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Making the Best Mashed Potatoes

by Elizabeth Skipper | November 19th, 2014 | Ask the Chef
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mashed potatoes (400x400)We keep skim milk at home, so whenever I make mashed potatoes I use that. However, I was wondering if whole milk or cream might make them better. Or would cream be too rich? I also use butter. I want to make the tastiest mashed potatoes possible; any help is appreciated.

Good mashed potatoes rely on more than simply the kind of liquid used, although, yes, I do think  whole milk vs. skim milk will improve them. (I remember my dad marveling that when they removed the cream – the good stuff – from the milk, they raised the price. He couldn’t get over that. And did you know that farmers fatten their pigs on skim milk? Just some food for thought there.)

Let’s start with the basics. If you already know these, please excuse the repetition – lots of people don’t, so a refresher’s in order.

Use the right kind of potatoes, the starchy ones like Russets, also called Idaho or baking potatoes. A medium-starch potato like a Yukon Gold also works, but my preference is the high-starch variety. They absorb more moisture, and the end result is silkier.

Either boil them in the skins or peel and cut them into large chunks. Whichever you decide, put them in a large saucepan with plenty of cold water to cover by at least an inch. Bring the pot to a boil, salt the water generously, and reduce to a simmer. Cover the pot loosely if you’re not going to be keeping an eye on it; you don’t want the top of the potatoes to be exposed. Depending on the size of the potatoes, simmer them for 15 or so minutes for 1-1 1⁄2” chunks, or 30 minutes or more for whole ones. When a cake tester, skewer, or paring knife easily glides into and out of the piece or whole potato, it’s done.

Drain the pot and put it back on the stove over low heat. This will dry out any excess moisture and allow those babies to absorb all that good butter and milk or cream. Keep an eye out so the starch they’ll give off doesn’t burn on the bottom of the pot. Now it’s time for ricing or mashing them; adding butter and milk or cream; and seasoning with pepper, a smidgeon of nutmeg if you like it (I do), and additional salt. Please refer to the Ask the Chef archives here for my thoughts on mashing or ricing potatoes.

The butter and milk should be warm or hot, so as not to cool off the potatoes. If that happens, your potatoes will take on a stale taste. Add the butter first. If you like, melt it in a small saucepan or clear a spot in the middle of the pot the potatoes are in and let the butter melt there. (I’m always on the lookout to save on washing up.) After it melts, mix it into the potatoes. Repeat with the milk or cream of your choice. Mine is whole milk – that’s all I ever have in the house – or half ‘n’ half or light cream, if you like. I don’t think heavy cream is needed if you’ve used enough butter, although my very French teacher made a potato purée which called for 6 medium-sized potatoes, 1/3 cup heavy cream, and 3⁄4 cup butter to serve six! While perhaps not every day fare, it is delicious.

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