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 (like Thanksgiving) and gently reheat on the stove. 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.
Once you’ve mastered mashed potatoes, you won’t dream of going back to instant, especially after you see the taste test I conducted homemade mashed potatoes vs. instant.
Mashed potatoes 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.
Slice peeled potatoes or if you’re more adept with a knife, chop into even chunks for even cooking
Two camps of thought exists on the type of potato to use. Some swear by Yukon Gold, others say go with classic Russett potatoes. Either are fine.
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.
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)
Don’t even think about mashing 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.
And mashed potatoes 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, situate 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.
- Parmesan-infused: Grate in about a tablespoon of fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano into potatoes and grating it into them.
- Mixed root: 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: add two cloves of garlic toward the end of the boiling process. Then mash them into with the potatoes.
- Olive oil: 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 includes affiliate links