Written by Cheryl Arkison of Backseat Gourmet
Thanksgiving is my all-time favourite holiday. I love autumn immensely, and without the attachment of religious significance it seems like there is less pressure to perform on the holiday. Rather, it is a gathering of souls, all around a table.
In my university days we started a tradition of hosting friends for Thanksgiving, dinner for those of us too far from home and/or too poor to get there. It carried on through grad school and afterwards. Even now, we seem to gather with friends more so than our immediate families. It was always a classic feast, fueled by wine, stories, and laughter. Comfort and peace too.
Regardless of the company, when the Thanksgiving turkey arrives on the table there isn’t a single person who thinks, “Hey, I wish I had a baked potato to eat with that.” No, we all want a pile of mashed potatoes with a pool of gravy to accompany our turkey. Dan Quayle jokes aside.
Lumps, bumps, and insipid flavour mark the vast majority of mashed potato options we get served. But it really isn’t that hard to make good mashed potatoes. That is, potatoes that stand on their own and not just as a carrier for gravy.
Choose the Right Potato
What matters most when it comes to mashed potatoes is the type of potato used and how you mash it. Choose wrong and your pretty much guarantee either lumps or gluey potatoes. And no amount of gravy can cover that up.
The classic russet potato, with its slightly wrinkly brown skin and multi-purpose texture is a good one for mashed potatoes. You might describe the texture as mealy, as opposed to firm. This is because they have a low moisture content and high starches. Idaho is another good mashing potato.
Stay away from fingerlings, those soft and red skinned new potatoes, and the fancy ones in blue.
Of course, if you don’t mind a few lumps and less than ethereal potatoes, then go with your favourite reds (like I often do).
Hands down, the best tool for fluffy mashed potatoes is the potato ricer. Picture a giant garlic press and you’ve got it. Of course, in my small kitchen gadgetry is kept to a minimum, therefore I have no ricer. But I do like my masher. And use a masher you must!
I’ve seen recipes and posts about using an electric mixer for potatoes. I do not recommend this. It is very easy to get gluey potatoes this way. Work the starches a bit too much and it can happen.
So, roll up your sleeves and get a work out in. You want to push hard with your potato masher and go through the pot well to get through all the lumps. In my house this is my husband’s job. I can’t get him to cook anything else but he knows that mashing potatoes is his job!
There is no real recipe for mashed potatoes. And if you come across one, I suggest throwing it out. Mashed potatoes is simple, easy cooking. Like everything else in the kitchen, it takes a bit of time and effort. In fact, the most irritating commercial to me at the moment is the one that tells people “Who has time to wash, peel, and cut potatoes?” It’s just potatoes people, not rocket science.
- All you need to do is wash, peel, and cut your potatoes. Aim for a consistency in size.
- Place them in a large pot of cold water, well covered. Bring to a boil on high heat. Cook until a fork goes through a potato quite easily.
- Pour your cooked potatoes into a strainer then pour them back into the cooking pot. It’s okay if a little liquid goes with them. Mash immediately.
- Stir in your preferred additions.
All Dressed Up
At a bare minimum I mash my potatoes with butter. After that I believe it is masher’s prerogative on additions. My husband, for example always uses butter and sour cream (plain yoghurt in a pinch), well seasoned.
The classic combo is butter and milk. That addition of dairy helps the creaminess, but isn’t necessary.
Here is a list of great additions for your potatoes:
- Roasted garlic
- Horseradish or wasabi
- Cheese – mascarpone, cream cheese, cheddar, blue (anything that melts easily)
- Caramelized onions
- Sauteed mushrooms
- Bacon or ham
- Mashed celeriac (celery root)
- Sundried tomatoes
- Or, leave the peels on for flavour and fibre
You can even roast the potatoes first and then mash them, for something entirely different. Cheri demonstrates that with her Roasted Mashed Potatoes.
Just remember that if you add in anything that isn’t already smooth, you are de facto adding lumps to your mashed potatoes. Not a bad strategy if they were a touch lumpy to begin with.
What is your favourite addition to mashed potatoes?