How to Make Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes are one of those seemingly simple dishes that can go wrong. Without proper care, they can become dull, lumpy, sticky, and dull. However, there are steps you can take and pitfalls you can avoid to make your mashers smooth, velvety and deliciously fluffy.

Part of the Skillet The Grown-Up Kitchen series , designed to answer your most basic cooking questions and fill in any gaps that may be missing from your home chef education.

Choose the right potatoes

For fluffy, smashed legs, you want starchy, not waxy potatoes like blush or catadin. If you want your puree to have a more intense potato flavor and a heavier texture, use half a russette and half a Yukon gold, which are slightly waxy and slightly creamy. Personally, I prefer a completely Russette situation because they are cheap, ubiquitous and enthusiastic about fatty ingredients.

Dry them a little

After draining the potatoes, return them to the hot skillet and cook for a couple of minutes to rinse off excess water, because watery puree is not fun at all.

Stay out of the cold

You want the butter to be at room temperature and the milk to be warm. Cold ingredients aren’t the end of the world, but they will chill the mash and require more stirring to dissolve completely, and stirring too much can cause the potatoes to stick together.

Add dairy products

Instead of tossing a bunch of raw chopped herbs at the end, place a couple of thyme or rosemary sprigs in milk or cream and simmer while the potatoes cook.

Never, ever use a food processor

Do you want a pile of potato porridge? If so, try mashing the potatoes in a food processor, which will destroy the starch granules and leave a gooey pile of mud that’s the opposite of the fluffy one you crave.

Use ricer wisely

I’m not a fan of drawing super starchy potatoes. Of course, they come out without lumps, but the mouthfeel is dangerously close to instantaneous. So I save my riser for the more waxy potatoes and use the regular mashed potatoes for the starchy guys, which comes out fluffy and practically lump-free without any rippling.

Salt cooking water

As with pasta, adding salt at the end is not enough for properly seasoned chicken legs. Season the cooking water just like spaghetti to keep it “salty like the sea.”

Add some mayonnaise

I know this will cause some backlash against mayonnaise, but trust me when I say that a few tablespoons of this excellent emulsifier will add creaminess to your mash, you won’t believe it. (Also, you won’t be able to taste it. My stepmother has been adding mayonnaise to our mashed potatoes since childhood, and I didn’t know that until 2016.)

When it comes to recipes, I prefer to keep things simple. To get fluffy, velvety mashed legs, you will need:

  • 2 pounds potatoes, either all Russet or 50/50 mixed Russet and Yukon gold
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup butter, room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise (optional)
  • A couple of sprigs of fresh herbs such as thyme or rosemary.

Bring a large saucepan of very salted water to a boil and add two pounds of washed and peeled potatoes, cut into fairly uniform, about 1-inch chunks. While the potatoes are cooking, heat the milk (with or without herbs) over low heat, stirring occasionally to prevent skin formation. Let the potatoes simmer until a thin knife pierces the piece without much effort on your part, then drain the water into a colander.

Reduce heat to medium-low and return potatoes to saucepan, cook and stir for a few minutes to remove excess water. Stir in some mashed potatoes (or use a waxy potato puree), then add warm milk, butter and mayonnaise (if using). Stir in a couple more, then stir with a wooden spoon to smooth everything. Taste, season with salt and pepper if necessary, and serve immediately with more oil.


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