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~ Basic Machinations for Mashed Potato Perfection ~

IMG_0420'Twas the season for mashed potatoes.  First there was the Thanksgiving turkey feast, followed by the Christmas prime rib feeding frenzy, and, it's not quite over yet.  The clock is ticking down to the mother-of-all pork festivals:  New Year's Day.  This morning, in a moment of reflection, it occurred to me that the combined total of these three holidays equates to approximately 50-60 pounds  of heavy hunks of meat roasted, and, about 25-30 pounds of potatoes mashed.

IMG_0436It's hard to imagine my food world without mashed potatoes. They are an institution -- a way of life. They're the quintessential side-dish served year-round at elegant celebrations, casual get-togethers and weekday meals.  They're revered by young and old alike -- they make everyone happy.  It may outwardly seem like every cook or chef has their favorite method for achieving "the perfect mash", but, in truth, the really good recipes vary little.  Granted, some folks cook their potatoes with the skins on, others peel them first; some folks add warmed cream or milk, others add buttermilk or sour cream, and; some folks like their potatoes silky smooth, while others like them slightly chunky, but: they all follow the same basic potato principles -- those handed down from generation to generation.

6a0120a8551282970b0163055c04a6970d 6a0120a8551282970b016768dd410c970b IMG_0340~ Step 1.  Choosing the right potatoes:  There are three basic tuber options for making traditional, classic mashed potatoes like GrandMa made.  

Russets (baking potatoes/starchy potatoes), Reds (boiling potatoes/waxy potatoes) and Golds (all-purpose potatoes/middle-of-the road potatoes).  Baking potatoes are high in starch, which makes them ideal for making mashed potatoes because their drier texture keeps them light and fluffy when mashed.  Boiling potatoes are considered to be waxy, meaning they hold their shape great during the boiling process, so, the trait that makes them great for potato salad, makes them undesirable for mashing because they tend to get lumpy and heavy when mashed. All-purpose potatoes, moister than the baking potato and less waxy than the boiling potato, not only mash well, they are adored, and preferred, for their golden color and buttery flavor.

~ Step 2IMG_0337Weigh & wash, peel & chunk:  Weigh.  If you learn one thing from me on Kitchen Encounters, it should be:  "nothing in the the food world is uniform in size or weight", and, "in order for pieces of any type of food to cook evenly (and at the same rate of speed), they need to be cut into even-sized pieces."  GrandMa might have told you to use "six large potatoes", I'm telling you to use:

3  pounds Yukon gold potatoes.  

Wash. Rinse the potatoes under cold water, and, gently scrub them, if need be, clean of any dirt.  Peel.  Using a vegetable peeler, remove and discard the skin. Chunk. Cut into even-sized 1 1/4"-1 1/2" chunks, placing them in an 8-quart stockpot with enough cold water to cover by 1" as you work.    Big chunks take longer to cook through and small cubes cook faster, but, small cubes absorb more water too, which is not desired.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d0b436f3970c~ Step 3.  To the cold water add:

1 teaspoon sea salt

Bring potatoes to a boil over high heat, then, adjust the temperature to a gentle but steady simmer.  Cook until fork tender.  Once simmering, mine take 5-6 minutes.  Immediately drain into a colander and immediately return potatoes to still hot stockpot, then, return the pot to the still warm stovetop.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d0b43735970c IMG_0350                                      ~ Step 4. While potatoes are coming to a boil, prep and have ready:

6  tablespoons salted butter, cut

1  cup heavy or whipping cream, gently warmed in the microwave

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, for seasoning

IMG_0371 IMG_0361~ Step 5. When the drained potatoes are returned to the stovetop, toss in the butter.  Using a large spoon, stir until the butter has melted and all of the potatoes are coated.  Lightly season with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, then add half of the cream.

IMG_0351Knowing when to mash and when to rice.  A potato ricer is a handy gadget to keep on hand in your kitchen, but, it is completely wrong in the case of boiled Gold potatoes. That said, the ricer works great when you are using baked, dry Russets to make mashed potatoes -- which get scooped out of the potato skins and into the ricer.

Note:  NEVER use a food processor to make mashed potatoes, unless it is sticky, gluey glop you desire.

IMG_0387 IMG_0381~ Step 6. Using a hand-held potato masher in conjunction with a large spoon, begin the process of gradually adding cream, mashing and stirring, and, tasting and seasoning, until desired consistency is reached. Stop when they're to your liking.  It's ok if you don't add all  of the cream.

IMG_0392Tip from Mel.  Mashed potatoes are best served immediately, but, truthfully, left in the warm pot, covered, they "hold" just fine for 20-30 minutes.  Reheating them is, of course, slightly-compromising, but, if the situation is unavoidable, opt for the microwave, not the stovetop!

Note:  I dolloped the potatoes into this container for a visual of what 3 pounds of baked Russets or boiled Golds will yield.  This is certainly enough for 6-8 hearty 3/4- 1-cup family-style servings, or, more if you are portioning, plating and serving.

Top w/a pat of butter, season w/a bit of additional S&P, and...

IMG_0438... take a taste of mashed-potato heaven:

IMG_0453Basic Machinations for Mashed Potato Perfection:  Recipe yields 8 cups.

Special Equipment List:  vegetable peeler; cutting board; chef's knife; 8-quart stockpot; colander; large spoon; vegetable masher

6a0120a8551282970b014e8858f3e9970dCook's Note:  There's another potato I didn't talk about, and, I love it mashed or smashed too. Check out ~ Smashed Maple Sweet Potatoes ~ in Categories 4 or 18.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014) 


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