Creamy Mashed Potato Technique

I love a thin, watery mashed potato”
-No one ever

The only thing you should ever boil is your underwear”
-My culinary school teacher

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In my twenty years in the professional kitchen I’ve never seen a recipe for mashed potatoes. It might have been shoved into a cramped office space somewhere but nobody ever broke it out. There are a lot of variables with potatoes so it’s better to think of mashed potatoes as a technique that you can learn and apply to any potato, rather than a recipe you have to follow. Instead of following a recipe, follow your sense of taste. Here is a link to the Short and Sweet Mashed Potato Technique for those who want to read less and cook more. The technique for making great mashed potatoes can be broken down into four parts:

Cooking – refer to the above quote from my culinary instructor
Ricing, milling or mashing – mashers and ricers are the most accessible and cheapest tool compared to a food mill.
Drying – Common in the professional kitchen but rarely seen at home.
Seasoning – Salt, fat and acid.

COOKING
– Wash and peel them first for a smooth potato puree or you can peel them as they come from the cooking water. Potatoes cooked with the skin on absorb less water but peeling can be a painful process because it has to be done while they are still hot. Ask a homie for a helping hand on that one.

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Hot Yukon Gold potatoes cooked whole and ready for milling

– Cut your potatoes into large pieces or leave whole so they will absorb less water. If you have a potato that is more than three inches in diameter just cut it in half. Anything smaller cook it whole. Try to keep your potato pieces the same size so they will cook evenlyDSCN1168

-It’s better to use a heavy-bottomed wide pot instead of a tall one. if using a really tall pot the potatoes at the bottom will soften and could be crushed by the ones above it. A wide pot will make the drying process much quicker and easier.

– Start your potatoes in cold water. Starting potatoes in cold water ensures a more evenly cooked product. The water level should be at least one inch above the top of the potatoes.

-Season the water with kosher salt. Try 7 teaspoons of kosher salt for every gallon of water. Taste the water once it starts to simmer and adjust the seasoning to your liking.

–The burner heat should only be hot enough to create steam and small bubbles gently breaking the surface. If the water is too hot you will have grainy, waterlogged potatoes with an uncooked center.

Check for doneness often with a toothpick or sharp knife. They should be just cooked through when you pull them off.

-Gently empty the pot into a colander. Let sit for one minute to drain and steam some water off. You’re going to use the pot again so keep it close by.

RICING, MILLING OR MASHING
I don’t recommend using a machine like a food processor for mashing potatoes. The speed and force of a machine like that can burst starch cells creating gluey and gummy potatoes.

A ricer, food mill or old school potato masher are the best tools for your potatoes. They all do the sane thing but the ricer and food mill will give you the smoothest results.

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Stainless steel food mill

-Scoop your potatoes from the colander into the ricer or food mill. Process the potatoes directly into the pot you cooked them in.

-If you’re using a potato masher just put the potatoes back into your pot and start mashing away.

Now you’re ready for the drying process.

DRYING
-Put the pot of riced/mashed potatoes back on a very low flame. The goal is to evaporate some of the water cooked into the potatoes in order to add more flavored ingredients like butter and cream.

-Stir often and gently with a heatproof rubber spatula to keep them from scorching on the bottom.

-You should have a heavy, dense puree by the time you are finished. How long this takes depends on how the potatoes were cooked and the type of potato you used.

SEASONING: YOU CAN ALWAYS ADD BUT YOU CAN’T TAKE AWAY.
I think of all of the ingredients listed below as seasoning even though some are mostly fats.

Fats: Unsalted butter and cream. Don’t bother heating or melting them. It’s just more mess to clean.

-While still on a low flame add diced room temperature butter to your hot dried potatoes until you have a very rich buttery puree. This is where the drying really helps out on the flavor of your potatoes.

-Then add cream to bring it to the thickness you like.

Acid: Creme fraiche, full fat Greek yogurt and sour cream.

-Creme Fraiche is best for mashed potatoes but is expensive and can be hard to come by. Greek yogurt is my next favorite and sour cream after that.

-Just add some in and taste it.

Salt: There are lots of different salts out there but I prefer kosher salt. Some highly processed fine salts don’t dissolve well and need to be cooked further to dissolve so they aren’t good for seasoning on the fly. Diamond Crystal kosher salt is what I use and it can be found in some of the best kitchens in America.

