Mashed potatoes are one of my favorite comfort foods. Whether it’s a loathsome day at the dentist or a long day at the computer, mashed potatoes make everything okay with the world again. I have to admit that I’m a mashed potato snob. I refuse to even look at the boxes of “instant potatoes” when I walk down the aisle they haunt. If you want to master the best mashed potatoes possible, it helps to memorize a few tips.
The first one is so important I’m not even going to list it with the other tips. This guy gets top billing because he’s THAT important. When you make mashed potatoes, usa a potato masher, like the Jamie Oliver Stainless Steel Masher, shown here, instead of an electric mixer. By using a masher, your potatoes are less likely to turn out gluey (possibly the worst crime a potato could ever commit).
Besides, your arm will get a tiny little workout.
There are two basic “preferences” of mashed potatoes and, as far as I’m concerned, each are Heavenly.
- THICK Mashed Potatoes. Some people prefer their mashed potatoes to be thick and they don’t mind at all if there are noticeable little chunks of potato. In fact, truth be told, they kind of get off on the little chunks. Thick mashed potatoes are ideal for serving with gravy. Gravy, frustratingly, slides right off of thin mashed potatoes.
- THIN Mashed Potatoes. People who prefer thin mashed potatoes add a little more milk than a “thick potato lover” would use and they give their arm a better workout.
I make my mashed potatoes (either thick or thin) based upon their co-stars. If gravy is involved, thick it is. If peas, beans, or corn are involved (which I love to scoop up along with potatoes), then thin mashed potatoes are called for and I tell notify my arm to bring her A game. Which is tough because my arms really don’t have an A game.
Various Tips for Making the Best Mashed Potatoes:
- How many potatoes will you need? I, without fail, use a 5 lb bag for every batch of mashed potatoes I make. Big family + Big appetites = Better safe than sorry. “Normal” people, however, find that about 1/2 pound of potatoes per person is a good rule of thumb. 6 people – 3 lbs… 2 people 1 lb, etc.
- Before boiling the potatoes, cut them in half or even quarters if they’re really big. This will help the potatoes to cook more evenly and even causes them to cook a little faster.
- My favorite potatoes for mashing are Russet potatoes, but Yukon Gold is a dangerously close second. Dan-ger-ous-ly close.
- Before adding the potatoes to the pan, bring your water to a simmer – THEN add the potatoes. I am convinced… convinced, mind you… that this causes the mashed potatoes to be less starchy. Bring to a boil and boil for 30-35 minutes. You want to be able to effortlessly slice through the potatoes with a butter knife.
- After draining the potatoes (and be sure to drain them well – potato water isn’t anything you want to linger around), return them to the pan. Mash them up a bit, THEN remove them to the bowl and add your other ingredients.
- The secret to fluffy (and better tasting potatoes) is this: Don’t add cold milk, butter, or other additions (besides S & P) to your hot potatoes. Warm them up in a separate saucepan, THEN add them.
- Sometimes I’ll add a tablespoon of sour cream to my milk and butter or margarine mixture. It adds a little flavor and makes the potatoes a brighter white. Don’t add too much though, given half a chance, sour cream will steal the entire production and that’s ALL you’ll taste in each bite.
- As much as I LOVE real butter, I (oddly enough) love margarine just as much when making mashed potatoes. Real butter allows the potatoes to stay whiter (what IS it with me and the color of potatoes?), but margarine gives it – ironically – more of a buttery flavor. ‘splain that, Lucy.
- Cream Cheese is also fun and tasty to add along with the milk and butter. It gives the potatoes an agreeable “sweetness” that no one can resist. I really wouldn’t go with both sour cream and cream cheese, though – I’m pretty sure that might just break a culinary law or two. I use an 8 oz package of softened cream cheese for a 5 lb bag of Russets.
- Snipped chives in and on mashed potatoes adds a little flavor and a lot of pretty.
- I often use Half and Half rather than milk and have been known to go with Heavy Whipping Cream when feeling especially decadent.
- When it comes to the exact amount of milk (or Half and Half) and margarine/butter, the general rule of thumb is 1/2 cup milk (or 1/2 and 1/2 or whipping cream) and 2 to 3 tablespoons of butter work per 2-1/2 pounds of potatoes. But you know how those ROTs (Rules of Thumbs) go, they change from person to person. I once went to church with a lady who never, ever added milk to her mashed potatoes – just butter. It’s how she preferred them – though I thought she was off her rocker. The point is, add each ingredient slowly – you can always add more but you can never add less. Taste as you go and when the bite knocks your socks off, you know you’ve arrived.
A few unique (and ahh-mazing) Mashed Potato Recipes:
- Truffled Mashed Potatoes I like to think that I operate outside-the-box in the kitchen and out-of-the-kitchen, but I would have never, ever thought of truffle oil in mashed potatoes. After reading this recipe earlier, I can’t wait to try it out. In fact, if I weren’t out of Truffle Salt, I’d go down that road tonight.
- Alton Brown’s Creamy Garlic Mashed Potatoes Alton Brown. Enough said.
- Nola’s Mashed Red Potatoes (an Emeril Recipe – again, enough said.)
If you want to just keep it basic, see Betty Crocker’s Best Mashed Potato recipe. When it comes to food, Betty knows what’s up.