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.
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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.
Make-ahead mashed potato casserole
Makes 10 servings
• 5 pounds baking potatoes (such as russets), peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
• 8 ounces cream cheese, cut into chunks, at room temperature
• 1 cup sour cream
• 1/2 cup whole milk
• 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter (6 tablespoons at room temperature, 2 tablespoons cut into small cubes), plus extra
• Kosher salt and ground black or white pepper
1. Place the potatoes in a large pot, then add enough cold water to cover them by 1 inch. Add a generous spoonful of salt, then cover the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Set the lid ajar and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook the potatoes at a steady simmer until they are barely tender when pierced with the tip of a small, sharp knife, 20 to 25 minutes. Drain the potatoes well.
2. Return the potatoes to the pot. Cook them over medium-low heat, stirring almost constantly, until the potatoes begin to film the bottom of the pot, about 3 minutes. Add the cream cheese. Using a handheld electric mixer, whip the potatoes until the cream cheese melts. Add the sour cream, milk and 6 tablespoons room temperature butter. Mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Use a bit of butter to lightly coat a 13-by-9-inch baking dish. Transfer the potatoes to the baking dish, smoothing the top. Dot the top of the casserole with the 2 tablespoons of cubed butter. Let cool completely. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 1 day. Remove from the refrigerator 1 hour before the final baking.
4. When ready to reheat, position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Uncover the casserole. Bake it until the top is lightly browned and the casserole is heated through, about 30 minutes. Serve hot.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 397 calories, 23 grams fat, 43 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams protein, 62 milligrams cholesterol, 100 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 50 percent of calories from fat.
— Recipe adapted from Rick Rodger’s “The Big Book of Sides”
Ultra-rich mashed potatoes
Makes 10 servings
• 5-pound bag Yukon gold potatoes
• 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
• 10 large fresh sage leaves
• 1/2 cup olive oil
• 2 egg yolks
• Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1. Peel the potatoes and cut them into 2-inch chunks. Place the cut potatoes in a large pot and add enough cool water to cover by about 1 inch. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook for 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender at the center when pierced with a knife.
2. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium-high, melt the butter. Add the sage leaves and fry until crisp and just barely turning brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside.
3. When the potatoes are done, drain them, then return them to the pot. Set the pot over medium heat and heat the potatoes for 1 minute, shaking the pan frequently, to help dry the potatoes. Remove the pot from the heat, then use a masher to mash the potatoes, drizzling in the olive oil as you work.
4. When the potatoes are mashed, pour in the butter and fried sage, stirring them in. The sage will crumble and mix into the potatoes. Add the egg yolks and quickly stir them into the potatoes. Season with salt and pepper.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 457 calories, 30 grams fat, 40 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams protein, 92 milligrams cholesterol, 17 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 60 percent of calories from fat.
— J.M. Hirsch, The Associated Press
Creamy mashed potatoes
Makes 8 servings
For a do-ahead version of this recipe, follow it up to the point of ricing the potatoes. At that point, rice the potatoes into a large microwave-safe bowl. Cover the bowl and chill until you are ready to finish the potatoes. When ready, heat the milk and cream with the salt, and soften the butter. Microwave the riced potatoes, covering the bowl partially with plastic wrap, in 2-minute increments, stirring the potatoes each time, until they are very hot, then add the butter and milk mixture as instructed in the recipe.
• 3 pounds russet or Yukon gold potatoes
• 1/2 cup whole milk
• 1/2 cup heavy cream
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt
• 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
• Ground black pepper
1. Peel the potatoes and cut them into 1-inch chunks. As you peel and cut them, add the potatoes to a large bowl of cold water and swish them around to get rid of excess starch. Transfer the potato chunks to a large steamer insert or a large colander and set over a pot of boiling water. Reduce the heat to medium and steam the potatoes, covered tightly, for 10 minutes.
2. Lift out the steamer insert. Leave the water boiling (adding more if needed). Return the potatoes to the bowl of cold water. Set the bowl in the sink and run additional cold water over the potatoes for a few minutes. Turn off the water and add several ice cubes. Let the potatoes cool completely in the ice water.
3. Drain the potatoes, transfer them back to the steamer insert and return to the pot of boiling water. Steam, covered, until tender when pierced with the tip of a paring knife, about another 12 to 15 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan over medium, heat the milk and cream with the salt until hot.
5. When the potatoes are tender, remove the steamer insert from the pot. Discard any water in the pot. Using a potato ricer and working in batches, rice the potatoes into the pot. Add the butter and stir until melted and incorporated. Add the milk mixture and stir well. Season with salt and pepper, then serve immediately.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 271 calories, 15 grams fat, 32 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams protein, 46 milligrams cholesterol, 259 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 48 percent of calories from fat.
— Sarah Moulton, via The Associated Press