Mashed potatoes can make or break the big meal. It may look like an unassuming side, but it usually has the task of pairing with powerhouses like pricey cuts of steak, holiday turkey, and mom’s coveted meatloaf. Wimpy potatoes can detract. Creamy, well-seasoned potatoes can complement. And none compliment better than this recipe for the creamiest mashed potatoes I’ve ever made.
Selecting the Spuds
An often overlooked step in the potato making process is the produce itself. Certain potatoes lend themselves better to being mashed. These are the starchier varieties, particularly the sturdy Russett.
The high starch content breaks down more easily, resulting in easily mashed, fluffy potatoes. On the other hand, waxy potatoes, like fingerlings and red potatoes, will end up thick, sticky and gooey.
Avoid potatoes with visibly green skin or tint. The green color on potatoes comes from chlorophyll but may indicate the presence of a toxic plant chemical called solanine. Solanine can impart a bitter taste and even cause tummy troubles if too much is consumed.
Unfortunately, peeling and cooking won’t do much to fix the effects of a green potato, so inspect them carefully at the store. Since light stimulates more greening, storing your potatoes in a dark, cool spot will keep them cooking ready.
Be sure to clean the outer surface of the potatoes well to remove any soil and dirt, preferably with a sturdy vegetable brush. Remove any sprouting spuds as well (these don’t mash!).
When it comes time to cook the potatoes, a gentle simmer is all it takes to cook them through. A hard rolling boil can break down too much of their structure, leaving you with a mushy pile of starch at the bottom of your pot.
Make sure to season the water in which the potatoes are cooked. Just like the pasta making method, this helps food get seasoned from the inside out. Not only will your final product taste better as a result, but you’ll need less of other, more expensive ingredients to get that craveable mashed potato taste.
And finally, once the potatoes are fork tender, the goal becomes removing as much water as possible- in all its forms. Not only does this mean a thorough draining of the cooking water, but it also means getting as much steam out as you can. To do this, it helps to put the potatoes back in the pot and back on the stove at a low temperature and mashing a few times to release any trapped steam.
From here, comforting fats and seasonings are the stars of the show. The Russett, for all its great textural qualities, is a bland potato. Chef’s choice, of course, for how to overcome that hurdle. My favorite balance of flavor boosters is below. Either way, taste test as you go until you’ve arrived at the creamiest mashed potatoes ever.
- 5 pounds Russett or Yukon gold potatoes washed and scrubbed well
- 1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter room temperature
- 2 cups (16 ounces) full-fat cream cheese room temperature
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 to 2 Tablespoons coarse sea salt plus more to salt the water
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- With a vegetable peeler, peel off as much of the outer skins as you desire. Place peeled potatoes in a large bowl of cold water immediately after peeling to prevent browning.
- Quarter or half the peeled potatoes until they are approximately 3- to 4-inch chunks for quicker cooking and easier mashing.
- Fill a large stockpot about halfway with water (not too much to where it will overflow!). Generously salt the water (I use about 1 Tablespoon of coarse sea salt) and place the peeled potatoes into the pot.
- Bring the water to a boil and then turn down the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook until the potatoes are fork tender, about 20 to 25 minutes.
- Drain the potatoes in a colander, and return them to the pot over low heat for about 5 more minutes, mashing a couple of times around the pot with a long-handled potato masher, to release extra steam as possible.
- Add the remaining ingredients, mashing until just mixed and no large chunks of potato remain. Taste, and adjust seasonings as needed.