If the turkey is the star of the Thanksgiving table, then mashed potatoes are the supporting role. Making sure your fluffy mashed potatoes shine starts with choosing the correct kind of potatoes.
Starchy or Waxy Potatoes for Fluffy Mashed Potatoes
There are two major classifications of potatoes, the starchy potato (like the classic russet) which are fabulous for baking and, frying and mashing since their inherent starchiness makes them fluffy when properly handled. Since they are low in moisture, they don’t maintain their shape after being boiled so they aren’t the best choice for potato salad or scalloped potatoes where you want discernible pieces of potato rather than potato masses.
The other end of the potato spectrum is the waxy potato (like the red or new potato), which are what you should use for roasting, using potato salads and scallop potato dishes. The thin-skin and waxy interior repel water when heated which makes them crisp on the outside and moist on the inside. The trade-off is the cell structure that holds the potato shape when cooked, works against the fluffiness desired for mashed potatoes.
Scientists developed a hybrid cultivar in the 1960s that produced the thin skin with some of the texture of waxy potatoes but with a higher starch content and a flavor profile closer to the russet. The flesh is pale yellow and many people describe this all-purpose potato of having a distinct buttery flavor. The most common name for this potato is Yukon Gold, named for the Yukon River and gold referring to gold rush country.
Since the goal is fluffy potatoes, make sure you use starchy potatoes like russet or Idaho potatoes. I often will mix Yukon Gold and russet potatoes (2 russets to 1 Yukon Gold potato) when making this important side dish to get the fluffiest mashed potatoes ever.
Plan of 1/2 pound raw whole potatoes per adult person to make enough cooked mashed potatoes. This allows for the loss of the potato skin and the slight loss from moisture. Remember you will be adding ingredients in the form of butter and some sort of liquid to make the mashed potatoes. But this is one dish that people tend to take larger portions of when filling their plates and you want to have prepared enough.
Tips for Avoiding Gummy Potatoes.
- Cook the potatoes long enough. The larger the pieces of potato the longer it takes to cook through. But be warned, excess cooking moisture is a leading cause of the gluey substance that forms when the starch cells burst so don’t cut the potatoes too small. I recommend peeling and cutting the potatoes into 1-1/2” chunks. Gently boil until a skewer easily passes through the potato chunks. The larger the number of potatoes to cook the longer it will take to bring the water to a boil as well, so plan on an earlier start. Since I have a master mashed potato maker in my family, he always starts peeling the potatoes about 2 hours before we plan on serving the meal.
- Don’t use the water the potatoes cooked in as the only liquid to mash them with. The water or broth the potatoes cooked in is no longer clear and has a white foam on top. The liquid is full of starchy sludge which is not what you want to make fluffy mashed potatoes. In fact, I recommend you drain the potatoes chunks well and then gently return them to the now-empty pan over low heat for a few minutes to dry the surface of the potatoes. (Make sure you pay close attention to the pan so not to burn the potatoes.)
- Heat the liquid you will use to add to the mashed potatoes. This is a tip I recently discovered, it helps to create an extra creamy mashed potato dish since you are adding warm liquid to warm potatoes. As an added bonus, you can add fresh herbs or what have you to steep in the liquid as it heats to infuse the potatoes with even more flavor. Remove the herbs before using the liquid so the mashed potatoes stay pristine in color.
- Use a ricer or food mill, not a mixer. Over-processing the potatoes will create glue. In the olden days, potato paste was used to hang wallpaper. An electric (or even a hand) mixer is too easy to pulverize the starch cells. The old fashioned zig-zag potato masher gives you a better feel, but even then you can still go overboard and make the gummy mess that ruins the dish. Add a potato ricer to your list of equipment for this Thanksgiving and you will never go back. This handheld device pushes the potato through a metal grid which creates the perfect texture for mashing as well as aerates the potatoes. No more lumps in your mashed potatoes. Once the potato chunks, (and I run the butter through as well) go through the ricer, all it takes is a few stirs to incorporate the liquid and the potatoes are done.
How to make mashed potatoes that are creamy and full of flavor and tips to avoid bland and gluey potatoes.
- 3 pounds potatoes (1 pound Yukon Gold, 2 pounds russet potatoes)
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 3/4 – 1 cup heavy cream, (or half and half)
- 1 sprig fresh thyme
- 2 leaves fresh sage
- 2 tablespoons sour cream
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
- Fill a large pot half full with cold water. Add salt to the cooking water to taste.
- Peel and cut the potatoes into 1-1/2” chunks trying to keep the pieces about the same size so the potatoes cook at the same time.
- Add the potatoes to the large pot, making sure there is enough water to cover all the pieces by an inch.
- Turn on the burner to high, and cook until the water comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking the potatoes until a skewer can be inserted easily all the way through the potatoes chunks. (Check several potatoes to make sure all the potatoes are cooked.)
- Drain the water from the potatoes and return the potatoes to the hot pot to pan dry for a few minutes.
- In a small sauce pan, heat the cream over medium heat. Add fresh herbs to steep if desired. When the cream is warm, remove and discard the fresh herbs.
- Gently mash the potato chunks with a potato ricer or potato masher. If using a potato ricer, about half way through, add the butter to the ricer with some potatoes chunks to break it into small pieces.
- Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon white pepper over the potatoes and add 1/2 cup of warm cream. Gently stir to combine. Add the sour cream and stir adding the cream a little bit at a time until the desired consistency is reached. Taste and add more salt and white pepper as desired.
- Garnish with a large pat of butter and serve warm.
- Serving Size: 6 ounces
Keywords: mashed potatoes