18 October 2012
It is no exaggeration to say that I love mashed potatoes (aah ... fluffy, buttery comfort food) and could happily eat them every day. I can't tell you how many meals I've been served where I've said to myself, "This would be sooo much better with mashed potatoes" than whatever side dish the chef had chosen. But you might be saying ...
"Mashed potatoes? Who needs to read a blog post about, or get a recipe for, mashed potatoes? You just make them, right?" Well, judging by all the bad ones I've eaten in my life, No! Though, truth be told, I even rather like some of the bad ones. But plain old mashed potatoes--not a fancy, enhanced version--can be stellar.
If you grew up with really good mashed potatoes, as I did, you know what I'm talking about. My mother made them so well that when I had them away from home I was stunned to discover mashed potatoes could be bad in any number of ways: bland, watery, lumpy, gummy, gluey, gooey, runny.
Of course, there's nothing difficult or even tricky about making mashed potatoes. It's just a matter of making them with care. I learned that from my mother, who had a way of making everything taste better than anyone else's version, even something with identical ingredients. Just taking an extra few seconds to dry out the boiled potatoes, an extra few strokes of the masher to get out those last lumps, another moment to taste and adjust the seasoning--a little care makes all the difference.
Apologies to many of you, I'm sure, but why put garlic in mashed potatoes? I'm sure there's garlic in the main dish. A meal should have a variety of flavors. If one dish has garlic, the others need not. I've been disappointed by many an expensive meal where everything--bread, main dish, side dishes and salad--was loaded with garlic. C'mon ... there are other flavors!
Perfect Mashed Potatoes
(Makes 4 to 6 servings)
3 pounds russet potatoes
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter
1/3 cup milk, perhaps a little more
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 Peel, rinse and quarter the potatoes (cut large potatoes into 6 pieces). Put them in a 3-quart saucepan and add 1 teaspoon salt and cold water to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer, loosely covered, about 20 minutes or until potatoes are very tender.
2 During the last 5 minutes, heat the butter and 1/3 cup of milk until the butter is melted. You may need to add up to another few tablespoons of milk at the last to get the proper consistency, but don't heat it with the butter as you might not need it.
3 Drain the potatoes and return them to low heat to dry the moisture out of the potatoes. Remove from the heat. Put the potatoes through a ricer or food mill, as I used to do when I was really fussy, or use a potato masher to mash them thoroughly. With wooden spoon, beat in the heated milk and butter and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and coarsely ground black pepper (maybe start with 1/4 teaspoon). You may need to add a little more milk to get the consistency you like. Taste and adjust seasoning.
Note: A few things that go beautifully with mashed potatoes: Chicken Fried Steak, Boeuf Bourguignon, Braised Brisket, London Broil, Pan-Seared Ribeye Steaks, Pork Chops and Gravy, Short Ribs Braised in Wine.