Creamy, fluffy, and comforting, mashed potatoes are a beloved part of many meals, from full-on holiday feasts to basic weeknight family dinners. Check out how to make mashed potatoes easily with a few simple tricks, and you can always wow with this classic culinary favourite. (Skip to recipe.)
The humble mashed potato is not the star of the show or the belle of the ball, but it fulfills its place as a truly important supporting actor. That mound of creamy white comfort is a most delicious foil for all kinds of saucy, much more flashy characters.
Once you’ve mastered the simple, classic mashed potato, you’ve always got one of the basic ingredients for a great meal ready in your culinary repertoire.
What Types of Potatoes Make the Best Mash?
I think Russet potatoes make the fluffiest mash, but any potato will work – different varieties produce different results. Russets are a drier potato – good for baking (their tougher skin keeps moisture in) and great for light, fluffy mashed potatoes. Yukon Gold potatoes are another favourite variety to use for mashing. They have a dense, buttery texture that makes a lovely creamy mash, flavourful but with a more yellow colour.
Basic white potatoes will produce good mashed potatoes, too. They are usually sold as a generic class of potato, without giving the name of the varietal.
Red potatoes tend to be more watery, so they aren’t the ideal choice for mashed potatoes (they’re nice for plain boiled potatoes, kept whole). If making a mash with red potatoes, add more butter and less milk.
So my choices are:
- First: Russets
- Second: Yukon Golds
- Third: white potatoes
It is important to use potatoes harvested in the fall. Their flesh will be drier, producing a fluffier mash, and their skins are fully developed and thicker. New potatoes harvested in early to mid summer are too watery to make decent mashed potatoes (delicious for steaming or boiling, though). Baby potatoes (uniformly small-sized tiny potatoes) are not the best choice for mashing, as they have too high of a skin-to-flesh ratio (though they are great for roasting or smashing).
Weight of Potatoes
If you don’t have a scale, learn to eyeball the weight of potatoes. Try it next time you’re in the grocery store; pick a couple potatoes you think are medium-sized and put them on the scale. Do it with a few different types of potatoes. Get an idea of what 1 pound (or .5 kilo) of potatoes looks like, so you can more easily estimate it at home. Potatoes, of course, come in a real variation of sizes, but two medium Russet potatoes or 3 medium Yukon Golds make up about 1 pound. Doing some practice weighing at the store will help you train your eye to estimate what a medium potato looks like.
A Few Tips for How to Make Your Best Mashed Potatoes
~ Use the right potatoes (see above). Russets or Yukon Golds are my favourite.
~ Cut the potatoes into similar-sized pieces so they cook evenly. Start them in cold water (starting them in boiling water overcooks the outsides before the insides are cooked), and cook them until they’re tender and falling apart, but not overcooked and waterlogged. If the potatoes are overcooked and mushy on the outsides, return them to the pot and cook them dry for a few more minutes to evaporate excess water.
~ Don’t over-beat the potatoes! Beating releases the starch from the potatoes. Starch is like glue. You’ll get gummy potatoes if you whip them too much. Beat or mash them enough to break up any lumps, and then only enough to incorporate the add-ins.
~ Use a standard potato masher or put the potatoes through a potato ricer for lump-free fluffy mashed potatoes.
~ Heat the milk before adding it. I never thought this made much difference, but since I’ve started heating my milk, I’ve noticed the potatoes are a bit fluffier. The reasoning is that hot milk dissolves into the potatoes more quickly, meaning you end up beating or mashing them less to incorporate it, resulting in fluffier potatoes.
~ Season your potatoes well (no need to salt the cooking water, add the salt when mashing). Use a little less salt if serving mashed potatoes with gravy, as gravy adds its own salt. I prefer using white pepper so there are no little black flecks in my potatoes, but it’s a matter of personal choice. A touch of nutmeg really complements mashed potatoes, bringing out their sweetness. (Freshly grated nutmeg is much more flavourful and is finer-grained, so you can use less and it isn’t as noticeable in the potatoes as the pre-ground stuff.)
~ Serve immediately. Mashed potatoes are best served right after mashing – they stiffen up as they cool (the starches ‘set’). However, if you do need to make them ahead, keep them gently warmed; place the covered bowl of mashed potatoes over a pot filled with hot water set on low heat. If the mashed potatoes do get stiff, add a splash of hot milk to loosen them.
