Monday, November 21, 2011

Ok, sister is hosting Thanksgiving this year at her and her boyfriend's place. Backgound: Her boyfriend is actually a damn good cook...I'm wondering if you can help me out with a killer Mashed Potato recipe which will prove that I can be a force in the kitchen. I need a head turner dude!

As the holidays are about to sweep over us, we take a deep breath and brace for the surge.  The travel, the family chatter, the tossing, and turning.  Undoubtedly, they'll leave us gasping for air, stiff, and on the hunt for a roll of tums.
The silver lining, for most, is the prospect of a decent home cooked meal surrounded by people who don't judge you for showing up with a can of cranberry gel and a bottle of ranch dressing. 
And if you hale from somewhere between New York and Los Angeles some part of a meal will be draped/sloshed/dumped over a foundation of mashed potatoes. 

Despite being a simple preparation with only a few ingredients and steps, there is a slew of variables that, if gone awry, can become less than edible.  Maybe it is because of it's simplicity that people feel as though they can take license, and glue ensues.
And, despite all of the fuss, rumors and their "easier to use" dehydrated brothers, mashed potatoes are easy to make. 

I'm including a delicious recipe, but this entry is more about damage control.

  • Use a starchy potato or a combination of starchy potatoes. - including but not limited to - russet (aka Idaho), yukon gold, la ratte, fingerlings, many purple varieties, et al. (waxy varieties such as new potatoes and creamers are crush-able, but don't really yield a nicely "mashed" potato)
  • Season your potatoes well with salt.  They're gonna need it, since starch is a flavor thief.
  • Use cold butter, as room temp or melted butter doesn't fully incorporate in to the mash.

Never Ever
  • Use a mechanical device to mash or whip your potatoes.  You're liable to rip open the starches, giving them a pasty consistency - the worst fate for a mashed potato.  It is not the mashing that releases the starches, it the re-mashing. For this reason a ricer or food mill as ideal since it mashes only once, where a food processor beats on a starch over and over until it resembles Elmer's.

Variations and Comments
Yes, there is some serious butter in this recipe, but in truth it is less than what I actually put and only a fraction of what you'll find in many high end restaurants (Joel Robuchon's famous mash is rumored to be almost half butter with no cream).

A potato ricer looks like a big garlic press.
If you wanted to add various flavor components to these potatoes for extra pizzazz, then by all means.  I love them with a small handful of Parmigiano Reggiano.  Blue cheese would be nice, as would roasted garlic.
You could also sub in some other root veggies such as celery root, parsnips, sunchokes, etc.
All of these you would simply add in the final step.

Very Yummy Mashed Potatoes

2 lbs Starchy Potatoes, peeled, rinsed well and cut into roughly 1" cubes*
5 tbls spoons of cold butter
1/4 cup heavy cream

1. Place, your prepped potatoes in a sauce pan or pot, cover with cold water, add a hefty pinch of salt and set over high heat. Once this comes to a boil, lower the heat to medium and continue cooking (aprox 25 min.) until the potatoes are cooked through. (a fork should easily break them up, or an inserted paring knife should come out easily.)
2. Strain the potatoes.
3-A - For a smooth mash, use a food mill or a potato ricer, process the potatoes back into the pot and GENTLY fold in the butter and cream. 
3-B - For a more lumpy mash, simply return the potatoes to the pot along with the butter and cream and mash the potatoes with a whisk or potato masher to the desired texture. 

Serve with just about anything!

* If you're at all conscious of "organic" labels and natural growing practices, potatoes are the place to to put your foot down.  Conventional potatoes are hit with many kinds of pesticides, both on their leaves and sewn directly into the ground where they grow.  Then, in some cases, an herbicide is used on their leaves and stems to make for easier harvesting.  Then they're charged with anti-maturing agents so that they don't turn green and sprout. Not many of these chemicals have been around long enough to be proven carcinogens, but neither have they been subject to rigorous testing for safety of human consumption.  So you're essentially deciding whether or not you'd like to be part of a giant sample group when you buy conventional potatoes.
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