Mashed potatoes are an autumn — not to mention Thanksgiving — essential and one of the most comforting side dishes of all time. They are a simple dish with few ingredients, but take any number of missteps and you'll find yourself with gluey, unappetizing potatoes, far from the fluffy mash you imagined.
Whether you like super smooth and buttery potatoes, or rustic and chunky, we want to make sure you're doing it right! Here are five common mashed potato-making mistakes, plus our best tips on how to avoid them.
1. Using the wrong type of potato
Choosing the right type of potato is key! Avoid waxy varieties like Red Bliss and fingerling when making mashed potatoes. These potatoes don't contain a lot of starch, so they don't break down well or absorb dairy as well as other varieties.
→ Follow this tip: For fluffy mashed potatoes, stick with using starchy potatoes, like Russets or Yukon Golds. Or better yet, use a combination of both.
2. Not salting the water
I find that a lot of people tend to skip this step. Like pasta, potatoes absorb the water they're cooked in, as well as salt, if it's added. I know many of us try to avoid or limit it, but salt is critical to well-seasoned potatoes.
→ Follow this tip: Begin the process of seasoning early by adding salt to the water when cooking the potatoes. You won't have to add as much salt later, and most importantly, you won't find yourself with bland potatoes.
3. Starting with hot water
While it's best to begin the cooking process with hot water for most vegetables, this isn't the case with potatoes. Adding potatoes to already hot water increases the chances of uneven cooking. The outside of the potato will end up overcooked, while the inside will remain firm and underdone.
→ Follow this tip: For even cooking, place the potatoes in a large pot and add cold water to about an inch above the potatoes. Then place the pot on the stove and begin cooking.
4. Adding cold butter and cream
Butter and cream are critical for great mashed potatoes. But when added straight from the fridge, not only do they cool everything down, but they don't get absorbed into the potatoes very well.
→ Follow this tip: Bring the butter and cream at least to room temperature, or gently heat them on the stovetop, before adding them to potatoes. Not only will the potatoes absorb the warm dairy much easier, but you won't have to work them as much to mix in the butter and cream.
5. Overworking the potatoes
When potatoes are mashed starch is released. The more you work the potatoes, the more starch gets released. When too much starch gets released the potatoes become gummy, gluey and unappetizing.
Overworking the potatoes can happen in a couple ways: either by simply handling them too much, or by using a food processor, blender, or similar tool, which mixes the potatoes too aggressively.
→ Follow this tip: Try to limit the amount you handle the potatoes. We also suggest using a ricer or food mill for fluffy, lump-free mashed potatoes.
Put these tips to use with a few of our favorite mashed potato recipes!
What are your best tips for making mashed potatoes?
(Image credits: Robyn Mackenzie/Shutterstock; Dana Velden)