Ready, set, stress!
Not to panic anyone, but Thanksgiving is barely two weeks away. It’s time to dust off the cookbooks and start planning the Turkey Day meal.
For some carbivores, Thanksgiving wouldn’t be complete without a big, steaming bowl of mashed potatoes. They may look easy, but mashed potatoes actually take a bit of technique, and some practice, to master.
We’ve compiled three culinary pros’ new ideas, tips and recipes to help any home cook achieve the perfect potatoes.
You’ve got two weeks to practice!
TV chef Sara Moulton
As ever, the first question is which kind of potato is the best to mash. I recently experimented with russets (also called baking potatoes, the most famous variety of which is the Idaho), as well as with Yukon golds, which is sort of a cross between a baking potato and a boiling potato. Both worked well, though the Yukon golds are sweeter.
I didn’t test any boiling potatoes. Thin-skinned and firm-fleshed — the Red Bliss is a prime example — boiling potatoes just don’t mash as well. They also don’t absorb cream and butter as readily as baking potatoes.
The next question is a two-parter: Should the potatoes be cooked in the water or in the oven? And should they be cooked whole in the skin or peeled and cut into chunks?
I started by baking whole potatoes in the skin. Mashed, they were delicious, but texture-wise they weren’t smooth enough. So I tried cooking them in water, and this is where I learned something new. In all of my research, one recommendation kept popping up: Boil the potatoes only halfway, then chill them completely before finishing the cooking process.
Why? Because when you mash a fully-cooked potato, you unleash a ton of gummy starch. But if you cook it only halfway, then cool it, you lock in some of the starch. The finished product is much less gummy when you finish cooking it afterward and then begin mashing.
All of my sources advised peeling the potatoes and cutting them into pieces of equal size so they cook evenly. They also suggested rinsing them off first, to get rid of some starch. You don’t start them in cold water. The choice is to cook them in water that’s already simmering or in a steamer set over simmering water. I opted for the second choice because it’s easier to cool them off midway.
What’s the best tool to mash potatoes? Oddly, it’s not a potato masher, it’s a ricer. Why? Because the quickness with which a ricer forces the cooked potato through its holes keeps the agitation of the starch to a minimum. A good second choice is a food mill. But whatever you do, don’t mash your cooked potatoes in a food processor or blender. They’ll end up gluey enough to paste up wallpaper.
So my method? I steamed the potato chunks for 10 minutes, cooled them completely in ice water, then steamed them again until they were tender. I riced them while still hot (very important), and added my softened butter and a heated mixture of cream and milk. Then I gave them a taste. That extra step made a huge difference. They were much creamier than any batch I’d ever made before.
Associated Press food editor J.M. Hirsch
Much as I’d like to take credit for this rich version of mashed potatoes, that honor goes to Stanley Tucci. Or rather, to Stanley Tucci’s wife.
That’s because when Tucci isn’t cranking out movies like The Hunger Games and Julie & Julia, he’s often in the kitchen with his wife, Felicity Blunt. They draw on their respective cultures — his Italian, hers British — to come up with some pretty interesting creations, many of them collected in the pair’s new cookbook, The Tucci Table (Gallery Books, $30).
To wit, these mashed potatoes, which Tucci says were mostly his wife’s creation. The prep itself is pretty standard; it’s the add-ins where things get good. Tucci and Blunt use olive oil instead of cream or milk. The result is richly savory and just a bit peppery. A bit of butter — olive oil and butter are a classic Italian combination — ties it all together.
But then it gets really interesting. To finish the potatoes, they beat in an egg yolk. Yes, raw. This takes the creamy richness of the mashed potatoes to a whole new level, and you’ll wonder why you never did this before.
The recipe here is (very) loosely adapted from Tucci and Blunt’s version. For the Thanksgiving table, I wanted a bit of fried sage in my mashed potatoes. I also upped the volume to account for the usual holiday crowd, and figured a little (OK, a lot of) extra butter wasn’t such a bad thing. If raw eggs give you the willies, look for pasteurized whole eggs at the grocer.
Cookbook author Rick Rodgers
When it comes to wrangling the Thanksgiving meal onto the table, one motto gets it right: Be prepared. Let’s face it, our national day of feasting features multiple dishes, all of which require different cooking times, temperatures and techniques. For most of us, orchestrating all of that can be a challenge, to say the least.
Mashed potatoes usually must be made at the last minute to be served hot.
“Anyone who has had to make a mountain of mashed potatoes for a big holiday dinner knows that it can be quite a mad dash to get the potatoes on the table in a timely manner,” writes Rick Rodgers in his new cookbook, The Big Book of Sides (Ballantine, $30).
So, he makes them into a casserole, bolstered with sour cream and cheese.
“When faced with a crowd, I prepare this casserole the day before and bake it with the other side dishes,” he says.