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All About Mashed Potatoes

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If I ever had to choose between you

and another helping of mashed potato,

(whipped lightly with a fork,

not whisked

and a little pool of butter

melting in the middle...)

I think I'd choose

the mashed potato

But I'd choose you next.

— Sidney Hoddes

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! | Source

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:

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! | Source

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).

vintage potato mashers
vintage potato mashers | Source

Rough and Rustic Mashed Potatoes

  • 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

  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 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.

potato ricer
potato ricer | Source

Smooth and Creamy Mashed Potatoes

  • 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

  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.

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

© 2016 Carb Diva

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Comments 13 comments

Carb Diva profile image

Carb Diva 10 days ago Author

Flourish - My mom used to make mashed potato pancakes too. Thrifty--never let anything go to waste (and it was back in the days when we didn't have microwave ovens for reheating). I love creamy mashed potatoes. Never thought of putting chili on top--will have to give that a try. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you had a wonderful holiday.


FlourishAnyway 11 days ago

I'm a lover of creamy mashed potatoes. Loved that cat video, too! I even eat chili over mashed potatoes (a family thing). We also love to use leftover mashed potatoes to make fried potato patties for breakfast. In fact, I took additional potatoes home from my mother's house as leftovers for that purpose. Happy Thanksgiving!


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 2 weeks ago from Central Florida

I'm not sure. He's eating mashed potatoes and it's a cute touch. HP does get pretty picky though when they consider articles for niche sites.


Carb Diva profile image

Carb Diva 2 weeks ago Author

Bravewarrior - I could never do that to you! You're much too sweet, and if that's what you and your family love, then that's what you love. I don't think hand-held mixers are so bad--but those Kitchen Aid pro-chef things are pretty bad ass and knock the tweedle out of everything they touch. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

(By the way, if the powers-that-be HP decide to move this over to the Delishably niche, do you think they'll make me delete the video of the kitty at the end?)


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 2 weeks ago from Central Florida

Well, you're probably going to slap me, but I use red potatoes for mashed. I don't peel them and I use my hand mixer to whip them into the consistency I want. I add butter, salt and pepper and milk and continue beating until well-incorporated.

If I'm serving gravy with the spuds, I use a tad less milk. More if no gravy.


Carb Diva profile image

Carb Diva 2 weeks ago Author

Bill, except for the presence (or absence) of potato skins, you and Bev could each have your favorite--just divide (and conquer) the potatoes and you can each proceed with your favorite recipe.

If you don't own a potato ricer, you should put it on your Christmas list. Actually I found one for only $10 at a second-hand store.

Thanks for your kind words, and YES, GO HAWKS!


billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

I love your writing style. It takes talent to write about mashed potatoes and make it interesting, but you do it with all foods time and time again.

For the record, I love smooth, fluffy mashed potatoes. Bev loves chunky.

Sigh!

Stay dry and GO HAWKS!


Carb Diva profile image

Carb Diva 2 weeks ago Author

John - Good for you for providing the muscle power for your family to get the job done. Here in the USA we will be celebrating Thanksgiving on Thursday and mashed potatoes with turkey gravy is a big deal.


Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 weeks ago from Queensland Australia

Great hub on mashed potato, Linda. It is always my job to mash the potatoes and I think I have the method perfected the way my family likes them..smooth and creamy (not soupy). It is good to read the two recipes, though.


Carb Diva profile image

Carb Diva 2 weeks ago Author

Eric - In reverse order: (2) Hash browns for Thanksgiving? Well, it's potatoes so I guess I can go along with the concept. But (1) Bend, Oregon? Geez, you're just 5 hours away from my home. We're almost breathing the same air!

Love to you and your beautiful family. I pray you have safe travels and create more wonderful memories during this holiday weekend.


Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 2 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

I just got a text from my daughters that I better show up the eve of Thanksgiving with a bag of potatoes to make hash browns next morning.

Bend Oregon for gathering -- Whahoo!


Carb Diva profile image

Carb Diva 2 weeks ago Author

Hi Eric - So good to hear from you. Truth be told--those skins hold so much of the fiber and nutrients. All good things. Thanks for stopping by and for your support.


Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 2 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

Cooking for twenty my mom would hand me that old fashion masher and just dare me to make them too "mushy". The bozo in the army that decided to peal them was a chump. The skins - ah the skins.

Great stuff as usual. I lived in a place where at the time they supplied more potatoes than the US. It was great.

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