Pepper: Finely ground white pepper from a pepper mill.

The key is to taste and adjust. When making mashed potatoes at home I will taste them at least ten times before I’m ready to serve.

The best potato I’ve ever used for mashed is the German Butterball. It has a rich yellow starchy flesh.

1999 in NYC

A slap in the face. A swift, broad-handed, bony-knuckled impact that leaves one stunned and in pain. That’s a fitting description of my first restaurant job in New York City after cooking school. The Garde Manger at Philippe Bistro and Patisserie on Manhattan’s Upper East Side is where the pain of my inadequacies were so clearly shoved into my face, sometimes literally. The delivery method of that kick em’ when they’re down public humiliation was as varied as it was painful. A Sizzler salad bar of degradation. Not just from the chef either. Until you’ve earned their respect and trust your fellow cooks are just as like to give you grief. Like having your name called from across the kitchen to get your attention just long enough to be given the middle finger for no apparent reason by an unforgiving Frenchmen. Once during a busy dinner service at Philippe I burned a pan of scallops for an appetizer. From across the kitchen, the chef, who seemed to have eyes in the back of his head, spotted me discreetly trying to dispose of them in the trash bin. He immediately walked over to the bin and gave me a look as if he wanted me dead. He pulled one of the overcooked scallops from the bin. “Here, eat this!” he said, and tried to force that sad little scallop into my mouth. I’m proud to say it never made it past my teeth. My head turned and the charred little mollusk went deep into my cheek. The chef gave up. I had successfully refused to eat garbage. I never burned another scallop in my life. It was a small but short lived victory. New Years Eve was coming and that wretched holiday was bringing all of its culinary suffering with it.

It was the evening of December 31st, 1999 in the tiny Philippe Bistro kitchen. The menu was elaborate. At $450.00 a head it had better be. My partner and I were responsible for two of the courses. My memory is a little fuzzy as to exactly when things at the Garde Manger station spun out of control, but they certainly did. It was the first course that sent me and my Belgian compatriot into a restaurant service death spiral. A plate of seven different amuse-bouche. Things like bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with foie grais, tuna tartare, crispy pigs feet with mustard vinaigrette and shrimp and guacamole crouton with poached lemon. The orders started coming in. Slowly at first, tough but not impossible. Then came the big tables, 5 tops, 7 tops, 10 tops. It was overwhelming. At one point the two of us were trying to cook and assemble over one hundred amuse-bouche in a space barely big enough for both of us to move in. It was a long, slow and painful night. January 1st, 2000 marks the day of an epic Brooklyn hangover. That is a whole other story.

The chef at Philippe was the best I’ve ever worked for. He worked incredibly hard. was extremely creative and put in grueling hours. When I first started there as a young cook we made a deal that I could work there for one week and then decide whether or not to keep me around. Every day that man ripped me a new one. At least once a day he said to me with a thick French accent, “Alan, you cannot cook!”, “You are no cook la!”, or my favorite “Ever day I see you I die a little bit you know”. I arrived in the kitchen on the eighth day and there was no talk of our arrangement. I kept coming into work day after day with head down and teary-eyed determination, expecting the trashing of a lifetime and those thrashings were promptly delivered for months on end.

New Years Eve one year later was my final day at Philippe. With the goodbyes having been said, I made my way downstairs to the pastry kitchen for the last time. At the bottom of the stairs I quietly sank to my knees and raised my hands in celebration. It was a glorious moment of freedom until a coworker coming down the stairs slapped me in the head from behind and uttered some colorful words in Japanese.

Six months at that restaurant had more value than three years of cooking school. A decade later I sent that chef a letter. Thanking him for being so patient and so tough on me. That experience set the tone for my future and prepared me for my entire professional life in and out of cooking. I wouldn’t trade it for anything…and I would never repeat it again.

While in the sharing mood, here is a link to the simplified version of the Shrimp and Guacamole Crouton with Poached Lemon recipe we used during that dramatic dinner service in 1999.

The names in this story have been changed to protect the guilty.

Medjool Date, Almond and Orange Scones

These scones are a perfect way to have a simple delicious breakfast pastry without a lot of work in the kitchen. Serve with butter and your favorite jam, jelly or preserves.

