Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes with turnip greens and a bowl of white beans.

Mashed potato (British English) or mashed potatoes (American English and Canadian English), colloquially known as mash (British English), is a dish prepared by mashing boiled potatoes. Milk, butter, salt and pepper are frequently used in preparation. The dish is usually a side dish to meat or vegetables.

Mashed potatoes is another dish I’ve never really followed a recipe for. You boil some potatoes, mix in some butter, cream and lots of salt and call it good. I’m going to guess that most people do the same. But if you’ve never made mashed potatoes before, or just can’t seem to get them right, I offer this recipe.

So what are the secrets to great mashed potatoes?

There a hundreds of different varieties of potato, but they mostly break down into three basic types of potato. In the USA (at least in the upper midwest) the common varieties of each of those types seems to correspond to a particular skin color. Starchy potatoes, your russets or Idahos are the familiar brown skinned baking potato. They are have a lower moisture content, and cook up fluffy and absorbent, making them ideal for baking, french fries or mashing. They tend to flake apart when cooked.. Waxy potatoes are generally your red skinned potatoes. They have a higher moisture content and more sugars and hold their shape after cooking. Finally there are the all purpose potatoes, which fall somewere in the middle. Yukon Gold is a common variety. They maybe don’t make as fluffy a baked potato, but they still will absorb lots of fat and milk for mashed, and will also hold their shape better than starchy varieties. Any of them will work for mashed potatoes, but if you want smooth mash I’d reccommend starchy or all purpose, as waxy potatoes will turn gummy or gluey if you over work them. You can even use a mix of varieties.

To peel or not to peel? Of course a lot of the nutrients are in the layer just under the skin that you loose when you peel, but I find the skin on russet type potatoes a little too think and unpleasant when included in my mashed potatoes, so I peel russets but leave the skin on when using gold or red varieties. If you aren’t peeling, give them a good scrub to remove any dirt.

Once you’ve picked your potatoes and peeled them I recommend cutting the potatoes into smaller pieces. You can, of course, leave them whole, but cutting them allows them to cook faster and more evenly.

Make sure you salt the cooking water as well as the final mash. Potatoes suck up a surprising amount of salt before you really start to taste it. Cooking it into the potatoes will help it be more evenly spread through the dish and reduce your chances of over salting the final dish. (This also reminds me of a professional secret I can share- if you have oversalted your soup, add a raw potato or two. As it cooks it will absorb some of that salt and make your soup edible again.)

Don’t overcook your potatoes. Once a sharp knife slides easily into the center of your potato chunks they are done and should be drained immediately. How long this takes depends on the size of your potato pieces, but 10-15 minutes is a good starting point. Overcooking the potatoes leaves them waterlogged so they soak up less of the cream and butter that give mashed potatoes their delicious flavor.

The secret step to great mashed potatoes that many people miss is drying your potatoes. Once they are drained return them to their pot and place them back on the stove over medium heat. Shake them around for a couple minutes to let any excess moisture evaporate.

Gently warm your milk and cream; don’t boil it. You don’t want to cool down your mashed potatoes by pouring in cold dairy. Likewise use soft, room temperature butter.

Mash the potatoes by themselves before adding other ingredients, then fold in the butter followed by the liquid dairy. The water in your milk/cream interacts with the starch in the potatoes and makes it sticky. Adding the butter first allows the fat to coat the starch first, resulting in silkier potatoes. Don’t add all your liquid dairy at once. The ammount of liquid potatoes will absorb varies by variety and how old they are, and it’s much easier to add more if your potatoes are too dry than it is to fix soupy potatoes. (I added all my milk/ cream mixture and the final result was a little on the soupy side for my taste. I also maybe undercooked my potatoes by about 2 minutes as they didn’t turn out as smooth as I would have liked, which may have also effected how much liquid they absorbed)

You can use a potato masher, a ricer or a food mill to mash your potatoes. Don’t use an electric mixer and definitely not a blender or food processor as the high speed of those appliances will activate the starch in the potatoes and you’ll have a sticky, gluey mess that’s not fun to eat.

Mashed Potatoes

Serves: 4
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
Total: 30 minutes

2 lbs. russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 lbs. Yukon potatoes, quartered
1 lb. russet and 1 lb. Yukon, peeled and quarted
3 cloves garlic, peeled. 
1 Tablespoon salt

½ cup whole milk
¾ cup heavy cream
½ teaspoon salt
pinch black pepper

4 ¾ Tablespoons butter, room temperature
¼ cup sour cream

2 ½ oz. cream cheese
1 teaspoon minced chives (garnish)
3 Tablespoons parmesan cheese, grated
1 bay leaf (cook with potatoes, remove before mashing)
2 Tablespoons green onion 

Scrub your potatoes, and peel if desired. Cut into quarters or roughly equally sized pieces. Add cold water to cover by about an inch. Add garlic cloves and 1 Tablespoon of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are just tender, 15-20 minutes. Do not over cook. 

Immediately drain thoroughly. Return to hot pot and place over medium heat, shaking pot for a couple minutes to evaporate any excess liquid. Remove from heat.

Place milk, cream salt and pepper in a small pan and gently heat. Do not boil.

Start mashing with a potato masher. When potatoes are mashed fold in the butter until just combined. Fold in the warm milk mixture half at a time (You may not need all of the second half, depending on desired consistency). Finally fold in the sour cream. Do not over mix during this process- mix in each ingredient only until just combined.

Taste for salt and pepper, and serve.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. I think I could eat mashed potatoes every day! Better not though…

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.