Two tricks for perfect mashed potatoes

mashed potatoes
© Melissa Breyer

Learn how to master the mashed potato with a few simple tweaks.

I am unabashed in my love for mashed potatoes, and as such, have made them using a hundred different methods. I have cooked the potatoes whole and sliced, steamed them, boiled them, baked them, roasted them, Instant-Potted and slow-cookered them; I have mashed them with a fork, a spoon, a whisk, a masher, a ricer, and electrical appliances. I have tried scientific approaches and shortcuts and everything in between – and I am here to tell you that I have found the perfect way to make mashed potatoes.

Now of course my "perfect" may be your imperfect, and vice versa, but I love this method for "Perfect Mashed Potatoes" adapted from Seriously Simple Holidays by Diane Rossen Worthington – and it is easily adjustable to suit many preferences.

Some recipes call for boiling potatoes whole (less watery potatoes and easy skin removal) or steaming them (less watery potatoes, again) – but I find that cooking them whole results in uneven cooking and steaming is just kind of a pain and requires extra equipment. I always resort to the simplest method: Cut, boil, add ingredients, mash in pot – which is basically what Worthington calls for; but with these two steps which are game changers:

  • After draining the potatoes once they are done boiling, return them to the pot and cook off the extra water for a few minutes.
  • Use a combination of butter and olive oil, and heat it up with your dairy before adding.

The post-boil cooking dries them out and also adds some extra depth of flavor. Meanwhile, adding olive oil to the mix gives more flavor (and is healthier, yay) – and warming it all up before adding makes it easier to incorporate, meaning less opportunity to overwork the potatoes, which can lead to the saddest thing of all: Gummy mashed potatoes.

POTATO TYPE
I lean toward yellow-fleshed (like Yukon Gold) potatoes for mashing, I love their texture and flavor – though you may prefer a starcher spud for a fluffier mash, which will work with this method as well. Since I like the skin on (healthier, less waste, good flavor and texture), gold potatoes are also great because of their thin peel. If you like them without the skin, you can slip them off after boiling.

DAIRY ALTERNATIVES
For non-vegan, which I am including for the recipe here, I use milk – but if I have buttermilk, cream, sour cream, or yogurt to use up, they work wonderfully well. For vegan mashed potatoes, I use a little vegetable stock and olive oil or a plant-based butter.

YIELD
The recipe below will make about 8 cups of mashed potatoes; but can be converted to just a few servings if you like. You will get about one cup of mashed potatoes for every half pound of raw potatoes you use. The gold potatoes I used here were half a pound each, about the size of an orange.

gold potatoes© Melissa Breyer

Perfect mashed potatoes

  • 4 pounds yellow potatoes (like Yukon Gold), cut in halves (or in 3-inch pieces if large)
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled (optional, see note)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste

1. Bring a large pot of water to boiling, add potatoes, garlic (if using), and salt. Cover partially and simmer over medium heat for 15 to 30 minutes, depending on size of potatoes. They should feel very tender when pierced with a fork, but not falling apart in the water.

2. Drain the potatoes and garlic and return them to the pot over high heat. (If you don't like skins, they can be removed when draining – save them for something else though!) Cook, tossing the potatoes and gently breaking them up, for two minutes, or until all the moisture is evaporated – if they start getting a little toasted, all the better. Remove from heat and mash with a potato masher or ricer – leave them lumpy or make them smooth, as you wish.

3. Meanwhile, in a separate saucepan, warm the butter, milk, and olive oil until the butter is melted. Add to the potatoes and stir until all of the liquid is absorbed, season with salt and pepper.

Note: Roasting garlic in the oven makes for a mellow, flavorful, velvety garlic which is great added to potatoes when mashing. But adding it to the potatoes while they are cooking is easier and doesn't require heating up the oven for something so small – and it comes out still mellow and flavorful.

ADDITIONS
Mashed potatoes do not need anything else, but if you're feeling adventurous, they make a splendid blank canvas. Just a few of many ideas on things to add: I never loved straight mashed sweet potatoes, but mixing sweet and regular potatoes in a mash is the best of both worlds. Or try adding sauteed leeks, roasted parsnips, steamed cauliflower, cooked beets, sauteed mushrooms, herbs, parmesan cheese, compound butter, seaweed butter, wasabi, pesto ... basically, open your fridge and see what's there.

A FUNNY ANECDOTE
One time I had the pleasure of eating Thomas Keller's Purée de Pommes de Terre, or potato purée. It was so sublime that I was completely stumped – how can someone make mashed potatoes (technically a purée, but still) taste like that? What is this magic? He is surely a wizard, I thought. Then while watching the chef's Master Class, well, the curtain was pulled back and the wizardry was revealed: They are basically one part potatoes to two parts cream and butter! As you can see in the recipe here, which calls for 750 grams of potatoes, 190 grams of cream, and 275 grams of butter. I felt retroactive heart pains just watching ... even so, I still think he is a wizard, and I will never forget those potatoes, but it was pretty funny.

Since many of us are attached to our own perfect mashed potatoes, what tricks or tips do you swear by?

Two tricks for perfect mashed potatoes
Learn how to master the mashed potato with a few simple tweaks.

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