“The only thing you should ever boil is your underwear”
-My culinary school teacher
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.
– 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 friend for a helping hand on that one.
– 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 evenly
-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. The cooking water for potatoes should never come to a rapid boil. 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.
-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.
-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, cream or olive oil.
-Stir often and gently with a heatproof rubber spatula or wooden spoon 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. You can also substitute extra virgin olive for all or part of the butter and cream.
-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.