A vital component to your holiday table, mashed potatoes are nothing to be trifled with. You probably think you know how to make them, but this simple step-by-step guide will take you from spud-satisfactory to potato master.
There are two types of mashed-potato lovers: the creamy connoisseurs and the fluffy fanatics. Those in the creamy camp want their potatoes to be reminiscent of the French pomme puree: smooth and lump-less, like a creamy potato pool, glistening with butter and dotted with chives.
Those who prefer fluffy little potato pillows want their mashed goodness not quite pureed to smooth.
Regardless which you prefer, great mashed potatoes are crucial to any holiday table. And, of course, they should never come out of a box. Luckily, the are some easy tips and tricks that will help you get your starchy tubers right every time. So, read on, fellow spud-lover, and let’s master the mashed potato.
Step One: Choose the Right Potato
The first way to ensure you’ll have wonderful mashed potatoes is to choose the right spud. Just as there are two types of mashed potato fanatics, there are two types of potatoes ideal for mashing. Russets are famous for their high starch content, which is great news if you want perfectly fluffy potatoes. The big starch cells within russets break apart easily when you cook them, and then you can mash them to a fluffy consistency with very little effort.
If you’re seeking a creamier take, use Yukon Golds, which are, technically, hybrids. They contain lower starch than russets, but higher than their new or waxy counterparts, such as red or fingerling potatoes. The lower starch means you’ll have to cook them slightly longer, but you’ll end up with a creamy result.
What Not to Do: Don’t be tempted to use red or any other new potato. New (or waxy) potatoes are high in sugar and low in starch. This makes them less than ideal for mashing since they desperately want to hold their shape. It’s nearly impossible to make them truly creamy or fluffy, and with their bright-colored skins, they’re better off served whole or halved.
Step Two: Prep and Soaking vs. Rinsing
Soaking or rinsing peeled potatoes before cooking them is suggested in many spud recipes. Unfortunately, for mashed potatoes, the concept isn’t as straightforward. Soaking, or rinsing, cut and peeled potatoes before mashing them reduces their overall starch content. As we mentioned above, lower starch content means fluffier potatoes.
So, if you want fluffy potatoes, go ahead and rinse them after they’re peeled and cut, but before you boil them. If you want extra creamy potatoes, skip the rinsing altogether—you’ll want the extra starch for a super-smooth result.
You want to avoid cutting potatoes too small prior to cooking, as well; halving or quartering is perfect. Many folks try to save time by cutting potatoes extra small, but this results in too much lost pectin. Many a crafty cook has attempted this to speed up the cooking process, but we’ll save you the trouble—it doesn’t work.
What Not to Do: We recommend avoiding prolonged water baths when preparing mashed potatoes. Soaking or rinsing doesn’t just wash away the starch, but also, the enzymes that activate pectin within the potatoes. Pectin, in large part, is what softens spuds while they cook. If you soak potatoes for too long, you run the risk of them never actually softening.
Step Three: Boiling
Once you’ve prepared your potatoes, boil them in a large stockpot. It’s always best to start by submerging them in at least 1 inch of cool water. Bring them to a boil and let them cook through. Once they’re fork-tender, drain them. Then, it’s time to mash!
What Not to Do: Don’t start with warm or hot water in the hopes of saving time. Potatoes are very dense, so starting them in cool water allows them to cook more evenly. Also, “fork-tender” means fork tender. If you meet any resistance when you fork your potatoes, they’re not ready for mashing. Always boil until the fork slides through like a hot knife through butter.
Step Four: Butter, Cream, and Other Ingredients
Before you mash your potatoes, you’ll need to determine what else you want to mix with them. Typically, butter and milk or cream are added. For extra creamy, smooth potatoes, we recommend you use the real deal: heavy cream and butter.
For fluffy mashed potatoes, lighten things up a bit and use whole milk instead of cream.
If you’re not cooking for vegetarians, we also recommend adding 1/4 cup of chicken broth per pound of potatoes. This adds an umami richness to the final dish that will pair perfectly with anything from turkey to prime rib.
Finally, salt and pepper are a requirement, as are delicious seasoned salts, like Lawry’s, as well as garlic and onion powder, dried dill, and fresh chives. For the holidays though, it’s best to keep seasoning minimal as mashed potatoes are usually topped with gravy.
What Not to Do: Avoid mixing in anything cold. It’s an oft-forgotten step, but it’s vital that you take your cream, milk, or butter out of the fridge early. Ingredients that are room temperature will ensure you don’t end up with weird lumps and bumps, whether you’re going for fluffy or smooth.
Step Five: Time to Mash
For extra creamy potatoes, you’ll need a potato ricer and stand mixer. Yes, technically, you can mash them by hand, but trust us, the ricer and mixer are far easier if you want a smooth result. Run the cooked potatoes through the ricer into the stand mixer. Use a paddle attachment to whisk the riced potatoes on high speed. Add cream, butter, and any other ingredients as you mix. Within a few minutes, you’ll have perfectly smooth mashed potatoes.
Going for a fluffier result? Use the potato ricer and a rubber spatula. The ricer will do most of the heavy lifting, and then you can use the spatula to mix in butter, cream, and any other ingredients.
If you don’t have a potato ricer, a food mill works, too. You can also use a stainless-steel potato masher and a little bit of elbow grease to get the job done.
What Not to Do: Don’t use a food processor, blender, or stick-blender to mash your potatoes. You’re better off mashing by hand. A potato ricer or stand mixer separates the potato cells, but neither will shear off too much starch. Bladed electronic appliances, however, release a ton of starch, resulting in something closer to melted cheese than mashed potatoes.
Now that you have your step-by-step guide, grab a bag of spuds, pull that cream out of the fridge, and get boiling! What you once thought was just a vessel for gravy is sure to gain celebrity status. So, get ready—you’re about to become known as the mashed-potato master.