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5 Tips for the Best Homemade Mashed Potatoes, Ever

5 Tips for the Best Homemade Mashed Potatoes, Ever

Fluffy, creamy mashed potatoes forever

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Carolin Roitzheim

Carolin Roitzheim

Food Editor at Kitchen Stories

Comfort food needs no introduction, yet it means something different for everyone. In our Comfort Food Issue, we’re exploring the recipes that are always there for us and invite you to do the same. Check back here for our latest recipes and articles from the issue, and don’t forget to follow us on Instagram for exclusive content.

Until I was about six years old, I was a firm believer that mashed potatoes came out of a shiny silver bag. When I was chatting about this article with my colleague, Lisa, she confessed that she thought the same during her childhood; maybe you can also relate? I was so surprised when I first tasted fluffy, homemade and equally creamy mashed potatoes and realized this magic could also be made from real potatoes. Paired with a generous knob of butter, which I happily buried under a thick layer of mash and watched flow like liquid gold, mashed potatoes, the real homemade ones, catapulted straight to the top of my list of my favorite childhood comfort foods list. 

Of course I wasn’t the first, and certainly won’t be the last, to declare their love for mashed potatoes; it’s undoubtedly one of the most popular potato dishes. Whether you call them mashed potatoes, potato purée, smashed potatoes, or more simply, just mash, this is a dish that can be found almost everywhere, from fast food restaurants to fine dining establishments, served as a side dish to meats, fish, or vegetables, it can certainly also be the star of a plate. 

In this article, you’ll learn more about this creamy comfort food, how to make them extra fluffy and smooth, plus find links to our favorite mashed potato recipes.

A (very) brief history of the mashed potato

So as not to go too far back, to the days when the potato first ended up on our plates, let’s start our little history of mashed potatoes when Europeans had already turned potatoes from cattle feed to something more delicious. 

As early as the 18th century, English author Hannah Glasse suggested in her cookbook, The Art of Cookery, that potatoes should be boiled, peeled, and mashed in a pot with milk, butter, and a little salt. Stateside, Mary Randolph published a recipe for mashed potatoes in her book, The Virginia Housewife.

In the 1950s, a method was developed to first dehydrate potatoes and then turn them into potato flakes. These could then be quickly and easily re-hydrated at home, as if by magic, and turned into creamy mashed potatoes. It was a big revolution in convenience foods at the time, and these potato flakes still have their uses in homes and industrial kitchens around the world. In fact, there are plenty of people out there who even prefer instant mashed potatoes to homemade ones, a preference I just can’t explain.

How to make the best homemade mashed potatoes

First things first, what type of potato to use?

For mashed potatoes, floury potatoes are considered the best choice. Thanks to the high starch content (approx. 16.5%) of floury varieties, the potatoes break down particularly well during the cooking process into crumbly pieces which help the mashed potatoes to achieve their fluffy consistency later on. Popular floury varieties are Idahos and russets.

Although floury potatoes will certainly produce the best mashed potato texture, you can make a delicious mash using other types of potatoes—either waxy or all-purpose potatoes like Yukon Golds, fingerlings, and red or white new potatoes.

How to get that feel-good flavor

In addition to choosing an aromatic, floury potato variety, there are other components that make up the distinctive taste of really good mashed potatoes. Basically, it all comes down to fat. In addition to milk, and occasionally cream, one of the most popular ways to build flavor into your mash is through butter. And you certainly shouldn't be stingy, lest the dish’s flavor should suffer; unless you want to prepare a vegan or low-fat version of course. Some chefs even swear by a 1:1 potato to butter ratio, but this can get a bit out of hand for a home cook mashing up five pounds (2+ kg) of potatoes. 

For even more flavor, of course, a good pinch of salt and a grinding of pepper should not be missing. Many recipes also call for a small amount of freshly grated nutmeg to round out the dish. Although even a light seasoning is enough, mashed potatoes are incredibly versatile and can be flavored up as desired. You can add herbs such as parsley or wild garlic (added here in the form of pesto), or other hearty aromatics like shaved truffles or truffle oil, grated garlic, or caramelized onions. Instead of making the purée purely from potatoes, you can also use a mix with celery root, frozen peas, or even white beans for extra protein.

Smooth or chunky? How to get the best consistency

The consistency of the mashed potatoes will depend primarily on the type of potato (floury!), but also on what you add to it, how you actually do the mashing, and what your end goal is. Some like it super velvety, others a bit chunky.

To make really creamy mashed potatoes, you can replace some of the milk in a recipe with cream, which will also bring out more flavor from the extra fat. According to celebrity chef Tyler Florence, the “best mashed potatoes of your life” aren’t boiled in water, but cooked directly in a cream and butter mixture so as to not waste the delicious potato flavor potentially lost with the cooking water.

