Growing up, I only had ever eaten instant mashed potatoes, and I thought they were the best thing ever. And it’s easy to see why; mashed potatoes are at the top of so many people’s list of comfort foods. What is it about a basic bowl of a starchy vegetable that can make us feel loved and safe? My guess is it is the butter. Butter pretty much rules.
On the surface, mashed potatoes seem like they should be one the simplest side dishes to make. You take potatoes, boil them, and then mash the snot out of them. Top with butter and serve. Boom, done. With very little extra work though, your mashed potatoes could go from a decent side, to straight up winning the Thanksgiving dinner table.
Everyone has tater preferences, but whether you are in the lump or no lump camp, I’ve never heard anyone say “man, I sure love me some mashed spuds that taste like a forkful of glue”. Potatoes contain starches that are activated by smashing/mashing/blending. Too little mixing and they can taste underwhelming. But too much mixing and you are left with gravy topped paste. Not that I like gravy. Gross. The secret to the best mashed potatoes is to find a happy medium, and I accomplish this with a ricer.
A ricer is basically a potato press that works like a giant garlic press. You put cooked spuds in the hopper, push down, and potato “rice” comes out. It is how many people process their potatoes for homemade gnocchi. It results in a fluffy bowl of spuds that only need limited dressing up, a quick stir, and they’re ready to go.
The ricer is an amazing product, but there are some other tried and true tricks that can make sure your judgy Aunt Gladys keeps her trap shut about the quality of your cooking. For showing stopping potatoes, I use the rule of five:
- Use a mixture of different kinds of potatoes. Starchy, waxy, and baking spuds all add their own perfect quality to your side dish. I usually use a mix of russets, golds, and a few red potatoes (those buggers are delicious, but HARD to peel). If it is in your budget, look for organic potatoes, as their conventionally grown cousins are very high on the list of contaminated veg.
- Peel, rinse, and cut your potatoes to a uniform size. I cut a normal-sized potato into 16 pieces. Large chunks will result in longer cooking time, and pieces too small can turn water-logged quickly. I have had this peeler for 14 years, and it has never let me down. Comfy grip, still sharp, and works every time. TWSS.
- Cook the potatoes in cold water without any added salt. Add your spuds to a pot of cold water, and then bring to a boil. Bonus: you can even peel, cut, and place taters in the water the morning of Thanksgiving. Keep a lid on the top, and they’ll be ready to cook later in the day without any oxidation (browning).
- Warm the “extras” you’re adding to the spuds ahead of time. Cold butter, cold milk/cream, and cold anything else will react negatively to the nice toasty warm taters you are ricing. Plus, you’ll have to mix everything longer to combine, which will activate the starch and lead to glue. A vicious circle my friends. A vicious circle.
- Use a ricer. But only if you want to make amazing spuds. Proceed with caution, because you will be volun-told to bring mashed potatoes to all future family gatherings.
Regardless if you are feeding a crowd, or just have a really big craving for some buttery carbs (and frankly, when are you not?), serving a giant bowl of the best mashed potatoes will be a surefire hit. Nay, they will rock the socks off of you and all of your guests. Which will be super awkward for my friend Elaina who has issues with feet.
The Best Mashed Potatoes
- 5 lbs of a mixture of potatoes gold, russets, and red potatoes are my fav
- 4 oz half of a brick of cream cheese, softened
- 8 tbsp of butter 1 stick, softened
- chicken stock cream, or milk, warmed
- Salt and pepper to taste
Fill one-third of the largest stockpot you own with super cold water. Peel potatoes and rinse. Cut in half down the middle the long way. Then cut each oval down the middle (the long way again). Cut each section into fours; each potato should be cut into 16 pieces. Place in the stockpot. Add enough water to cover all the spuds completely. If you want to make the potatoes later, just set the pot aside until you're ready to start. If ready to cook, bring the pot to a boil. Boil for two minutes, and then reduce to medium-high and cook until the tip of a knife can pierce through one of the potatoes.
Drain the potatoes, and add the softened butter and cream cheese to the bottom of the pot that the potatoes were just in. The butter should start sliding around the bottom and melting. The cream cheese will start to look like me in the sun when it gets hotter than 82 degrees - sad and squishy. Using a large spoon, fill your ricer halfway and press the potatoes over the pot. Repeat until all the potatoes have been through the ricer.
Using a large spatula, fold the potatoes into the butter and cream cheese. Slowly add your chicken stock, cream or milk until the potatoes are the exact consistency you want. Salt and pepper to taste.
One of my favorite variations on traditional mashed potatoes is to add a drizzle of wasabi paste. The taste is insane and each bite is a mixture of spicy, creamy, and salty.