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Yield: 10 to 12 scones

Ingredients
3 1/2 cups bread flour
1/2 cup sugar, plus a little extra for the top of your scone.
2 Tbsp. baking powder
2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. grated lemon zest
1/2 cup fresh Medjool dates, pitted and roughly chopped
1/2 cup dried Mandarin oranges, roughly chopped
1/2 cup whole roasted almonds, roughly chopped, lightly salted or no salt at all
2 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 egg, beaten
Non stick cooking spray

Method:
Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, combine the sugar, flour, baking powder and salt.
Mix on low speed for one minute.
Add lemon zest, dates, almonds and oranges to the flour mixture and blend again for 30 seconds on low speed.
Add the cream and mix on low just until the ingredients are combinedDSCN0785
Put the dough onto the counter and press into a disc about one inch thick.
Cut the disc into 10 to 12 pieces depending on the size you like.
Freeze for at least overnight as freezing improves the texture. You can pull individually wrapped scones out of your freezer and bake them frozen.DSCN0804
Baking:
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Lightly grease a baking sheet with the non stick cooking spray.
Arrange the scones on the baking sheet at least one inch apart.
Brush the tops with egg wash and evenly sprinkle sugar over the top of the scone.
Bake for 15 minutes and turn the pan 180 degrees. Bake for another 15 to 20 minutes. Scones should be golden brown.
Remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes then remove to a screen to cool completely before eating if you have the self control.
I typically can’t wait for them to cool. I’ll have the butter and jam waiting when they come out of the oven and eat one as soon as they’re cool enough to not burn my mouth. I highly recommend you do the same.

Teriyaki Marinade

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Yield: 2 1/2 cups, enough marinade for about three pounds of meat.

1 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 of a green onion
3 cloves of peeled garlic
2 sprigs of cilantro
1″ x 1″ piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into three pieces

Method:

Add all of the ingredients to a blender pitcher and puree until smooth.

Put three pounds of your favorite protein in a container or a resealable plastic bag.

Pour the marinade over the meat and mix everything together well.  If you are marinating this for several days, remix the meat and marinade together once a day.

Let the meat marinate for at least overnight and up to three days.  I’ve seen some restaurants marinate their meat for at least three days before they serve it.  

Try out these different cuts of meat for you teriyaki.
Beef short ribs, cut 1/2″ thick
Pork shoulder cut into 1/4″ thick slices
Boneless, skinless chicken thighs butterflied to 1/2″ thickness

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PORK SHOULDER
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BUTTERFLIED PORK SHOULDER
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BEEF SHORT RIBS

TIME TO COOK IT UP!!!
If you’re able to cook this over a hot wood fire then I would do it.  If not, use a charcoal or propane grill on high heat.  You can even use a grill pan on the stove but the house is going to get smoky.  Make sure your grill is hot and clean before you lay the meat on.  When you put the meat on there should be a loud sizzle and a little smoke.  If you don’t get that your grill probably isn’t hot enough.  Cook for about five minutes on each side.  When you flip the meat it should be well-seared with some char on it.   Do the same for about five minutes on the other side.  Take it off and enjoy your work!
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YUUUUMMMM.

Why So Angry?

Even after 25 years in the kitchen, cooking still has me angry, like throwing tongs across the kitchen angry, like plastering a misshapen ravioli across a coworker’s face angry… but those are stories for another post.  I’m passionate about my food and so when things don’t go as planned either at home or professionally it makes me see red.  In part I’m writing to share my anger and vent my frustration over my own cooking and the culinary culture I’ve experienced professionally as a chef and as a consumer.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s great food and even better wine here on the Central Coast.  We have restaurants like Ember and Bob’s Well Bread Bakery that fancy magazines are salivating to feature, and for good reason, however, for the most part, as a chef I feel like the food scene offers up a vast sea of mediocrity.  It’s a damn shame too, because there’s so much potential. 

There is only so much stomach space to go around and precious money to spend it on, so a less than great meal out makes for a painful waste of resources, which is enough to piss anyone off.

Purpose of this Blog:

Although you may see recipes that take 30 minutes or less to prepare, are vegan, gluten-free, or whatever food trend is of the moment, that is not what this effort is ultimately about.  My goal is to make life better through eating.  Some of the recipes and techniques featured might not save you time or money, some might actually cost more in the end, but they will make your life richer in flavor.

 

Copyright 2019