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Exploring Mashed Potatoes

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

all-about-mashed-potatoes

There's a Battle Brewing

I consider myself extremely blessed to have a loving, supportive family. I can't remember any real fights. Our mottos are:

  • On a scale of 1 to 10...?
  • In the grand scheme of things, is it really that important?
  • In 10 years, who's going to care?
  • Will you worry about it on your deathbed?

But there is one point of contention where we have "issues." Two of us want creamy, lush, luxuriant, whipped potatoes, and two of us desire a rustic mash with skins, lumps, and bumps. What's a Carb Diva to do?

The Conflict Started With a Potato

The potato is indigenous to South America (one of the earliest cultivated foods in that corner of the world), but was unknown in Europe until 1570 when explorers brought it back from their travels. Potatoes grew well in the soils and climate of Britain and, unlike grains, could easily be stored during the winter months.

Another trip across the Atlantic, this time in the reverse direction, brought the potato to North America. I don't believe that mashed potatoes were on the menu of the first Thanksgiving, but a century later...

I Blame It All on Hannah Glasse

...someone developed the concept of cooking and whipping potatoes. When did this all begin? I say it lands squarely on the shoulders of Ms. Hannah Glasse, author of the cookbook "The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy." Published in Dublin in 1748, and republished in America in 1805, her book became an instant success. Glasse emphasized in her introduction "To the Reader" that she used plain language so that servants would be able to understand it. Her receipt (recipe) for mashed potatoes reads as follows:

“Boil your potatoes, peel them, and put them into a Sauce-pan, mash them well; To two pounds of Potatoes put a Pint of Milk, a little Salt, stir them well together, take care they don’t stick o the Botom, then take a quarter of a Pound of Butter, stir in and serve it up.”

The Right Stuff

There is one thing on which we certainly can agree—there is one kind of potato, and one only that is truly suitable, whether you desire rustic, simple mashed, or whipped to a frenzy. You simply must use a starchy potato.

A starchy potato will beautifully submit to whatever device you employ; it will devolve into a soft mound, studded with colorful bits of skin and there-are-real-potatoes-in-here lumps, or creamy ethereal swirls.

For the record, here are the types of potatoes you might encounter at the grocery store or produce stand and how they should be categorized.

Starchy Potatoes (right for mashing)Waxy Potatoes (Don't Go There!)

Idaho russet

Red bliss

Katahdin

New potatoes

 

Adirondak blue

 

Adirondak red

 

Fingerling

And What About Yukon Golds?

I love Yukon gold potatoes, but they fall into the "somewhere in between" category. Not waxy, but not starchy. They will produce a rustic mashed potato, but if silky smooth is what you crave, I am afraid that Yukons will disappoint. If they are your only choice, by all means use them, but if you can find Idaho Russets (the baking potato), you should purchase those instead.

...clearly, there is NOT enough mashed potatoes on this plate!

...clearly, there is NOT enough mashed potatoes on this plate!

The Right Stuff, Part 2

Now that you know which type of potato to use, we need to discuss a few simple rules to achieve that perfect bowl of potatoes:

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Read More From Delishably

Size DOES Matter

  • When you peel and dice your potatoes, strive to make all of the pieces the same size. If you have a United Nations of potato pieces, it should be apparent that the smaller chunks will be tender long before the larger ones.

Start Cold and Then Warm Things Up

  • Fill your cooking vessel with cold water. Add the potatoes—the water should be an inch or more above the potatoes. If there is not enough room, use a larger pot.
  • Bring the water up to a simmer—be patient.

Know When to Hold Them, Know When to Fold Them

  • "When are the potatoes done?" you might ask. Use the tip of a sharp knife and gently stab a chunk of potato. If the knife slips in easily, the potatoes are done. Again, patience, but don't overcook—when potato chunks start to fall apart, you are at risk of having potato soup, not potato mash.

Always Use the Proper Tool for the Job

  • Yes, I know you're hungry, but don't look at your Kitchen Aid mixer, don't grab the immersion (stick) blender, and don't even think of getting out the food processor. Potatoes are starch, and starch does not take well to being pummeled. There are two acceptable tools for mashing potatoes—the potato masher (clever name) and the potato ricer. Each has a unique (different) purpose and will provide different results. Which one you use depends on what type of mash you desire. (I'll discuss those nuances in a moment).

Don't Go from Hot to Cold

  • Those potatoes are hot and steamy. Why would you douse their flame of love with a stick of chilled butter and milk straight from the coldest part of the refrigerator? Talk about a cold shower! Use room-temperature butter, and warm the milk—it doesn't have to be boiling, but for goodness sake at least take the chill off with a quick zap in the microwave oven.

You're Not Making Soup

  • Yes, I know I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but please use a bit of patience and restraint when adding liquid (milk or cream) to your mashed potatoes. Proceed slowly, dribbling in a bit at a time while you gently stir. If you dump in a large glug of milk and then find that you have added too much, guess what you now have? Mashed potato soup. There's no turning back. The only way to correct that mess is to add more cooked potatoes, and I doubt you have any of those idly waiting around. Take it slow and easy.
That's better!

That's better!

Rough and Rustic or Smooth and Creamy

I won't enter into a debate of which is the perfect mashed potato; like religion and politics, there are some discussions best left unsaid. I'll take a neutral stance and give you the directions for both. (I present them not necessarily in order of preference, but in alphabetical order so that there is no bias.)

Rough and Rustic Mashed Potatoes

Ingredients and Equipment

  • large saucepan
  • colander
  • potato masher
  • 2 pounds Russet potatoes, scrubbed (peel left on), cut in equal-sized chunks
  • enough water to cover potatoes and have them submerged 1 inch (or more)
  • about 3/4 cup whole milk, heated
  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) room-temperature butter

Instructions

  1. Cover potatoes with cold water and bring to a simmer in the saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.
  2. Drain potatoes well (I use a colander for this) and then return to the pan in which they were cooked.
  3. Use your potato masher to break the cooked potato chunks apart; use up-and-down motions rather than stirring.
  4. Once the potatoes have begun to break down add the butter and continue to mash. Then slowly pour in the milk, a little at a time, continuing to mash until the potatoes are the consistency and texture that you desire.
  5. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve hot.

Smooth and Creamy Mashed Potatoes

Ingredients and Equipment

  • large saucepan
  • colander
  • potato ricer (see note below)
  • 2 pounds Russet potatoes, scrubbed, peeled, cut in equal-sized chunks
  • enough water to cover potatoes and have them submerged 1 inch (or more)
  • about 3/4 cup whole milk, heated
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) room-temperature butter

Instructions

  1. Cover potatoes with cold water and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cook until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.
  2. Drain potatoes well (I use a colander for this) and place them in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Spoon the potatoes into your potato ricer (obviously you won't get all of the potatoes in at one time). Squeeze the ricer over the pot in which you originally cooked the potatoes so that the riced potato fluffs land in the still warm pan.
  4. After all of the potato chunks have been riced, add the butter and then slowly pour in the milk, a little at a time, carefully tossing the potatoes with a fork.
  5. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve hot.

My daughter has a potato ricer and so does a close friend. I've tried their potato ricers, but nothing compares with the one that I have. The handles are easy to grip, the basket is large, is rices those potatoes wonderfully, and is easy to clean.

Now, just be sure that you make enough mashed potatoes so that everyone in your family can have some.

© 2016 Linda Lum

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