One dish manages to make its way to almost every American holiday menu: the humble mashed potato. It’s a dish that seems easy enough to make, yet is easy to screw up royally. Before you buy that box of backup flakes, which is only slightly less gross than gummy, gooey mashers, get in the know on how to make foolproof fluffy, tasty mashed potatoes.
1. Choose the right potatoes
Yukon gold, baby! Yes, we’re all used to using russets or Idahos, but Yukons are slightly less starchy. And it’s that starch than can cause the unpleasant gumminess when the potatoes are overworked. So Yukons give you greater flexibility. Plus, Yukons have a natural buttery flavor.
And don’t even with red-skinned or fingerlings. Save their resistance to breaking down for roasted potatoes or potato salad like Mother Nature intended.
2. Prepping the potatoes
You’ll definitely want to peel first, as the skins hold in that glue-creating starch. If you like skin in your mashers, leaving a few areas unpeeled here and there is OK.
You should also cut your potatoes into uniform chunks and at the very least, rinse them. Better yet, soak the pieces to remove some of the starch before boiling. Soaking them in saltwater for about 20 minutes will infuse the salt-craving spuds with flavor.
3. Cooking liquid
In general, I prefer to use water to boil my spuds. You absolutely can use stock or broth, I just personally like the mashers to act as more of a palate-cleanser for more heavily seasoned dishes. Whichever direction you go, the liquid must start anywhere between room temperature to cool. Never start with warm or hot water, as that will cook the outsides quickly, but leave the insides undone longer. This leads to mealiness on the outside or hard, undercooked insides — and really gross mashed potatoes either way.
4. Cooking the potatoes
Place the chopped potatoes in a large pot. Cover them with the room temp or cool cooking liquid at least an inch above the potatoes, cover the pot and then place them on the stove and turn up the heat. When it gets to a rolling boil, take the lid off, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook them until they’re done. To test for doneness, grab a chunk with a pair of tongs. If you can easily smoosh it, they’re ready to drain. (Spoiler alert! Now’s the time to turn the heat to low.)
5. Mix on or off the stove?
After they’re drained put your spuds back on the stove over low heat for a sec before adding any ingredients. Yes, with no liquid added yet! The residual heat will help remove all that flavorless water, allowing them to take in more moisture from the flavorful stuff you’re about to add. If they start to seem too dry, you can always take them off.
6. Food processors
Unless you want a one-way ticket to Glue Town, step away from that food processor, chica!
If you want super-smooth potatoes, ricers are the way to go. Just make sure you remove the potatoes from the pot and melt all the liquid first, then rice the spuds into said liquid and mix gently to avoid paste-creating overmixing.
8. Potato masher
A masher is perfection, but make sure you use one of those curvy wire mashers that won’t over-damage your goods or trap too much of your cooked-to-perfection spuds.
9. Stand mixer
For most, the stand mixer presents the same challenge a food processor does; however, a stand mixer does have more flexibility in speed, so if you’ve taken literally every other precaution there is (see: “Repeat after me: Real butter”) you could feasibly pull this off.
10. Repeat after me: “Real butter”
And lots of it. Butter acts as a lubricant, preventing those starches from bonding together too much. As such, you should add the butter a bit at a time as you mash, regardless of the device you use. Food blogger Chef John recommends a pound of unsalted butter per 3-ish pounds of spuds. Having tried it, I concur. I’ve been known to halve the amount of butter with good results (especially since I use Yukons and he uses russets). It’s worth it for the flavor too.
11. ‘Tis the season…
… to season. Potatoes take plenty of salt. Even if you’ve used seasoning up to now, you should taste and add more salt and pepper if you need to. You can also add herbs and spices now. Just don’t wait until you’re done to season or — you guessed it — you could overmix. Taste as you go.
Now you’ll need some liquid. Milk is common, but you should consider at least some half and half or heavy cream for the fat content and the richness it will add, especially if you ignored my butter advice. Don’t use the reserved stock you cooked it in (if you did) because it’s starchy.
The key here is to add warm liquid and add only as much as you need to loosen your mashers.
13. Finishing up your mashers
When you’re sure you have the right base seasoning and texture, you can add extras like cheese, whole-roasted garlic cloves, bacon, green onions and more, but remember to fold it in. That will not only distribute it better, it will help you avoid overworking. Or you can just serve them as is and add the extras as garnish.