A cloud of fluffy, light and creamy mashed potatoes may be the simplest dish served at a table full of extraordinary dishes, but it is a staple must-have at most holiday as well as weeknight dinners. Here are a few tips to keep in mind to have the best possible mashed potatoes because, after all, they do deserve our attention.
1. Cut the potatoes into uniform pieces.
This will ensure that all the potatoes cook at the same time. You can choose to peel the potatoes or leave the skin on for a more rustic feel. Since potatoes are typically not the same size, I cut them into uniform pieces.
Potatoes cook much better when there isn’t too much water, or else they will become waterlogged. Believe it or not, but they will actually cook faster in less water. If you start the potatoes in warm water, it will come to a boil very quickly and start cooking the outside of the potatoes and the inside will still be raw.
3. Russets and Yukon Gold potatoes are the best for mashed potatoes.
Russet (baking, Idaho) potatoes have a high starch level and low level of water and Yukon Gold potatoes have a medium starch level and medium water level. This means that these potatoes will be fluffy when mashed. Waxy potatoes are more dense and don’t break down as much when they cook, which means it will be hard to achieve fluffy and creamy mashed potatoes. If you don’t mind lumps and a rustic texture, then using waxy potatoes, such as red potatoes, is just fine.
4. Salt the water generously.
Potatoes love salt. Don’t be shy with the salt. If you don’t add enough salt, the potatoes will be bland. It’s surprising that such a simple ingredient would make a big difference, but it will. Adding salt to the cooking water also helps the potatoes could faster and break apart better, resulting in fluffier and creamier mashed potatoes.
5. Cook the potatoes just until fork tender.
You can also cook the potatoes in their skin, which is a great idea, because it really helps with keeping the mashed potatoes fluffy and not gluey, but if you wish to serve the mashed potatoes without the skin, you will have to peel them while they are still hot. Also, as I mentioned before it’s hard to find potatoes that are the same size every time you want to make mashed potatoes.
You can also steam the potatoes, but in my opinion, it’s the easiest to just not cook the potatoes too long and I have a really nifty trick next.
6. “Dry” the potatoes before mashing them.
After draining the potatoes, return them to the stove and cook off all the excess water, while shaking the pot. The potatoes will be much drier, which will help a lot in producing fluffy mashed potatoes.
7. Add flavor:
- in a mild way by adding some aromatics to the cooking water, such as bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, garlic, onion, etc. This will give the potatoes a very mild flavor, and they flavor the cooking water as the potatoes simmer. Discard the aromatics before mashing the potatoes.
- in a more assertive way, by adding aromatics to the butter that you will be adding to the potatoes when mashing them. I love to make Garlic Mashed Potatoes by adding some minced garlic to the butter and cooking it until it turns golden brown and then add it to the potatoes when I’m mashing them. Since the garlic will be roasted, it will give a nice garlicky addition to the mashed potatoes, without knocking you over with a harsh garlic taste. You can also add shallots, onions and herbs to the butter.
- by the choice of dairy that you use. Most of the time, I simply use milk, but you can also use heavy cream for really decadent and luscious mashed potatoes, buttermilk to add a slight tang and creaminess to mashed potatoes, as well as cream cheese or sour cream. It’s very important to heat the dairy.
- for the last punch, try adding bacon bits, scallions, chives, parsley, rosemary, grated cheese or even Homemade Ranch dressing to the mashed potatoes.
8. Above all, don’t OVER MIX the mashed potatoes, or they will become gluey.
One of the best tips to keep in mind is to mash the potatoes alone first, before adding the butter, dairy and other ingredients. Mash the potatoes to get all the lumps out and only then add the hot dairy and butter.
There are several ways you can mash the potatoes:
- A simple, standard potato masher
- A potato ricer – this will give you the creamiest and most lump-free mashed potatoes.
- A hand mixer or standing mixer. Be very careful if using this method, since it’s very easy to over mix the potatoes this way, so act fast, mix, add dairy, step away. If you’re using a standing mixer, it’s best to use the whisk attachment.
A food processor is a big NO-N0. Seriously. Food processor+potatoes= GLUEY potatoes that you can’t fix.
9. To keep potatoes warm:
You can keep them stored in the hot pot, wrapped in a thick towel or blanket. This method will keep the potatoes warm for quite a long time. Of course, they won’t stay warm forever. Another great option is to keep them warm in a slow cooker, on the “warm” setting.
To reheat the potatoes, I really like heating them up with a bit of butter over medium heat in a skillet. You can also reheat the potatoes in a double boiler.
If you made the mashed potatoes the day before, you may wish to add a bit more warm dairy to loosen the potatoes, since they will become harder as the longer they stand.
10. Here are a few creative ideas how you can use up leftover mashed potatoes:
Cook your potatoes into little patties with different fillings, or simply dredged in some breadcrumbs . One of my favorites are, Potato Pampushki with a cheese filling.
Make a casserole and top it with mashed potatoes and cheese, such as the Sausage, Mushroom and Potato Dinner or the classic Shepherd’s Pie.
- Add mashed potatoes to soup to create a thicker texture.