Mashed potatoes are the quintessential, goes-with-anything side. They're always a crowd-pleaser, too.
People have gone to all sorts of elaborate lengths — in equipment and ingredients — to achieve what they claim is the perfect mashed potato recipe. But you can create a beautiful bowl of spuds with nothing more than a pot, a wooden spoon and a handful of pantry staples.
I prefer to use the wooden spoon to mash the potatoes rather than a masher (which can make things gluey) or a potato ricer (don't own one), especially because of the slightly rustic texture you get with a few soft chunks embedded in the mash. If you want super-smooth potatoes and do own a ricer, go ahead and bust it out.
A note on the boiling: Many recipes call for starting the potatoes in cold water to achieve even cooking. Because the potatoes are cut into smaller chunks in this recipe, I found they cooked through at a uniform — not to mention faster — pace when added to the boiling water.
The original version of this recipe calls for Yukon Gold (yellow-fleshed) potatoes for a creamy result, but after my local grocery store was continually out of them or peddling green specimens, I gave up and went with the ubiquitous and cheaper russets. And you know what? The result was wonderfully silky. I didn't need massive amounts of fat, either. Using extra-virgin olive oil in addition to the butter provides a rich texture and clean flavor that doesn't mask the potato nuance as much of as all-dairy fat would.
These mashed potatoes are great the way they are. But you should still feel free to dress them up with whatever accoutrements you like, whether it's crumbled bacon, grated cheese, chives or an extra pat of melting butter. The fresh garlic that is boiled and mashed with the potatoes imparts a mild and sweet flavor; if you like things more pungent, you can add garlic powder to taste (Trader Joe's has the most flavorful one I've tried).
It's difficult to not just eat the mashed potatoes straight out of the pot, but if you're feeding a crowd and are interested in a serving bowl presentation that will help keep the potatoes warm, try heating the bowl by filling it with boiling water and letting it sit for a few minutes. Discard the water, dry the bowl and add the potatoes, as artfully scooped as you want.
Essential Mashed Potatoes
Four to six servings
Make ahead: Prepare the mashed potatoes up to four hours in advance, cover and keep at room temperature; they can also be stored in the refrigerator for a day or two. Reheat gently in a heatproof bowl placed on top of a pot filled with a few inches of water (a double boiler setup) over medium heat, adding extra half-and-half or milk and adjusting the seasoning as needed.
— Adapted from "Seriously Simple Holidays," by Diane Rossen Worthington (Chronicle, 2007).
• 2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3-inch-long chunks (may substitute scrubbed, unpeeled Yukon Gold)
• 4 medium cloves garlic, cut in half lengthwise
• 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
• 2/3 cup half-and-half (may substitute whole or low-fat milk), plus more as needed
• Freshly ground black pepper
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the potatoes, garlic and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt; reduce the heat to medium, cover partially and cook for 15 to 20 minutes or until the potatoes and garlic are tender.
Meanwhile, combine the butter, oil and half-and-half in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the butter has melted. Reduce the heat to low, cover and keep warm until the potatoes are ready. Alternatively, you can melt the butter (cut into small pieces) with the oil and half-and-half in a glass measuring cup in the microwave, heating at half-power for one minute and then at 30-second increments, stirring occasionally.
Drain the potatoes and return them to the pot; return it to the still-warm burner (off the heat). Shake the pot back and forth for one to two minutes or until most of the moisture has evaporated. Remove the pot from the burner. Use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to mash the potatoes and garlic to a fairly smooth consistency, leaving as many chunks as you like.
Pour the butter mixture over the potatoes and use the wooden spoon to blend to a smooth, but not soupy, consistency. If the potatoes are too dense or thick, add more half-and-half to reach your desired texture. Season with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt, or more as needed, and the pepper. Serve warm.
Nutrition | Calories: 210; Total Fat: 9 g; Saturated Fat: 5 g; Cholesterol: 25 mg; Sodium: 160 mg; Total Carbohydrates: 29 g; Dietary Fiber: 0 g; Sugars: 0 g; Protein: 4 g.
Becky Krystal is a food reporter and the lead writer for Voraciously. After several years as a general assignment reporter in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, she came to The Washington Post in 2007 to work for TV Week and Sunday Source. Her time at The Post also includes a five-year stint in the Travel section.