Mashed potatoes are not only the perfect comfort food but an excellent building block for numerous dishes–shepherd’s pie, pierogies, colcannon, etc. They are deeply mutable to deal with the items you have in your house, and you can fry any leftovers up for mashed potatoes fritters the next day. Versatile. Cheap. Possibility for experimentation? It’s my brand!
Obviously all things start with the potato. You do not have to get fancy here. A cheap bag of Russets from Aldi will be fine. But truly this recipe can be done the same way with Yukon Golds, new potatoes, farmer’s market Kennebecs, even sweet potatoes. And why stop with the potato? There are plenty of other root vegetables that can be given the same treatment–turnips, rutabaga, kohlrabi, celeriac, so on and so on.
You can also mix and match. I personally like to toss in a potato or two when I’m mashing other root vegetables just to mellow the flavor a bit, but this is an opportunity for you to experiment.
To Peel or Not to Peel
Sometimes with peeling choice, you are given no option. If you’re working with sweet potatoes or root vegetables that aren’t potatoes, you’ll want to peel since the skin can be tough and chewy. Or, if you’re like me this week, your potatoes are starting to get a wee bit wrinkly. Off goes the skin! (A quick reminder to not put your peelings into the garbage disposal! It can gum it up with added starch.)
However, if you’re using a thinner-skinned potatoes, the skin adds a nice textural difference that people really like. At this point, the choice to peel is entirely up to you.
After you’ve made your decision, chop your products into similarly-sized pieces, so they will cook evenly.
Chef Tip: If you’re using a potato and a harder root vegetable, chop the latter a bit smaller so they’ll cook at the same rate.
When you’re boiling your potatoes, make sure to add salt (and maybe some bay leaf?) to your water. A generous sprinkle will do; it’s doesn’t need to “taste of the sea” the same way that pasta water should.
If want to be extra fancy, make your boiling liquid half water and half milk.
When the biggest piece is fork tender (i.e. it flakes apart when pierced with a fork), drain the potatoes.
There are a lot of methods here that can potentially be used for a mashed potato. The most common is a traditional kitchen masher. (I recommend the Oxo Good Grips potato masher.) This is the best all-purpose tool and will work with any type of mash you want to make.
However, I fell in love with my multi-purpose ricer that my partner got for me a few years back. It presses the potatoes through different-sized grates to make a smoother mash overall. (It also makes spaetzle!) The downside of this, though, is that you cannot use the ricer on harder root vegetables unless you boil them to near death. Also, you MUST peel your potatoes if you’re going to use this method, so no rustic, skin-on mashed taters here.
If you’re mashing your potatoes, you can start this process during the mash, but with a ricer, you’ll want to rice all of the potatoes first before adding anything.
At this point, there are many ways to go to flavor a mashed potato. Your potatoes (unless you boiled them with milk) are vegan, so you’ve got a blank canvas to work with depending on your tastes, your family’s food restrictions, of what’s in your refrigerator at the moment.
- Milk is the most common, though certainly you can use cream or half and half. I tend towards the latter.
- Non-dairy milk can also be used. I recommend whatever you have that is the least sweet. Soy milk is a good option here.
- Stock can be used alongside either type of milk to add a little meaty (or mushroomy) richness
- Alternatively, if you are lacking all of the above, you can boil your potatoes longer and use a bit more of your fat of choice.
- Butter is obviously the most beloved iteration. There’s nothing better than a pile of mashed potatoes with a melting pat on the top.
- OR IS THERE? I personally prefer olive oil to butter in my mashed potatoes. Using a GOOD (this is the key) extra virgin olive oil brings out a complexity to the potatoes and the peppery notes of the oil.
- Or mix and match! Often I’ll use butter with the potatoes and top with olive oil at the end.
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Roasted garlic is delicious in a mashed potato. Chopped garlic is also fine, but note that raw garlic is going to be a lot spicier than the former.
- Herbs of your choosing, ideally fresh and chopped. Everyone loves a potato and chive.
- You can also mix in greens here to add beautiful color to your mashed potatoes as well as textual and flavor differences. If you’re using a heartier green, make sure to blanch it first.
Add your fat and spice and then slowly add your liquid. Keep mashing as you go. Differences in the types of potato/root vegetable mixture, cook time, mash type, and peeling will change how much liquid you need. No need to follow a recipe. Keep adding slowly. Then mash or stir again, and taste. When the flavor and the consistency is as desired, it’s time to eat!
Top with additional fat of choice and any chopped fresh herbs you like. Eat when it’s piping hot and the fat of choice is wafting up towards your now-very-hungry face.
To gravy or not to gravy is another question for another day.