Old-School Mashed Potatoes

Old-School Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes are as American as Thanksgiving itself. Variations range from sriracha to pumpkin spice foie gras mashed potatoes (I wouldn’t recommend that latter). At Thanksgiving, nothing beats a well-made bowl of classic mashed potatoes, however. As with many other deceptively simple dishes, there are reasons why sometimes you have good mashed potatoes, and other times you have fabulous mashed potatoes. Here are my well-kept secrets to make those fabulous ones, served piping hot, and ready for that giant ladle of gravy.

Potatoes with a high starch content (the kind used for baking) provide the traditional flavor and texture. The same starch that gives a baked potato its fluffy interior also contributes to perfect mashed potatoes. Yellow-fleshed varieties like Yukon golds or yellow Finns are excellent as well, but they turn out the same color as mashed turnips, which may be disconcerting to potato purists. If you live near a farmers’ market, take the potato farmers’ advice on local favorites as they may suggest an interesting heirloom variety that will become your favorite.

Purchase your potatoes about a week ahead of time and age them in a cool, dark place. Do not place them in the refrigerator. Mature potatoes are drier and mash up lighter. Please don’t let them sprout eyes, though.

Make mashed potatoes just before serving. Reheated mashed potatoes leave me shivering.

Make sure not to overcook the potatoes. They should just yield to a sharp knife when pierced. If the drained potatoes seem soggy, just return them to the pot and cook over a low heat for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly until they begin to stick to the bottom of the pot. Doing this forces the excess steam out of the potatoes and dries them out.

Mash the drained potatoes in the still warm cooking pot with HOT milk. A cold bowl and cold milk make for lumpy and lukewarm potatoes. The precise amount of milk is a matter of taste, so use more or less to reach your desired consistency.

You’ll need an efficient mashing utensil. Some cooks swear by a potato ricer (which does make the smoothest potatoes by the way), as long as you enlist another pair of hands to make the job go quickly. You may use an electric hand mixer. If you want to use a low-tech, old school hand potato masher, go to a restaurant supply store and get a big one, or the job will take forever. The potatoes will be cooling off by the second and we don’t want that happening. Never ever mash potatoes in a food processor or you’ll get starchy, sticky, gummy mashed potatoes that could be used for gluing kindergarten craft projects.

Season well with salt and pepper. Use your taste to determine amounts. I use kosher salt mostly, but you may use your favorite type of salt. White pepper is spicier than black pepper, but will give you pristine looking mashed potatoes. But, of course, use black if you want to.

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