December 17, 2009 | VegetablesI have a confession to make – two nights ago I ate three entire servings of mashed potatoes as a snack after dinner. I felt completely guilty for this stress-induced carb overload until a friend pointed out that perhaps my body was craving potassium. Yea, that’s what my story will be. But it did get me thinking that making the perfect mashed potato is not so easy for everyone.I know what you’re thinking – just how hard can mashed potatoes be that I need a primer on how to make them? Well, it turns out making the perfect mashed potato is actually quite an art that sometimes requires some special equipment. Let’s begin with terminology:
- Smashed potatoes – that’s what I like to call potatoes you roughly mash up using a hand held potato masher, like the photos in this post. You are left with some lumps of pure potato mixed together with some creamier parts. You can leave the skin on or remove it as you prefer.
- Mashed potatoes – I think of these as the perfectly creamy potatoes that have no skins in them and are at a minimum seasoned with some butter salt and pepper, but can also incorporate roasted garlic, chives, sour cream or more.
- Whipped potatoes – this is what my mom used to make back in the day when we used the mixer for making mashed potatoes on a holiday. To me, they go beyond the creamy texture and cross over into the gummy texture, and to some extent remind me of instant potatoes.
Getting the perfect smashed or mashed potato starts with cooking them properly. In order to boil your potatoes, they need to be cut into even sized pieces. If you have some larger and some smaller, the smaller ones will start melting, literally disintegrating in the water, before the larger ones are cooked through. Drain them when you can pierce the potato easily with the tip of a knife. Let them hang out in the colander or strainer for a minute so that the excess water evaporates so it doesn’t water them down when adding in seasonings.
The most important thing in preparing smashed or mashed potatoes is to be sure you don’t overwork the potatoes – that’s what turns those startch molecules into some sort of gummy substance. Whether making smashed or mashed, I like to melt my butter first so that I can incorporate it easier. For smashed potatoes, simply put the drained potatoes back in the pot and drizzle the melted butter over it (at the Cordon Bleu cooking school in France a chef actually told me the optimal proportion of butter to potato is one to one - gotta love theose French chefs!). Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper and use a hand masher to gently mash the potatoes into pieces and to mix in the butter and seasonings.
For mashed potatoes, you are going to want to use a potato ricer – it gently presses the cooked potatoes through what looks like a giant garlic press so that you have this light and fluffy potato to work with instead of beating them to a gummy death. Then proceed the same to stir in melted butter, salt and pepper – just don’t be overly vigorous when stirring. A few simple strokes with the spoon is all you need!
Here are some variations and additions:
- use chicken stock instead of butter if you need to limit fat (not as much fun, but you can still get the right texture
- add roasted garlic, chives, or bacon bits
- substitute creme fraiche or sour cream for the butter (or add it in addition to the butter)
- melt cheese into the hot mashed potatoes
- add some egg yolks and pipe into shapes and bake until browned for Duchess Potatoes
I need to run now – that plate of smashed Yukon Gold potatoes with butter and chives that I photographed for this post is calling me for breakfast!