Enjoy your lovely mound of mashed potatoes with a pat of butter on top or a blanket of luscious gravy. They’re the perfect sidekick for any dish that needs a partner to sop up flavourful juices and sauces.
Try them with this rich and luscious Make-Ahead Turkey Gravy or this Killer Gravy, or this Savoury Onion Gravy, or serve them with Swedish Meatballs, Meatball Stroganoff, Coffee-Braised Short Ribs, Sauerbraten, Rouladen, Pulled Pork, Tender Ribs, Sausages & Savoy Cabbage . . . . the list goes on.
The quietly unsung hero of the dinner plate, a good mound of mashed potatoes deserves some attention and glory.
* * * * *
Kitchen Frau Notes: I always like to make a big batch of mashed potatoes. The extras are lovely fried in butter with some onions and served as a side dish or topped with a fried egg for breakfast. Stir leftover mashed potatoes into thin soups to thicken them and add body. They make great potato cakes: add flaked leftover meat or a can of flaked salmon or tuna, some seasoning, an egg, and a couple tablespoons flour or bread crumbs, make patties and pan-fry.
See the end of the recipe for instruction on making mashed potatoes in the Instant Pot.
How to Make Mashed Potatoes
- 2½ lbs potatoes (5 medium Russet potatoes or 4 large Russets, or 7 to 8 medium Yukon Gold potatoes or white potatoes)
- 2 tablespoons butter (use 4 or more tablespoons if potatoes are being served without gravy)
- ½ cup (120ml) hot milk
- ½ teaspoon salt, or more to taste
- a sprinkling of white pepper (or black pepper)
- a good pinch of ground nutmeg
Peel potatoes and cut them in quarters. Place them into a saucepan and add 1 inch of water to the bottom.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, cover the saucepan with a lid, and cook the potatoes until they are tender when pierced with a fork or the tip of a knife, 25 to 35 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces.
Completely drain the water off the potatoes and return them to the hot pot. Set them on the stovetop on low heat to further evaporate for a few minutes if they are too moist. Mash them with a potato masher or put them through a potato ricer, but don’t over-mash or be too vigorous in your mashing, or or the potatoes can get ‘gluey’ (this comes from releasing too much starch from the potatoes).
Add the butter, hot milk, and seasonings, and briefly mash again to combine everything smoothly Taste and add more salt, pepper, or nutmeg if you wish.
Serve immediately, or put the mashed potatoes back into the pot and cover with the lid to keep warm for up to 1 hour. To serve, add another splash of hot milk to loosen the potatoes (they stiffen up as they sit) and reheat over low heat.
*Variation: GARLIC MASHED POTATOES – Add 6-8 cloves of peeled garlic to the pot with the potatoes and boil them together. Mash the potatoes and the garlic cloves together and add the other ingredients as for the classic mashed potatoes above.
* How to make mashed potatoes in the INSTANT POT: Peel the potatoes and cut them into 1 ½ inch cubes Put the rack into the bottom of the Instant Pot and add 1 cup (240ml) water. Add the cut potatoes on top of the rack. Cook the potatoes on high pressure for 8 minutes (mine took seven minutes to come to pressure). Do a quick release.
Remove the insert carefully from the Instant Pot and fish out the rack with tongs. Drain the potatoes: use a colander or cover the top of the insert with a plate or pan lid, set ajar to leave a crack of space, and use pot holders to hold the lid in place while you drain the potatoes. Return the insert with the potatoes to the Instant Pot and turn on the Sauté feature. Add the milk (you may need more milk than for the regular cooking method), butter, and seasonings to the potatoes, making sure the butter is floating in the milk, not laying on top of a potato. Cook just until the butter is melted and the milk is heated. Turn off the Instant Pot and mash the potatoes right inside the insert. Add a splash more milk, if needed. Taste and add more salt, pepper, or nutmeg as desired and mash again. Serve right away or turn on the Keep Warm feature to keep the potatoes warm for a time.
If using a potato ricer, remove the potatoes from the Instant Pot insert after draining, heat up the milk, butter, and seasoning, then rice the potatoes right back into the insert, and stir together to combine with the hot milk.
Makes 5 cups (1.25 litres) mashed potatoes (serves 4 to 6).
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