Friday, February 7, 2014

Creamy Mashed Potatoes 101

The ultimate comfort food. They're not difficult to make but there are a few things to consider.

The Potato:
yukon gold
Yukon Gold
The russet potato is a popular choice but it's the Yukon Gold, a variety that was developed practically in my backyard at the University of Guelph, that's my potato of choice. It's a yellow-fleshed, waxy potato that has a creamy texture when cooked and a slightly sweet and naturally buttery flavour. Mashed potatoes made with this variety are not quite as fluffy as those made with the starchier russet, but have a lovely, smooth, velvety texture. Lacking availability of Yukon Gold, another yellow-fleshed potato will do.

The Prep:
You want the pieces fairly uniform in size so that they cook evenly. After peeling, removing any brown spots/eyes and rinsing the potatoes, slice them crosswise into 2cm/3/4" thick slices, cutting the larger pieces in half. 

The Pot:
Use a pot with a tight fitting lid that's large enough to accommodate the potatoes: they should fill no more than 2/3 of the pot. You won't realize how important this is until you over-fill your pot one time and then have to scrub away the starchy water overflow that has cooked onto your stove top ;)!

The Mashing Tool:
potato masher#1
potato masher#2
These are not created equal. Potato masher #1 is fine if you like a lot of "texture" - ie lumps - in your potatoes. Potato masher #2 does a respectable job of removing lumps but it's easy to overwork the potatoes with this one. It is the one I used for years before discovering the ricer, which gives superior, lump-free results and requires less handling of the potatoes.
riced potatoes (medium setting)

The Flavouring:
I've never been one to add much fat to food in my everyday cooking and mashed potatoes are no exception. I use 1% milk and only a small amount of butter and let the natural deliciousness of the potato take care of the rest.

Creamy Mashed Potatoes
                                                                               serves 4

prep time: 15 minutes
cooking time: 30 minutes
finishing time: 10 minutes


700 - 750g/4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes (or potatoes of your choice), peeled,  rinsed and cut up
120 - 160ml/1/2 cup - 2/3 cup milk
1 tbsp unsalted butter

Place the potatoes in the pot and add cold water to barely cover them. Bring the water to a rolling boil on high heat. Add ~1 tsp salt, cover and reduce the heat to low-medium-low, so that a gentle boil is maintained. Cook 15-20 minutes or until potatoes are very tender and can be broken apart easily with a fork. Drain the potatoes and return them to the pot off heat. Let them sit uncovered for a few minutes to dry a little while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Place the milk and butter in a small pot and warm over medium heat until the butter is at least partially melted. Do Not boil. Alternatively, place the milk and butter in a microwave-safe container and heat on high for about 30 seconds.

If using a potato ricer, settle it in position in a medium bowl and rice the cooked potatoes. Once they're done, sprinkle with ~1/2 tsp salt and pour the warmed milk and butter over top. Stir gently with a large spoon using a folding motion. You don't want to overwork the mixture or the potatoes will become gluey. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if necessary. Add more warm milk if a creamier consistency is desired.

If using one of the potato mashers, after draining and allowing the potatoes to dry for a few minutes, mash them in the pot in which they were cooked until every piece has been broken up. Add the salt and the milk and continue mashing until desired smoothness has been reached. As with the ricer, don't overwork the mixture and stir in any additional salt or milk that may be required at the end. 
Always make your potatoes a little softer than you think they should be as they will firm up even in the few minutes it takes to transfer them to a serving bowl and get them to the table. The mashed potatoes will stay hot for ~20 minutes if kept covered in the pot in which they were cooked.

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