I have a thing for mashed potatoes. I’ve always loved them but it is only recently that I have become extremely self-aware of just what these soft spuds mean to me. They’ve become something totally polarizing to me—something I have developed the strictest of guidelines for. First, they should be made with cream or (though preferably “and”) whole milk. This means NO skim milk, 2% milk, or anything like that; you want these to be comforting, warm, luxurious, and soft like a pillowy and buttery cloud. Second, the milk and cream should be warmed, but the butter shouldn’t be melted. It should be room temperature and completely softened as if you were going to bake a cake with it. This ensures that potatoes are rich, creamy, and smooth. If the butter is melted the potatoes taste too greasy and buttery. You could argue here that if you were to melt it, then, you could add much less of it but the consistency wouldn’t be right—there’s no skimping on butter in mashed potatoes. This is not, has never been, and never will be diet food. Third, they should be silken and creamy, but still firm enough to maintain a little structure so you can make a mound of it, and create a well in the middle to accept a volcanically hot ladles worth of gravy. I have an inherited way (that’s a diplomatic way of saying stolen) of achieving this, which I’ll reveal later. Lastly*, and I feel very strongly about this one, they should be made with Yukon gold potatoes.
This is where polarizing opinions come in; the debate between starchy russets or waxy gold. Because russets have a much higher starch content the end result is fluffier and has that picturesque look of a ghost-white mound with perfect architecture and structure, begging to be piled high and smothered in gravy. However, their taste is less creamy and mealier. They aren’t rich. Yukon gold potatoes have less starch, and therefore need more cream and butter, and more beating and blending, to become smooth. If you like ultra creamy and soft set potatoes that pour and pool rather than them being scoop-able and structured, you can add cream and butter to you hearts content (or discontent, if you ask a cardiologist). I want something in between; I want the structure of a fluffier mash that you’d get from russets or Idahos, but I want the rich, creaminess of waxed potatoes.
The thing about using Yukon gold potatoes for your mash is that you don’t have to pump them full of copious amounts of cream and butter until they’re a smooth, almost liquid consistency—it’s just that they’re the perfect potato for that sort of thing, but it doesn’t mean that’s all they’re good for. In fact, if you whip them with a mixer it releases more of the potatoes’ starch than you’d get pressing them through a ricer, so they still end up with plenty of starch, but not so starchy that they’re mealy.
One important thing about mashed potatoes that should be noted is that not only is every type of potato different—and an important factor to the outcome of your mash—but each potato itself is different from the next. That’s to say that it’s entirely possible for you to make mashed potatoes one year for Thanksgiving, using Yukon gold, and you use a certain amount of cream and butter; however, when next Thanksgiving rolls around you may find you need far more or far less cream and butter. I mention this because I want it to be noted that the recipes I’m giving you below are more blueprints than anything—as are any mashed potato recipe—so rather than pouring in the full amount of cream and butter specified, as you would with baking a cake or something, add them gradually as you mix to ensure you get the texture that you want. And now for my stolen secret—if you taste your mash and you find that you want a little more creaminess in them but are afraid that adding any more actual cream would make the mash too liquid, crack in a room temperature egg and beat it vigorously into the potatoes. The heat of the potatoes will gently bring it up to a safe temperature, gently cooking it, and it not only adds a little creaminess and richness to the mash, but also gives it the potential structure to accept a little more butter or cream.
Another potato that I love for mashing—well, smashing—is little red skin potatoes. These are much waxier than Yukon gold potatoes so, rather than mashing to a perfectly smooth puree, these are best just beaten up a little so there are still some little nubbly bits in there. The best way to achieve this is by just beating them vigorously with the cream and butter using a big, strong wooden spoon straight in the pan. One of the benefits of this is that you don’t have to be terribly patient or present when you’re smacking the potatoes around because there’s no need for them to be smooth—these instruct you, by their nature, to allow them to be lumpy. What’s even better is that you can make these ahead of time; once you’ve got them to the perfect consistency add just a little more cream and butter (say about 2 – 3, and one tablespoons, respectively) so they’re just a little softer. Cool them down, dump them into a casserole dish (mine is about 10” x 6”, but as long as the potatoes aren’t piled higher than around 2” you’ll be fine), and store them in the fridge. Take the dish out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature for about 1 – 2 hours before sliding into a 350° oven for 45 minutes. If you wanted to take the foil off and let them brown a little on the top for 10 minutes that wouldn’t be a bad thing.
Given that it’s Thanksgiving time I’m also posting a recipe for my blueprint Perfect Mashed Potatoes and a couple of ways to vary them. I promise, you won’t be disappointed!
* The actual last rule is that you never, ever, ever put them in a food processor or blender. This makes them gluey and gloppy. But I think most people know this by now.