Depending on the consistency and texture you want, you should choose the tool for mashing your potatoes accordingly. While mashed potatoes may still contain a few larger potato pieces, the goal with potato purée is to achieve a super fine consistency. When using a potato masher, some pieces will likely remain in the mash because you don’t want to over mash the potatoes (this leads to a gluey, paste-like consistency). If you prefer a super smooth consistency, you’ll want to use a potato ricer (or a spaetzle press), which you can use to press the potatoes before adding the fat. You can also press and then pass the potatoes through a fine mesh sieve to ensure no chunks remain.

Watch our how-to for creamy mashed potatoes here: 

Creamy mashed potatoes

Creamy mashed potatoes

5 handy tips to make the best mashed potatoes at home:

1. Don't cut the potatoes too small when boiling, otherwise they could soak up too much water and, accordingly, lose a lot of their flavor. It's best to halve or quarter large potatoes and have a little more patience with the boiling time. If the potatoes are boiled or steamed in their skins and only peeled afterwards, your mash will be even more flavorful!

2. Always start the potatoes in cold water. If you put them in boiling water, the potatoes will not cook evenly, so the outside might be falling apart and soft, but the inside will still be firm. Putting them in a pot of cold water and bringing it up to a boil over medium-high heat ensures even cooking. Once they’re fork tender, they should be drained immediately and allowed to steam out to remove the excess water.

3. Don’t even think about touching your blender or food processor. Many assume this as the fastest way to make mashed potatoes, but if very starchy foods (such as potatoes) are worked too much, the starch molecules are destroyed and what remains is a sticky, paste-like mass. So it's better to use the power of your own two hands, and you’ll be rewarded with an airy, fluffy purée.

4. Never add cold milk to your mash. The milk should be at least room-temperature or heated before adding it to the potatoes. This allows the potatoes to absorb the milk more easily. If the mixture cools down too quickly from cold milk, it can become sticky and gluey. 

5. Don’t skimp on flavor (aka fat)! As already mentioned, the butter in particular emphasizes the already delicious taste of the potato, and should not be missing. The ratio doesn’t need to be 1:1, just don’t be stingy with it.

As with most recipes, we all have our platonic ideals of the perfect version of something, mashed potatoes included. So here are some of our favorites, a selection which has something for everyone.

13 of our favorite mashed potato recipes

Simple mashed potatoes: In Ruby's brand new feel-good recipe, bangers (aka sausages) are griddled up and served with a caramelized onion gravy over a bed of simple mashed potatoes. Since the other components of this dish already carry quite intense flavors, the mashed potatoes remain rather plain as a side dish, the perfect base to carry the flavorful burden. To reduce the effort in the recipe, the potatoes are peeled before cooking, boiled until soft, steamed briefly, then mashed directly with butter and milk and seasoned with salt and pepper.

Bangers and mash with sage and onion gravy

Bangers and mash with sage and onion gravy

Horseradish mashed potatoes: Mashed potatoes and meatballs (like Swedish meatballs, also vegan!) are already an unbeatable combo as a comforting meal. In this recipe, Hanna spices up the mashed potatoes with freshly grated horseradish. Here, the cooked potatoes are first mashed and then mixed with a warm mixture of butter, milk, nutmeg, and salt before the horseradish comes into play and makes the spicy mash the unexpected star of the dish.

Horseradish mashed potatoes with meatballs

Horseradish mashed potatoes with meatballs

Garlicky mashed potatoes: In Devan's mashed potatoes, she did something exciting: Instead of adding garlic to the mash at the end, she cooks a few of the crushed cloves directly with the potatoes, so they can absorb the flavor right from the start. Adding a warmed mixture of milk, cream, and more garlic cloves to the mashed potatoes, with a generous amount of butter makes it deliciously creamy and can not be accused of skimping on the fat. The creamy garlicky purée is packed with flavor and goes well with just about anything.

Creamy, garlicky mashed potatoes

Creamy, garlicky mashed potatoes

Vegan mashed potatoes: Although this article has been much about the use of butter, milk, and cream, mashed potatoes can of course be made without these things. To do this, simply replace the dairy products with margarine, and plant-based milks or creams. This particular recipe combines the mashed potatoes with kale, leek, and nuts and thus becomes a satisfying side dish that can also play as a main course. First the potatoes and vegetables are separately prepared. Then, the kale mixture is blended with cream and milk, before being added to the mashed potatoes.

Vegan creamy mashed potatoes with kale

Vegan creamy mashed potatoes with kale

Still can't get enough? Here we have more mashed potato recipes for you:
Fish fingers with mashed potatoes and remoulade
Classic steak au poivre (French pepper steak) with mashed potatoes
Roast beef with red cabbage and mashed potatoes
Nürnberger bratwursts with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes
Nut roast with gravy and mashed potatoes
Trout Müllerin with purple potato purée
Cottage pie with shiitake mushrooms
British shepherd's pie
Mashed sweet potatoes

What makes the perfect mashed potatoes for you and what do you prefer to eat or pair them with? Let us know in the comments!

Published on November 27, 2021

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