With Thanksgiving dinner just around the corner, it's a good time to look at a side dish that goes great with turkey and gravy: mashed potatoes. It's a most comforting creation -- when made correctly.
By correctly, I mean light, smooth and lump-free potatoes that have a rich but clean taste, not a watered-down-I've-been-soaking-in-water-too-long one. If you struggle to make mashed potatoes with these qualities, below is a refresher course with tips and a recipe to assist you.
PURCHASE A PROPER MASHER
If you're going to mash potatoes by hand, invest in a sturdy, metal, wide-bottomed potato masher with a good-sized handle. This type of masher will make the task of mashing quicker and easier, not something that will happen if you use a flimsy, small, plastic masher that bends when you use it. Potatoes can also be mashed in a stand mixer -- see recipe for details.
CHOOSE THE RIGHT POTATO
To create the smoothest, lightest, lump-free mashed potatoes, purchase potatoes best suited for that purpose, namely a baking (russet) potato. This floury potato variety has a high starch level. Because of that, you can vigorously mash them until smooth and light without worrying about them turning unappealingly gummy, something that can occur if you use a waxy, low-starch variety, such as a smooth-skinned red potato.
You can still mash waxy types of potatoes (I often leave the skin on), but it's best to get them just smooth, or even a little coarse in texture, because if you overwork them, they'll become glue-like sticky.
Yellow-fleshed potatoes varieties such as Yukon Gold have a medium starch level and can also be mashed, yielding a more compact, but still appealing mashed potato.
CUT POTATOES EVENLY AND NOT TOO SMALL
When readying the potatoes for the pot, cut them into evenly sized quarters, or even halves, depending on size. If cut too small, they can become quickly waterlogged and break apart in the pot when being cooked, and when mashed, they can taste more like water than potato. If you cut the potatoes into random sizes, while you wait for the larger pieces to cook, the smaller pieces in the pot will take on the qualities noted in the previous sentence.
DON'T SKIMP ON THE WATER
Be generous with the water when cooking the potatoes, covering them with at least five centimetres of cold water before setting them on to cook. If you barely cover them with water, starch leaching from the potatoes as they cook can concentrate and negatively affect their taste and texture.
SIMMER; DON'T RAPIDLY BOIL
When cooking the potatoes, don't rapidly boil them, as the outer portion will cook too quickly and start to fall apart before the centres are done. Instead, once the potatoes come to a boil, reduce the heat until the water is simmering (small bubbles just breaking on the surface).
Cooking the potatoes in this more gentle way will ensure they cook evenly and still hold their shape even when quite tender, which, in turn, will make them easier to mash.
HOW TO TEST FOR DONENESS
The potatoes are cooked when they're tender enough to easily be pierced with a paring knife. If they are still firm in spots, they're not done. If they're falling apart in the pot, they're overdone.
MASH AND THEN FLAVOUR
When they're cooked, drain the potatoes well. If they seem overly moist, set the pot back on the heat to dry them a minute or so. For the smoothest potatoes, mash them as soon as possible. If you let them sit and cool down, they won't mash as well and you can get those dreaded lumps. Mix in ingredients such as butter and milk after you've mashed the potatoes as smooth as possible. If you add them at the start of mashing, you never seem to get the potatoes as smooth. This is particularly true if the butter or milk is cold, which can cool the potatoes and cause them to lump, no matter how intensely you mash them afterward.
Smooth and light mashed potatoes
Serve these mashed potatoes with turkey and gravy, meat loaf, stew or any other entrée they would happily share a plate with.
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: About 20 minutes
Makes: 8 to 10 servings
5 lb. baking or russet potatoes, peeled and quartered or halved, depending on size
1 1/2 cups warm whole or 2% milk (see Note)
1/4 cup melted butter (see Note)
salt and white pepper to taste
melted butter for drizzling (optional)
thinly sliced green onion or chopped fresh parsley, to taste (optional)
Place the potatoes in a large pot. Cover with at least two inches of cold water. Bring potatoes to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat until the potatoes simmer gently. Simmer until very tender, 18 to 20 minutes. Drain the potatoes well. Thoroughly mash the potatoes with a potato masher. Or, if desired, transfer potatoes to the bowl of your stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, and use that machine to mash them. Now vigorously mix in the milk and butter until potatoes are light and smooth. Season the potatoes with salt and pepper. Spoon the potatoes into a serving dish. If desired, drizzle the top with a little melted butter and a sprinkling of green onion or parsley.
Note: I warmed the milk and melted the butter in the microwave. You could also do this by combining the two in a small pot and setting it on the stove on medium-low heat.
Eric's options: Below are simple ways to adapt the above recipe.
Garlic mashed potatoes
Peel and slice 6 to 12 large cloves, depending on how much you like garlic. Add the garlic to the pot with the potatoes. When the potatoes are cooked and you're draining them, ensure the now very tender garlic stays in the pot with them.
Buttermilk mashed potatoes
To make tangy, buttermilk-flavoured mashed potatoes, replace the milk in the recipe with an equal amount of buttermilk, warmed.
Yukon gold mashed potatoes
Replace the baking potatoes with an equal weight of Yukon gold or yellow-fleshed varieties.
To make even lighter-intexture whipped potatoes, after mixing in the butter and milk, use an electric beater, or a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, and whip the potatoes until very light and almost fluffy.
Eric Akis is the author of the bestselling Everyone Can Cook series of cookbooks.
-- Victoria Times Colonist