How To Make Perfect Mashed Potatoes for Thanksgiving

How To Make Perfect Mashed Potatoes for Thanksgiving

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Dana Velden
Nov 23, 2017
(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Is there nothing more comforting and delicious than mashed potatoes? This warm, creamy, dairy-laden starch might be more of an indulgence than everyday fare these days, but even if you only have them once a year (Thanksgiving!), I say go all out and do it right. Read on for a recipe for classic mashed potatoes, with recommendations for potato type, dairy additions, and mashing methods.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

The Best Mashed Potatoes Aren't Mashed

Folks have been wielding the potato masher in the kitchen for generations, so if this is your preferred method, I say stick with it. I used a ricer for testing this recipe, and while I feel it results in superior potatoes (less lumps, more fluff) I actually prefer a food mill which, besides also producing less lumps and more fluff, separates the skins so no peeling is necessary. I also find it easier to use than the ricer, which is really a two-person process: one to peel, another to rice.

Don't ever use a blender or food processor to whip your potatoes! You will end up with glue and then you (and your guests) will be sad.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

For Your Information

  • This recipes serves 8 to 10 and requires 5 pounds of Yukon gold or Russet potatoes.
  • You'll need butter and half-and-half for mashing, too.
  • This technique calls for a ricer, not a masher, for silky potatoes. If you don't have a ricer, you can still use a potato masher for lumpier potatoes, or a food mill.
(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

The Potatoes

Choosing the proper potatoes is critical. There are basically three types of potatoes: very starchy like Russets, very waxy like Red Bliss, and somewhere in the middle like Yukon Golds. First rule: Don't use the waxy, red potatoes for your mash. They just won't break down enough (read: lumps), nor do they absorb the dairy very well. Stick with Russets and Yukon Golds. Of the two, the Russet will give you the creamiest mash, but many people prefer the flavor and golden color of Yukon Golds. It's a trade-off and totally up to you.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Boil Without Peeling

I don't peel or slice my potatoes before cooking them. The reason for this is threefold: Unpeeled and unsliced potatoes will absorb less water while being boiled, preserving the starch within the potato. Less water avoids a gluey, watery mash and allows the potatoes to absorb the dairy. Plus, the potato peels contribute to the overall potato flavor. And finally, taking the peels off after cooking is quicker and easier.

If you using a food mill, the skins will be removed as a part of the milling process. You may have to clear them out of the mill now and again, but really it's the most efficient method in my book. If you don't have a food mill, you will have to peel the potatoes when they're hot. I found, however, that in the case with the Yukon Golds, the skins were already peeling off just from their dump into the colander. I picked up each potato, held it in a potholder-covered hand, and used a paring knife to coax off the rest of the skins.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Add the Butter First for Silkier Potatoes

It is important that your dairy is warmed up before adding it to your mash and that you add the butter first. The amount of water in the half-and-half combines with the starch molecules, which makes the potatoes gluey. When you add the butter first, it coats the starch and results in silkier potatoes. Then add the half-and-half.

Butter will be one of your primary flavors in mashed potatoes, so use the best quality you can. I use unsalted in this recipe so I can control the salt. If you want to use salted, do not add the additional salt in step 2 and simply taste and add salt as needed in the final seasoning.

Additionally, I use half-and-half for the liquid as I think it's plenty rich enough. You can use cream if you want for over the top, decadently wonderful results.

Perfect Mashed Potatoes: Watch the Video

How To Make the Best Mashed Potatoes

Serves 8 to 10

What You Need

Ingredients
5 pounds Yukon Gold or Russet potatoes, well-scrubbed
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter
2 cups half-and-half
3 tablespoons kosher salt, divided
Finely chopped fresh chives (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper (optional)
Additional pat of butter (optional)

Equipment
Large pot
Colander
Food mill, ricer, or potato masher
Two smaller pans for heating butter and half-and-half
Spatula or wooden spoon

Instructions

  1. Boil the potatoes. Place the potatoes in a large pot and add cold water to cover then by about 1 inch. Stir in 2 tablespoons of salt. Cover and bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Uncover and reduce the heat as needed to maintain a gentle simmer. Test for doneness at 30 minutes. A sharp knife should easily go through the potato. Larger potatoes may take longer, up to 45 or 50 minutes total.
  2. Heat the butter and half-and-half and add salt. About 20 minutes into the potato cooking time, melt the butter over low heat in a small saucepan. Heat the half-and half and remaining 1 tablespoon salt over low heat in another small saucepan. Keep both warm.
  3. Drain the potatoes. When the potatoes are ready, drain them in a colander. Turn off the heat on the butter and half-and-half.
  4. Mash the potatoes. If using a potato masher or ricer, peel the potatoes — you can pick each one up with a pot holder and peel with a paring knife. If using a food mill, don't peel the potatoes. In either case, the mash, rice, or process the potatoes back into the pot they were cooked in. This will cut down on extra dishes and help the potatoes stay warm from the pot's residual heat.
  5. Add the dairy. Add the hot butter to the potatoes, gently stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula to incorporate. When all the butter is absorbed, add the hot half-and-half. It will seem soupy at first, but the potatoes will gradually absorb the liquid and turn into a creamy mixture.
  6. Taste, garnish, and serve. Taste your potatoes and add more salt as needed. This is also a good time to add pepper if using. Spoon into your serving dish and top with optional garnishes, such as a pat of butter or some chopped chives.

Recipes Notes

  • Make ahead: You can make your potatoes in advance of serving. If it's just an hour or so, leave them in the pot you mashed them in and don't garnish yet. Place the pot in a large pan of gently simmering water to keep warm. If they've been refrigerated, the best way to reheat them is to place them in a low oven, covered, for 20 to 30 minutes. Reheated mashed potatoes are often drier and may need additional (warmed!) dairy to bring them back to their creaminess. This post has some great tips on reheating mashed potatoes.
  • Storage: Leftover mashed potatoes can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
  • Electric mixers: Some people get away with using a stand mixer or hand-held beaters. I personally find that this over-mixes them, but if you're happy with the results, go right ahead. Just be very careful and don't let it rip or you will also end up with the unhappiness of gluey potatoes. Stick to low speed.
  • Additions: Cream cheese, sour cream, and yogurt are a popular additions to mashed potatoes. They all add a nice dairy tang and contribute to a creamy texture. Feel free to substitute some or all of the half-and-half with either of these ingredients if you like a little tanginess in your mashed potatoes.
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