Such a simple thing — throw some potatoes into a pot, then mash them up, but there’s more to creamy mashed potatoes than that. I tend to make mashed potatoes a day ahead of a big family dinner and gently reheat in the oven; microwaving them tends to change the texture. Alternately, make them earlier in the morning and keep them warm by covering a pan with plastic wrap and nestling into a simmering pan of water. This simulates being held in a steam table. Here are a few key tips, many gleaned from my studies at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.
Key tip #1:
Always start cooking potatoes in cold water. Don’t plop them into boiling water. Cook them at a modest simmer for about 20 minutes and they will have a smoother end texture and cook more evenly.
Key tip #2:
Slice peeled potatoes or if you’re more adept with a knife, chop into even chunks for even cooking
Key tip #3:
Two camps of thought exists on the type of potato to use. Some swear by Yukon Gold, others say go with classic Russetts. Either are fine.
Key tip #4:
Never try to mash up cold potatoes. It has to do with some chemical-y thing with the starch. If your potatoes go cold, heat them up again (in warm water, a microwave) and then try to mash them.
Key tip #5:
Use room temperature or warm milk when mashing. Let butter soften to room temperature, too. It will be easier to mash and won’t cool down the potatoes. (See Tip #4)
Key tip #6:
Don’t even think about putting potatoes into a food processor. The result will be a gluey mess. I prefer using a food mill to mash them, other people swear by a ricer. My mom prefers a 1969 hand-held electric beater. My friend Chef John in the video below prefers a specific kind of masher. Honestly, you can always just use a fork too. The key, though, is no food processor.
Key tip #7
Save the drained potato water. It’s gives body to gravy and also makes a terrific base for soups, so try not to throw it out.
Perfect Mashed Potatoes
2 1/2 pounds of potatoes, Yukon Gold or Russet, peeled
8 oz of butter
1/2 cup milk, heated
Plenty of salt and pepper
Pinch or two of ground nutmeg (optional)
Peel the potatoes and then slice into even pieces. Add them to a pan of cold water and then bring to a gentle boil. Cook until the potatoes are soft enough to pierce with a paring knife, about 10 minutes. Drain. At this point, situated a food mill over a large bowl or pot. Add a few potatoes at a time and press through the food mill. Alternately you can use a ricer or, should you want to go old-school, use a hand-held masher. Just be sure that while the potatoes are still warm, add the heated milk the butter, salt and pepper. If you wait until they’ve become cold, the flavors will not meld properly. Taste. Add salt and pepper until it taste good to you.
To hold the potatoes to serve later, make a bain-marie. This is a fancy name for keeping the potatoes warm by placing into a hot water bath. To do this, place the potatoes into a metal bowl or pot if they are not already in one. Add a sheet of plastic wrap over the top and close tightly. Then, find a saute pan or skillet large enough to hold the bowl or pot. Add a bit of water, bring to a boil and then turn down to simmer. Add the pot or bowl to the simmering water. Check them every so often to adjust the heat to keep the potatoes warm. They can be kept hot for hours this way.
- Parmesan mash: I’m a big fan of grating in about a tablespoon of fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano into potatoes and grating it into them.
- Mixed root mash: Lately, I’ve been a big fan of adding a turnip and/or a rutabaga into the whole mix, thanks to Diane Morgan’s book Roots. It adds an extra layer of complexity, an especially nice touch when pairing the mash with meats.
- Garlic mashed potatoes: add two cloves of garlic toward the end of the boiling process. Then mash them into with the potatoes.
- Olive oil mash: Substitute olive oil for all or a portion of the butter. Adds a different flavor and cuts down on saturated fats
Updated October 2020. This post may include affiliate links