Mashed potatoes are a meal staple that brings together so many foods into one amazing bite that we can't stop going back for more. There's no side dish quite as comforting or as loved. It's a side dish that deserves to be the main. I would bet that when they are on your plate, they are the first thing your fork goes for. Am I right?
Want to know how to make the best ones? It's all in the technique and the basic ingredients that elevate them to another level.
5 Keys to the Best Mashed Potatoes
- Cook the potatoes whole with the skin on. You want dry potatoes since water doesn't taste like anything, but butter, cream and the potatoes sure do.
- Start with cold water for even cooking and so the skin doesn't break.
- Use a potato ricer to make them extra fluffy and remove the lumps.
- Add softened butter first, then hot cream.
- Don't overmix or they will get gummy. Gently fold in the ingredients.
- Use the right ratio of butter, cream, potatoes and Kosher salt.
- Taste, taste, taste. Taste before they are "done." Do they need more butter? Cream? Salt? All potatoes are different and absorb differently so they will need some adjustments.
Why Cook the Potatoes Whole with the Skin On?
Dry Potatoes Are Key to Fluffy and Flavorful
- They absorb less water: Water doesn't taste like anything and waterlogged potatoes won't take on the butter and cream like dry potatoes will and they won't be as "creamy." The key is to have dry potatoes and then incorporate the butter and hot cream.
Cooking the potatoes whole (even with the skin on) is best way to achieve this because they will absorb little water compared to cut-up potatoes. If you still want to peel and quarter the potatoes, you can dry them out in the drained pot or in the oven.
- More potato flavor: The skin has a lot of potato flavor, and when they are cooked with the skin-on, they keep more of that flavor and lose less to the water.
- Easier and quicker to peel: Peeling the cooked potatoes is also quicker. The peel will be gone with a couple of rubs with a clean kitchen towel. Just be careful, they are hot potatoes. 🙂
Yes, cooking the potatoes whole will take longer. Just start a little earlier and the result is worth it.
What You Need
- Large pot - I like a 4-quart saucepot.
- Potato ricer
- Small saucepan for warming the cream
- Stiff rubber spatula
- Potatoes - Yukon Gold are my favorite for mashed, but you can also use Russets.
- High quality butter (since you will really be tasting it)
- Heavy cream (go for it!) or half and half. Skip milk if you want amazing rich results.
- Diamond kosher salt
- Pepper - I prefer white pepper, but black pepper is good too if you want to see it.
More Than You Think
Potatoes are a vehicle for fat, which is flavor. Combining plenty of fat in the form of butter and heavy cream with the potatoes is a requirement for the best-tasting mashed potatoes.
Potatoes need fat. They are built to absorb it. Low-fat milk is a no-no. All heavy cream is richer, but not totally necessary. A good compromise is to use half and half or heavy cream with whole milk.
Salt is also something mashed potatoes need plenty of. More often than not, mashed potatoes are under-seasoned. Use the right type of salt so they don't taste too salty. I prefer to use Diamond kosher salt and season as I go and always taste at the end before serving to make sure they are properly seasoned.
The Basic Ratio
You don't want to have to look at a recipe. Just remember the process and the basic ratio. Also, keep in mind that each potato will be slightly different. Maybe it needs more or less dairy to be creamy, so adjust as needed.
|1 lb||¼ cup||½ cup|
|2 lb||½ cup||1 cup|
How to Purée Potatoes and Remove Lumps
Puréed mashed potatoes are a total luxury that is super easy to achieve.
A potato ricer is my favorite tool to remove all the lumps and make the fluffiest potatoes. You can also use a food mill or if you want Thomas Keller French Laundry results, use a tamis with a scraper for true potato purée.
Never "purée" the potatoes in a blender or a food processor. This will ruin the texture and make them gummy.
Lumpy potatoes are okay too (if that's the intent). They are more rustic and definitely have their place on the plate.
Top It Like It's Hot
A quick garnish can go a long way in leveling up the presentation of your beloved dish. A pat of butter in the center, a sprinkle of chives, parsley, thyme or a fresh grind of pepper, and even some cheese are some examples of ways to garnish your mashed potatoes.
- Buy potatoes that are a similar size so they are finished cooking at the same time.
- Cook the potatoes whole with the skin on. If you do peel them, don't cut the potatoes too small or they can get waterlogged.
- Start with cold water for simmering the potatoes, so they cook evenly and it prevents the skin from breaking.
- All potatoes are different from potato to potato. So they will absorb cream and butter differently. You may need to adjust the amount of cream or butter depending on the consistency you are going for.
- Heat the cream.
- Use room temp butter.
- More salt than you think (but use the right kind, like Diamond kosher). Salt a little at every step. Boiling, after ricing and after the cream is incorporated.
- Use quality butter. After all, it is one of the main ingredients and you can really taste it.
- Don't over-mix the potatoes or they can become gluey.
- The finished mashed potatoes should have a slightly creamy look and should not look dry.
- Making them slightly ahead of time? If you are an hour or so ahead of when you need them, leave them loose. Meaning add extra cream and place over a double boiler. Heat them back up right before you need them and stir every few minutes so they warm evenly.
- Roasted garlic or you can even cook garlic cloves right in the water with the potatoes and pass them through the ricer.
- Fresh herbs and garlic in the cream as you heat it up will add a wonderful flavor.
- Brown butter for a nutty flavor that is amazing.
While it is possible to make mashed potatoes ahead of time and reheat them, it's really best to make them as close to serving time as possible. Keep mashed potatoes warm by placing them in a bowl over a pot of warm but not boiling water on the stove. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and poke a few small holes to let steam escape.
Use a paring knife and pierce the potato. It should be very tender.
In a low oven: Cover with foil and place in a 300° F oven to heat through, about 30 minutes.
In the microwave: Covered for 1 minute at a time, then stir so they heat evenly. Just be careful not to heat them too much.
- 2 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes
- ¼ lb unsalted butter (room temperature)
- 1 cup heavy cream (hot)
- Diamond kosher salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- Place the whole unpeeled potatoes in a 4-quart saucepan and cover with a few inches of cold water.
- Bring to a simmer and cook until they are very tender when pierced with a paring knife, about 25 to 35 minutes depending on the size of the potatoes.
- Strain the cooked potatoes in a colander and carefully peel with a clean kitchen towel and a paring knife. Work quickly so the potatoes stay warm.
- Push the potatoes through a potato ricer or food mill back into the warm pot they were cooked in.
- Add the room temperature butter and combine using a stiff spatula. Next start adding ¾ cup of the hot cream and gently fold in. Add more as needed.
- Season well with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Taste and add more butter, cream or seasoning as needed.
- Cover and keep warm until serving with another pat of butter and fresh herbs if desired.
Cathleen M Renner says
Justin, your mashed potatoes are a family favorite. Thanks for posting!
I'm sure they turned out wonderful this year! 🙂