All mashed up

There is nothing better than a serving of good mashed potatoes. You know the kind: all white and fluffy and loaded with a buttery, creamy richness that is irresistible. That said, there is nothing worse than a serving of bad mashed potatoes. Sadly, I am sure you also know them: all gloppy, starchy and thick and such a patent culinary disappointment. Any cook out there knows that the road to good mashed potatoes can be frought with peril. What starts out as a simple side quickly turns into heavy, rocky goo. It shouldn’t be this way- after all, what’s so hard about boiling some potatoes and mixing them up with butter, milk, salt and pepper? Plenty, that’s what.

I started all this thinking about mashed potatoes because Julia requested them for her 6th birthday celebration. And, for me, someone who fancies herself a good cook, this was a bit of a challenge. See, I have never been able to really guarantee how my potatoes would come out. They could be fabulous or they could be wretched. There was no predicting. And, now that she had asked for them for her birthday dinner, I felt the need to conquer the mashing of potatoes! After all, the least I should be able give my daughter on her birthday was good potatoes!

I began by reading every cookbook I had to see what they had to say. And, I quickly came to the conclusion, that in most cases, the mashing of potatoes suffers from a gross lack of attention to detail. We peel the potatoes, put them in a pot- have it boil…but aren’t really focused on how long. We add milk or cream- but aren’t really focused on how much we add or the temperature of the milk. We add butter, salt. We beat, but aren’t really focused on how hard and long. Oh, and we do it at the last minute- as we are doing a million other things to get dinner on the table. And, guess what? The results show it. This is a dish that needs focus. It also needs a ricer- but more on that later!

My research- both in books and practice confirmed that there are several keys to making a yummy, light, mashed potatoes. The first (and most important) step is paying attention. To facilitate this, I recommend that you make your potatoes in advance- storing them in a simmering double boiler covered with foil until you are ready to eat. (I made mine 1.5 hours early and they were fabulous.) In the same vein, make sure you really watch the potatoes as they boil- you want to get them right when they soften. You don’t want to overcook them. And, if you don’t have a ricer, get one! Mashing your potatoes through a ricer helps make them light and fluffy. The rest, the milk or cream, butter, salt and pepper is to taste. One note: I can never bring myself to go the cream route- that said, it makes for an amazing potato and is more forgiving than straight milk. It is also more fattening. But cream or no cream, if you are focused on the details- chances are you will knock this side out of the park!

Mashed Potatoes
Serves 6-8

6 Idaho Potatoes, skin on or off depending on taste
1-1¼ c whole milk or cream, warmed
4-8 T butter, depending on taste
sea salt/pepper

If peeling the potatoes, do so. Cut the potatoes in 3 pieces each. Boil the potatoes until a knife goes cleanly and easily in-about 17-22 minutes on my stove. Drain. Meanwhile, warm the milk. Using a ricer, rice the potatoes. Gradually add the milk or cream and butter while mixing with a spatula until the potatoes reach the desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper. May be stored in the top of a simmering double boiler until ready to use- be sure to cover with foil though!

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2 Comments

  1. aunt fred
    Posted October 5, 2010 at 8:56 am | Permalink | Reply

    First thing I ever learned in school cookery classes was after boiling potatoes…drain the saucepan and put the potatoes in the saucean outside in the cold air to make the potatoes flowery …my father came home to find me holding a saucepan out of the window and thought that I was crazy…..who is to say he wasn’t right but it does work and I still do it to this day when making mashed potatoes….Julia is welcome to try them

  2. Critter
    Posted October 6, 2010 at 6:53 pm | Permalink | Reply

    C-line! I just realized you have your own blog going – who knew. Things in Oz are truly spectacular, but I’m already a bit worried about introducing our Aussie friends to Thanksgiving without my ricer! Ha. Please give my best to the fam and see you on the other side of this adventure.

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