Easy to make and just as easy to gobble down, a dollop of homemade mashed potatoes is an absolute treat. The universal side dish, smooth and buttery potato purée soaks up all those delicious juices and sauces. Pair it with soft cheeses, sweet and sour stir-fries, or sizzling meatballs – you simply can’t go wrong with mash. Versatile and easy on the palate, a lovingly made mashed potato can turn any meal, from breakfast to Christmas dinner, into something very special. Here’s how to make yours truly remarkable.
The starchier the potatoes, the less water they hold and the fluffier your mash will be. Waxy varieties like the gorgeous red, blue, or white cultivars look amazing but take longer to mash. So, if you like your mashed potatoes buttery but not sticky, try common varieties like the Yukon Gold or the Russet. Nothing beats the flavor of the medium-starch Yukon or the fluffiness of the very starchy Russet.
Some people don’t peel their potatoes because they like the earthy flavor of the peel. You can peel your potatoes after you boil them, but peeling hot potatoes with your bare hands is difficult and time-consuming unless you submerge them in ice water for a few seconds. If you’d rather peel your potatoes prior to boiling them, use a sharp vegetable peeler or a turning knife (the saber-shaped knife with a curved blade).
Cover your potatoes in cold water, boil them, and then reduce the pot to a simmer. To help the starch swell and let the potatoes absorb water and cook faster, add a pinch of salt. Despite what most people think, adding a few pinches of salt in a pan of water won’t bring the boiling point up or down noticeably. However, adding salt before the water boils reduces the water’s heat capacity, making it boil faster. Unfortunately, it also leaves white spots on some metal pots, similar to scale deposits on an electric kettle.
Don’t add ingredients to the mash straight from the fridge. Let your milk and butter come to room temperature first. Then warm them up for a few seconds on the stove. If you’d rather use a microwave oven, then only use it for a few seconds, stirring the mix mid-way through.
Potatoes change their flavor if they’re left to cool in the water. Also, their texture and color change if they’re left to dry. So, you want to take them off the stove just before you mash them. Drain them well using a colander, because you want them to absorb your flavorings without turning into a mushy mess.
If you like your mashed potatoes with a bit of bite, you can use a conventional stainless-steel potato masher. These come in all shapes and sizes, from zig-zag to radial. Fancy new gadgets include the rotary food mill, fruit presses, and handheld purée makers. Whichever utensil you use, mash your potatoes until they’re almost smooth. Then add half the butter and milk. Sprinkle some pepper and salt to taste. Mash again until smooth, adding the rest of the milk and butter and your seasonings. If you want to make them ahead of time, you can mash them first, and then keep them in a slow-cooker or on the stove.
A dish best served warm and buttery, potato mash is very easy to decorate. With only a few vegetables and a cookie mold, you can turn it into artwork. But if you don’t have much time, simply put it all in a big bowl. Use a palette knife or a spoon dipped in warm butter to flatten it out. Then use a fork or a spoon to even out the edges, and drizzle some olive oil over it. Sprinkle fresh herbs over it and add a leaf of parsley for contrast.
You can’t go wrong with a good mash, but if you want a little something special to impress your guests, try one of these ideas. Add a bit of wholegrain mustard with the tip of a knife. Then grate tiny pieces of horseradish and beet over the mash. For a richer taste and texture, add some grated cheese to your mashed potatoes and bake them for a few minutes, until the top is sizzling and crispy.
Mashed potatoes made with butter and milk will stay fresh for up to three days if they're refrigerated. If you'd like to keep them for longer, simply scoop them into an airtight container and freeze them. Large temperature variations can spoil your mash. To defrost it, you'll need a heatproof bowl that you can place over a pan of simmering water, but only after it's reached room temperature.
The versatile potato mash can be reheated and enjoyed as it is, or mixed with other ingredients to make potato cakes and pies. With only a few chopped herbs and some blanched vegetables, you could mold it into a flat cake and fry it on a pan until crispy golden. Lay a single egg on top, crumble some chicken, or sprinkle some cheese chunks over it to make yourself a delicious treat for brunch.