Mashed Potato Tips

November 19, 2008 13 Comments

Mashed Potato Tips

The Two Most Frequently Asked Questions About Mashed Potatoes

Potatoes have gotten a bad rap over the years. But the fault doesn’t lie with the potato, which is actually quite good for us. Rather, the fault lies in all the fatty and heavy ingredients we add to/put on top of potatoes.

The holiday season is one time when we would prefer not to worry about all of that, though. I know that at the Thanksgiving table, there is nothing I look forward to more than rich and creamy mashed potatoes, and I refuse to apologize for it.

Mashed potatoes are a simple dish – comfort food at its best. But, for all their simplicity, people do tend to ask the same questions about making mashed potatoes year after year. So, bookmark this article or print it out because, here are Reluctant Gourmet’s definitive answers to this pair of persistent potato queries. And don’t forget to check out my recipe for great mashed potatoes.

Help! I have 16 coming for dinner. How many potatoes should I allow per person?

The most common answer to this question is to allow 1/3 to 1/2 pound of raw potatoes per person. This translates to between 5 and 8 oz. of potatoes per person. That’s the simple answer, but as with most seemingly straightforward questions, there are many variables that must be considered.

Remember, you’ll be mixing those potatoes with other ingredients, so for each 8 oz. of raw potato, you could potentially have up to 1 pound of mashed potatoes. And while I might load up with a majestic mound of mashers in the middle of my plate and then carefully place miniscule portions of cranberry, green beans, turkey and dressing around the edges, many people will want to give equal time to all of the other traditional Thanksgiving offerings.

    1. How are you going to make your mashed potatoes? If you’re mashing them with chicken broth and some light margarine, you might consider allowing closer to 8 oz. of potato per person, but if your plans include creme fraiche, cream cheese, sour cream, heavy cream or other rich and calorie-dense ingredients, go with no more than 5 ounces of raw potatoes per person.
    2. Who are you serving? If your holiday table is decidedly child-heavy, allow maybe 2 oz. of raw potato per child. If you will be entertaining the entire defensive line of the Philadelphia Eagles, you might go for closer 10-12 oz. of raw potatoes per person. And if any of your dinner guests are on Atkin’s or are Somersizing, throw out all your calculations.
    3. What else will you be serving? I’m a fan of starches, so I’m all for the stuffing-mashed potato-big fat dinner roll trifecta, but if you’re trying to offer a balance of proteins, carbs and fats at your holiday table, consider the other starches on the menu. If you’re serving sweet potatoes, any other root vegetable such as carrots, parsnips or turnips, stuffing or dressing, rolls or biscuits or even another potato dish, you might choose to cut back on the potatoes to only 3-4 oz. or so per person.
    4. How will you be preparing your potatoes? If you’re just straight-up mashing the potatoes by hand, you will end up with a denser end product than if you use your mixer. If you whip your potatoes, they will increase in volume because of whipping in some air, so you can probably get away with 3-4 oz. potatoes per person if you are whipping them. When hand mashing, stick with 5-8 oz.

Help! I only have so many burners on my stove top. Can I make the mashed potatoes ahead and reheat them in the oven the next day?

The short answer to that question is “No, please don’t do that.” But, since I want you to understand why I’m telling you what I’m telling you, I will elaborate.

Potatoes, especially the ones that we like to use for mashed potatoes (Russets and even Yukons), contain large starch granules. When we cook them the starch granules swell up, or gelatinize, giving us the light and fluffy texture that we expect in a potato. Agitating the potatoes while they are still warm breaks up these fluffy starch granules. That’s how we get a nice and creamy mashed potato. Here’s the problem, though. Once your wonderful warm and creamy mashed potatoes cool, the starches firm up and what you’re left with is cold and clumpy glue.

If you absolutely must reheat your mashed potatoes, cook and mash just the potatoes the day before. Then, reheat with your additional ingredients right before serving. Of course, you’ll still be left with the issue of burner space.

An alternative is to mash the potatoes the day before with all of your other ingredients, but with more liquid than what you would normally use. You’ll want the potatoes to be a bit looser in consistency than how you would normally serve them. When you reheat them, your potatoes should be at about the right consistency for serving.

Another trick I have seen for reheating mashed potatoes is to hold them in a crock pot set on low. This might be an option for you if you have the counter space. I would recommend stirring them periodically to keep them as evenly-heated as possible.

I don’t think that you should try and reheat the potatoes without agitating them, unless you are going for a more sliceable end-product. If you want a fresh-mashed consistency, you’re going to have to use a masher again or at least stir them vigorously with a spoon.

And there you have it. I do hope that I have helped you to consider the many variables inherent in planning potato quantities as well as given you my best advice about reheating mashed potatoes. I hope you have a healthy and happy holiday season, and think of me kindly when you hear someone say, “Pass the potatoes please!”

Last modified on Wed 16 July 2014 9:15 am

Comments (13)

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  1. Greg says:

    Hi all,
    the rule of thumb I have seen in cheffing text books is that mashed potatoes can be held warm for up to three hours with no loss of quality.

    However, you can hold cooked, un-mashed potatoes in the fridge for up to three days before they take on the “old chip” smell.
    Then just before serving, place in boiling water/microwave till hot, and mash.

