The Brilliant Secret to Making Better Mashed Potatoes
Mashed potatoes are one of my specialties. Years of Thanksgivings under my belt have made me something of an expert. I make extra-smooth and velvety butter-laden versions for fancy dinner parties, and rustic barely-smashed skin-on versions for more casual gatherings. Mashed potatoes are my top-tier comfort food, desert island dish, and the thing I crave most the moment the weather turns. As such, I have learned some tricks.
Yukon gold are the perfect all-purpose mashing potatoes, but sometimes I use a combination of Russett and Yukons for special occasion potatoes. If I want a skin-on experience, but not too much skin, I use peeled and cubed potatoes for 1/3 of the weight, then add whole baby potatoes for just enough texture.
Softened room-temp butter is better than melted for mashing, as it emulsifies into the potatoes without making them greasy. A hand-masher is all you need for most versions, and if you want smoother potatoes, a ricer is your best friend, as mixers and processors risk gumminess.
Sour cream, crème fraiche, mascarpone, and cream cheese are all good ways of adding creaminess and texture without liquid, preventing the dreaded runny potato, and adding some excellent tang. Chives are almost always a must for me, freshly sprinkled on top just before serving to prevent them from wilting. I’m not a huge fan of add-ins like roasted garlic or other flavors, but you do you when it comes to your mash.
I will make my mashed potatoes up to two hours in advance and hold them in a slow cooker set on warm, or in a covered pot in a low oven, in either case with a clean linen kitchen towel under the lid to prevent condensation from dripping onto the surface.
But the most important mashed potato trick I have learned is to cook the potatoes in salted milk.
Potatoes are little sponges. They absorb liquids brilliantly, which is why they mash so well. But when you boil them in water, the liquid they are absorbing is just that, water, which can make for a less flavorful mash. By boiling the potatoes in salted milk, they are absorbing creaminess and seasoning, which makes them inherently more flavorful. Plus, they release their starches into the milk, thickening it naturally. Once drained, the potatoes often don’t need more than butter and other enrichers to make a perfect mash, but if any liquid is needed you have hot starchy milk at the ready to blend into your potatoes beautifully.
The process is easy: peel and cube your potatoes and put them into a deep pot, preferably a wide one to keep the volume of potatoes shallow. This means you’ll use less milk. Sprinkle the potatoes generously with kosher salt, as you would when salting meat before cooking. Pour in enough milk, whole or 2% preferred, to just come up to the level of the potatoes and turn the heat on medium high. Bring the milk to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, stirring frequently, until the potatoes are tender and easily pierced with a fork. Strain, reserving the hot milk, then mash according to your preferred recipe, adding the starchy milk if needed for liquid.
The bonus is that the starchy milk is a great base for a creamy soup. Just toss in any vegetables you like, from carrots to more potatoes, some onion or leek, and simmer till the vegetables are tender, then season to taste.