the pot adding volume to the potatoes. Then finish with a circular motion moving around the pot to make sure everything is incorporated evenly. I work the potatoes as little as possible. When overworked, the starches in the potatoes are activated and will make your potatoes a gluey, gummy mess. I always try to avoid using any mechanical devices in the process. If it is absolutely necessary I will use them for the shortest amount of time.
The end result will be fluffy, smooth, decadent mashed potatoes.
- Choose a starchy or medium starchy potato – russet or yukon gold
- Peel, wash and cut in large, equal pieces
- Fill a pot with well salted, cold water
- Add a bay leaf or two
- Cover and bring to a boil
- Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are cooked just tender
- Drain well
- Make sure to minimize any water remaining
- Make sure butter is at room temperature
- Warm up cream or milk. Do not boil.
- Mash well
- Add cream and butter
- Whip with a whisk
- Do not overwork your potatoes
- If you need to use a mechanical device use it for the shortest amount of time
Figure out your own ratio, but as a start try:
1 Pound Potatoes
2 Ounces Unsalted Butter
¼ Cup Milk or Cream