  2. snooky doodle says:

    wow i just discovered your blog and its a great for a novice in cooking like me. Thanks for the info and recipes :)

  3. jfield says:

    Just to underscore the don’t make them ahead rule, my mom made some mashed potatoes for a family meal yesterday (pre-Thanksgiving, since we’ll be out of town). At any rate, she thought it would be fun to try “Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes” from a recipe she found in the paper: Yukon Golds, cream cheese, sour cream and I’m not sure what else. Everything goes in a 9X13 Pyrex dish, paprika gets sprinkled all over the top and then finished w/pats of butter and refrigerated. When ready to serve, you reheat them in a 350 degree oven until hot.

    They tasted just like instant potatoes. They were smooth to the point of slick, were much looser than I like them, and they seriously tasted like they came from a box.

    Learn from my mom’s experiment, and do what RG says–don’t make mashed potatoes ahead! Happy Thanksgiving, everyone:)

  4. Lydia says:

    I came from a family that tries to keep all food preparion to a minum on Saturday. Much was fixed on Friday and then reheated for dinner the next day. That’s made me fond of reheated mashed potatoes. They would be completely made (butter, milk ect.) and then just popped in the oven. Maybe it was the way my mom made them but they puffed up during the reheating and were light and fluffy.

  5. star says:

    i have a catering company, and i can not have everything coming off the stove at the same time as everything comes out of the oven, so i cook and mash the potatoes ahead (the same afternoon) so they are ready mashed and spread in a baking dish with dollops of butter , and sprinkled with paprika on top.
    depending on how much potatoes you have to heat ,i give it about 1/2 an hour in the oven. it heats the potatoes and crisps up the top,,, very delicious and takes the stress off.

  6. laura says:

    for mashed potatoes..can I boil the potatoes the night before, then mash them the next day? if so, any extra tips.
    thanks!

    Hi Laura, you could but they wouldn’t taste very good in my opinion. I don’t have a scientific answer for you for why, but suggest you give it a practice run and see if this will work for you. I know how difficult it is to get everything prepared on game day but there are some shortcuts just not worth it and when it comes to mashed potatoes, don’t take any shortcuts if you don’t have to. – RG

  7. Chef Jeff says:

    I agree with the always make it fresh, but there are times when making them ahead just makes sense. There are a few ways, simmer (never boil) in even chunks and when fork tender add your butter but do not mash, just coat them over (to cut off all air contact), when it is time to reheat simmer some milk or cream and add the potatoes to it, cover and steam until hot – them mash and season with salt, white pepper and nutmeg (easy on the nutmeg, there potatoes not pumpkin pie). There is also something called “magic mashed potatoes” where you peel, toss with oil (once again to cut off air contact) and bake at 200 for 45 minutes, then add to cold water and simmer till fork tender – add cream, butter and seasonings when mashing. Chill, to reheat just add some cream or milk to a pan and once again, lightly steam until they are warm, stir to hot and serve. **Something with preheating the starch structure within the potato helps keep them from becoming gummy. Have not figured it out fully yet, but a very cool trick.

    Hey Jeff, great tips and advice. Thank you for sharing these thoughts and look forward to hearing more from you. – RG

  8. debbi says:

    how can you reheat mashed potatoes with a crock pot and how long does it take?

    Hi Debbi, thanks for writing and Happy Thanksgiving. I have never heard of reheating mashed potatoes in a crock pot but if you check out Chef Jeff’s comment right above this, you may get some ideas on how to do it. – RG

  9. Darlene says:

    If you must reheat mashed potatoes you cannot reheat them too long or they will taste like they came from a box. I’m not sure what happns to them but they aquire a strange and undesirable flavor. Reheat them just until the right temp and then serve

  10. Nayeli says:

    So I’m trying to figure out if I should still eat mashed potatoes that I made yesterday. The thing is, is that I completely forgot to store them in the fridge. The color and consistency has sustained itself so is it a problem if I just reheat them??

    Nayeli, the fact that you are even asking if you can eat them and not get sick should tell you that you will not enjoy them. I wouldn’t. – RG

  11. BJ says:

    Actually, it’s not the fat and heavy stuff in the mashed potatos, it’s the startch in the potatos that causes a spike in your blood sugar. Potatos ARE bad. You might as well eat sugar. Fat isn’t the problem, that’s why America is more overweight and obease as a result of our “low fat diets.” That said, mash potatos are a must for Thanksgiving! Thanks for the tips on making them.

  12. Can you please tell me how to reheat mash potatoes, made with red potatoes, margarine and milk , when stored in the fridge, over night . They just don’t taste the same and go lumpy. Why ?

    • Hi Celia, in the article I give some ideas for reheating mashed potatoes but I’m no sure you can ever get them close to as good as when freshly made. Edible, yes but great, no. I’m guessing it has something to do with the amount of starch in potatoes. Not being a food scientist, I can’t tell you for sure but I would think the starch clumps up causing the lumps. Forget about the next day, I can remember my parents forcing me to eat cold, lumpy mashed potatoes on the same night they were served. It was part of that clean your entire plate days. Yuck!

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