Many people don’t require a recipe for mashed potatoes; most of us simply boil peeled potatoes and mash them with butter and milk until they’re smooth. If that’s your method, it’s just fine. But if you’re clueless about mashed potatoes or feel your technique has room for improvement, there are a few things to know that will improve your chances of producing creamy, fluffy mashed potatoes.
Your first consideration should be your choice of potato. Russets are starchy, mealy and make fluffy mashed potatoes, but because they are drier than most, they also absorb more liquid. Yukon Golds are waxier and butterier and also make an excellent choice. Red potatoes tend to turn gummy and gluey when they’re mashed, so they don’t make the best mashed potatoes.
Second is your cooking method. Most people peel their potatoes, cut them into chunks and boil them, but they can be baked instead. And if you leave the skins while you boil or bake your potatoes they will retain more potato flavor.
The third factor is what you add and how you add them. It makes a difference whether you add the butter or milk first – adding the butter first allows the fat to coat the starch molecules in the potato, resulting in creamier mashed potatoes. Melting the butter before you add it allows it to do its job even better, and warm butter won’t cool down your potatoes. If you’re trying to cut back on fat, buttermilk and stock make delicious alternatives to butter and milk or cream.
To do the actual mashing, use a hand held masher, potato ricer or food mill. If you want your potatoes perfectly smooth, a ricer, which resembles a giant garlic press, is your best bet. If you whip your potatoes with an electric mixer, do it on low speed to avoid overworking the starch in the potatoes, which could make them gummy. Never use a food processor or blender to make mashed potatoes.
Here is a basic recipe to use as a starting point; adjust quantities according to your taste and how many people you’re feeding. If you’re not sure of the weight of your potatoes, estimate about 1-2 potatoes per person. If you end up with too many, leftovers keep well in the fridge.
2 lbs. (about 1 kg) russet or Yukon Gold potatoes
2-4 Tbsp. (30-60 mL) butter, melted
3/4 cup (185 mL) milk or half & half, warmed up a little
Salt and pepper to taste
Peel the potatoes or leave them unpeeled, and cut them into chunks of roughly the same size so that they will cook evenly. Place the potatoes in a large saucepan and add enough water to cover them by about an inch. Bring to a boil over high heat, then turn the heat down and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the potatoes are tender when poked with a knife. Smaller chunks will cook faster; check them early to make sure they don’t become overcooked and mushy.
Drain the potatoes well in a colander. If you haven’t peeled them yet, spear each potato with a fork or grab it with tongs and use a peeler to peel off the skins. Put them back into the pot and mash them with a potato masher, or press them through a potato ricer or food mill back into the pot. Stir in the melted butter and then gently stir in the milk or cream, salt and pepper. Serve right away. Two pounds of potatoes will feed 4-6.
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