Mashed Potato Tips

November 19, 2008 20 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 minuscule 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 Thu 9 November 2017 9:48 pm

Comments (20)

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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.

    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!

    • Debbie Edwards says:

      Hi! My family has been making “make ahead mashed potatoes” with great success for years. The trick is to add extra moisture – your choice of milk, sour cream or cream cheese. There are different recipes. Use what suits your tastes.
      They can be heated in your oven if you have space or microwave. Stir often to fluff and distribute heat. Another good method if you have one big enough for your needs is a crock pot on low. Stirring of course.
      If you have time or can get someone else to bring them the crock pot method works great to heat and maintain if just cooked that day.
      Good luck! I hope you enjoy like we have. It really has helped to not have to mash when everything is ready.

  13. Joanie says:

    What is the best and easiest way to cook large volumes of mashed potatoes.? I have a party of about 180 people coming.

    • Did I read that right, 180 people? Wow! If it were me, I would contact a large catering company that does dinners for that amount of people and ask them how they prepare them and then keep them warm before serving. I’m sure they have all sorts of tricks they use including doing a lot of the cooking before hand but that’s going to effect of the finished product. I’m sure you have been to banquets that serve mashed potatoes as a side dish and they are just ok.
      A couple of tips I can give you are 1. Get your family and friends involved to help and 2. Whip them with a mixer to incorporate air into them. This will give them an airier presentation and you can use less potatoes. Good luck and please come back and let us know how they turn out. What are you serving with these mashed potatoes for 180 people?

      If any professional chefs catch this comment, please let us know how you would handle it. Thanks.

  14. Madeline Gaudreau says:

    I have a question. I am making a chicken dinner for 40 people. I am making mashed potatoes. I plan on cooking them and then use the ricer before I add the butter and milk and seasonings. If I use warm milk and melted butter , do you think they will still be hot enough. I am doing it the 22nd of June. Hope I have opinion soon.

    • If you make the potatoes just after cooking them, they should be but if you let them come to room temperature and then add hot milk and melted butter, I don’t think they will be. Just my opinion.

  15. Kathy says:

    I make garlic flavored mashed potatoes ahead

    4 to five pounds of potatoes Russet potatoes or more potatoes
    8 Oz cream cheese
    1 small container of sour cream 227 grams
    Two minced garlic cloves put in water
    Pepper to taste

    Cook potatoes and the minced garlic cloves in water.
    Add cream cheese (cut up in squares) sour cream and pepper. Mash with blender You can put a little margarine smoothly on top.
    and on bottom and around casserole dish. I use a paper towel to put it on casserole.
    When cool put tin foil on top and put in fridge, I have made it two days ahead and everyone loves them. Take out of fridge an hour or so before you bake. Bake at 300 for about 45 to sixty minutes.

  16. Sharon says:

    I have reheated mashed potatoes in the microwave (for a “leftovers” dinner), and I find that the trick is to mix in more milk before reheating them. I add enough milk to make them creamy again (as they are quite thick after being refrigerated). After heating in the microwave (stirring a couple times while heating), I whip them vigorously with a large fork.

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