Mashed Potatoes Frequently Asked Questions
Should I peel the potatoes before cooking?
This is purely a personal preference. I peel my potatoes first, but I also know people who leave the peels on and then peel them after they are cooked. This sounds like more work than I want to do, but it is an option.
Alternately, you could bundle the peels together in cheese cloth and boil them along with the potatoes like that technique I read about awhile ago.
How should I cook my potatoes for mashing?
Most people boil their potatoes. If you are going to boil yours, start your potatoes in cold water, turn the heat up to medium high and bring the potatoes to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the potatoes until you can pierce them with a fork with almost no resistance.
The time this takes depends on how many potatoes you have in your pan and how large or small you have cut them.
Can I bake my potatoes for mashing?
You can absolutely bake your potatoes for mashing. By nature, boiling introduces water to the potato and can dilute the flavor somewhat.
You can get rid of some of this water by letting the boiled potatoes dry over low heat in a lidded pot for about five minutes after draining. Baking very nicely sidesteps the issue of watery mashed potatoes.
Baking doesn't introduce any water. In fact, some of the water in the potato will evaporate in the oven, giving you a more concentrated potato flavor.
The only downside that I can see is that it takes longer to bake a potato than it does to boil one. If you plan ahead, though, that shouldn't be a problem.
Should I salt the water for my mashed potatoes?
If you are going to boil your potatoes, you should definitely salt the water. As when cooking pasta, this is the only way to get flavor into the potato. Well salted water will taste just like sea water.
You can also add pepper or even herbs to the cold water. Those flavors will be drawn into the potato right along with the salt.
I wasn't sure this would work, but I experimented with it one day, and the potatoes tasted wonderful--well seasoned and peppery--before I added additional seasonings.
When should I add the butter? The dairy?
This is how I mash my potatoes:
a. mash the potatoes alone with some salt and pepper
b. add the butter and continue mashing
c. add the dairy and mash some more.
d. Taste and add any additional seasonings until I like how they taste
Well, it turns out that this is actually the right way to mash potatoes. Just like when you make pie crust, you work in the butter to coat the flour and limit gluten formation.
The butter (or whatever fat you're using) coats the starch granules and helps to keep them intact and from getting gluey when you add the other liquid. Once the fat is thoroughly mashed into the potatoes, go ahead and add the other liquid.
Can I add other ingredients to my mashed potatoes?
Of course you can. After all, they're your potatoes! You can mash in fresh herbs, cheeses--anything from cream cheese to cheddar to Swiss--crumbled bacon, anything that a) sounds good and b) goes with whatever else you're serving.
For example, for a British-inspired twist to mashed potatoes, try mashing in some mustard powder and cheddar cheese.
Having roast beef? Mash in some prepared horseradish and some roasted garlic. You don't have to use all potatoes, either.Substitute part of the potatoes with turnips or parsnips. If you're feeling very gourmet, mash in some cooked celery root or sunchoke.
Half and half?
Really? I'm watching my figure! I mash my potatoes with half and half because that's how my mom did it, and I like them that way.
You can use any dairy that you choose: buttermilk, 1% milk, skim milk, whole milk are all options. If you're not concerned with the calories, consider mashing your potatoes with sour cream, full fat plain yogurt or even some heavy cream.
I'm lactose intolerant.
Can I still make mashed potatoes? Just because most mashed potatoes contain dairy doesn't mean that they have to. You can certainly mash your potatoes with any broth or stock.
You can even use some of your potato (or other vegetable) cooking water as part of your liquid.Experiment with using plain soy milk, rice milk or similar.
If you have a juicer, mash your potatoes with some fresh vegetable juice. Celery would be especially tasty, I think. Stay away from brightly colored juices, though--the color might end up being a little weird, and remember, we eat with our eyes first!
I'm watching my cholesterol.
Do I have to use butter in my mashed potatoes? Just like dairy seems to be the go-to liquid for mashed potatoes, butter is the go-to fat.
Substitute for some or all of the butter with olive oil. I like to use extra virgin olive oil, because I like the flavor, but you can use regular olive oil if you don't like how assertive extra virgin olive oil is.
Of course, if you're not watching your cholesterol, try using some duck fat, chicken fat or even some bacon fat.
What can I do with my leftover mashed potatoes?
Mashed potatoes taste best right after you cook them. We rarely have any leftover mashed potatoes because we really like them, but if you find yourself with some leftover mashed potatoes on your hands, here are a couple of ideas.
a. Reheat them on the stove--not in the microwave--in a covered pan. Add a little bit of butter and cooking liquid of your choice. Reheat them over medium heat, stirring occasionally only after they start warming up. The starches firm up in the refrigerator, so it will be easier to incorporate the extra ingredients once they warm up.
b. Mix in an egg for every cup of leftover potatoes you have. You can also add in some grated Parmesan cheese. Mix together well and scoop ¼ cup portions onto a hot griddle. Spread to about ½" thick. Cook until golden brown, flip like a pancake, and cook the other side.
c. Make cream of potato soup. Mix leftover mashed potatoes with chicken stock and a touch of cream, heat and season to taste.d. Heat them up and spread them in a pie pan to make a "crust." Fill with any savory meat and/or vegetable filling and bake for an unconventional "pot pie" or upside down shepherd's pie.
Can I Make My Mashed Potatoes the Day Before?
I've been getting a lot of emails asking if I have a recipe or technique for preparing mashed potatoes the morning of or even the day before Thanksgiving. My answer is no. There are recipes out there for precooking mashed potatoes but I don't agree with any of them.
It's my opinion; mashed potatoes are one of the most important elements of Thanksgiving dinner especially since they are the conduit for turkey gravy and how I love turkey gravy. To not cook, mash and serve right away is a bad idea and one I don't subscribe to trying at your own holiday dinner.
But because there are some of you who don't have a choice, will be pressed for time and must cook your potatoes before the rest of the meal, you may want to check out Shirley O. Corriher's recipe for Two-Step Mashed Potatoes from her cookbook CookWise. I have not tried her recipe but CookWise is a great cookbook and it has been well received over the years.
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