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Mashed Potatoes with a Ricer?

by Elizabeth Skipper May 29th, 2012 | Ask the Chef
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Watching a cooking show the other night, I saw a chef make mashed potatoes using a ricer. I’ve always used a handheld potato masher. Is it a ricer a better tool, or is there a different kitchen utensil/appliance that would make great mashed potatoes? (My family adores mashed potatoes, so the right tool would be appreciated.)

Interesting terminology. To be precise, there are riced potatoes and mashed potatoes; so making mashed potatoes with a ricer is mixing terms. Riced potatoes are simply potatoes that are boiled, put through a ricer, and served with melted butter on top. That said, I make mashed potatoes with a ricer – so much for technicalities!

If your family adores mashed potatoes, it probably doesn’t matter how they’re prepared. Smooth and creamy, lumpy and more substantial, smashed even, I’m sure they’re still a hit. But the tool you choose does affect the final result, so let’s look at what’s available and the kind of mashed potatoes it produces.

In a pinch you can use a fork, a whisk, or a flat-bottomed glass, but if you’re making a lot of mashed potatoes, something more efficient is called for. It’s human nature to want to improve on the basics, so in addition to wooden pestles we have mashers with slotted disks, wire grids, or zigzag-shaped designs; spring-loaded models; ricers; food mills; and of course electric mixers. I once had one called My Mother’s Potato Masher, a modern copy of an antique, that looked a bit like a hand with the fingers splayed and curled under, minus the thumb.

Let’s toss out the losers. MMPM, as the last one was called, got used twice before being consigned to the basement and eventually, a yard sale. The slots in it were too narrow – in fact, the whole thing was too small, so it wasn’t efficient. The spring-loaded models I’ve tried weren’t any improvement over regular mashers; I find they require more strength to use and take longer to clean. One manufacturer makes a folding masher which seems as if it would work well. However, as the purpose of such a tool is to mash, not to store more compactly, I don’t see the value of it, especially where the hinge could be a point of failure.

Wooden pestles are OK if that’s all you’ve got, but they make it really hard to get out all the lumps and they’re no good at getting into the corners of a pot. I’ll also discount any masher made of plastic, which is simply not as durable as metal. Electric mixers can easily over-work your potatoes and make them gluey.  Don’t even think about using a food processor to make mashed potatoes; the resulting glop is inedible.

A food mill is the tool of choice of most European cooks, and it produces a lovely purée. It sits nicely on top of the pot, which is handy; but it’s a bit of a nuisance to wash up. Mashers with wire grids are a bit less durable than the ones with slotted disks or the zigzag-shaped ones.  Mine has a slotted disk and I’m happy with it. When I’m in a hurry, this is what I’ll use. The resulting potatoes will have a few lumps – proof they’re homemade, if you want to remove any doubt – and the mashed potatoes will be sturdier.

However, a ricer is my favorite, for reasons both culinary and sentimental. The ricer was my mom’s, a vintage model from the 1940’s or 50’s with chipped green paint, which needs to be washed and carefully dried by hand so it doesn’t rust. If I’m after the silkiest, lightest, lump-free mashed potatoes possible, I get out Dora’s ricer and enjoy a quiet moment of communion with her while I’m cooking.

[Here’s the method I like for making “mashies”:

Use baking potatoes (Russets) for their high starch content. Try to get small ones, because you’re going to simmer them whole, and the bigger they are, the longer it will take. Start them in cold water, use enough water to cover them by about an inch, and salt the water generously after it comes to a boil. Turn the heat down and maintain a steady simmer, and leave the lid on askew to keep the water from evaporating too rapidly.

Start checking for doneness after twenty minutes. A properly cooked potato will readily slide off a skewer inserted into its center; if it sticks, it needs a bit more time. When the potatoes are cooked, drain them and return to the heat, lid off, to dry. Be sure to lower the heat so they don’t scorch. When they’re dry, remove them to a bowl.

A few at a time, put the potatoes through the ricer back into the pot. An advantage here is that there’s no need to peel them. The peels won’t go through the ricer; just the flesh will. Remove the peels from the ricer and continue ricing the rest of the potatoes. Add melted butter and milk or cream to taste, season with salt and pepper – a hint of nutmeg if you like it – and you’re done. It’s time to make the gravy.]

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