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How to Make Perfect Mashed Potatoes

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Mashed potatoes, with or without gravy, is an inexpensive side dish perfect for serving crowds at a holiday dinner. If you like mashed potatoes that have some texture, use a hand-held potato masher, which is also the easiest way to make them. The potatoes just go right back in the pot in which they were cooked and you mash away after adding the milk and butter.

However, you will never get completely smooth potatoes if you use a masher. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Some folks just love lumpy mashed potatoes. Others can’t get enough of the ultra-smooth variety. If you like them smooth and have the time, use a food mill or potato ricer. If you like them lumpy or are short on time, use a hand-held masher. No matter your preference, hardly anyone ever turns down mashed potatoes and they usually bring a smile to all the faces at the table.

A potato ricer is sort of like a giant garlic press. You put the boiled potatoes into a cup and then squeeze them out through small holes. A food mill is a sieve-like contraption that has a large, flat rotary mechanism that you turn via a handle and it presses the food through the sieve. But remember: Don’t overlook that hand-held potato masher ― it works just fine.

Resist putting potatoes into a food processor, where they will turn gummy. The starch cells in the potatoes swell while cooking, and the action of the food processor breaks them down to such a degree that they burst. The result is a gluey texture. Actually, overworking the potatoes by any means (too much mashing) will turn the potatoes gummy.

Not all potatoes are created equal. Do not try to make mashed potatoes with waxy potatoes. You could try Yukon gold potatoes, which are an all-purpose potato. Their buttery flavor and color make wonderful mashed potatoes.

Perfect Mashed Potatoes

Special equipment: Potato ricer or food mill (optional), double boiler(optional)

[Credit: ©iStockphoto.com/Poppy Barach 2010]
Credit: ©iStockphoto.com/Poppy Barach 2010

Preparation time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Yield: 10 servings

Four pounds (about 12 medium) russet potatoes (Idahos)

2 cups hot whole milk or half-and-half

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into pieces

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Wash the potatoes well, but don’t peel them. Place them in a large stockpot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat; turn the heat down and simmer until tender, for about 30 minutes (although it may take up to 45 minutes).

    When the potatoes are done, you should be able to insert a sharp knife tip easily. Drain in a colander and let cool slightly.

    Boiling the tubers in their jackets keeps in all that subtle flavor.

  2. Peel the potatoes. Cut or break them into large chunks and press them through a ricer or food mill right into the drained pot. Add the hot milk a bit at a time, whisking it in with a heavy wire whisk.

    If you’re not using a ricer or food mill, this is where you use a hand masher or an electric mixer, in which case you would mash or whip to your desired consistency. You may need a little extra milk, or you may not use all of it, depending on how dry the potatoes are. Whisk in the butter and season with salt and pepper.

  3. Serve immediately, or keep warm covered in the top of a double boiler.

    This recipe makes a large amount, so you can make a large double boiler by putting the potatoes in a large bowl set into a large pot filled with hot water. Covered, they may be held for 30 minutes this way.

  4. Alternatively, pack the mashed potatoes into a buttered casserole dish, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight. Bring to room temperature before reheating. Reheat, uncovered, in the oven or microwave until heated through.

    Mashed potatoes are pretty forgiving when it comes to reheating; use an oven temperature of around 350 degrees if you aren’t using the microwave.


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