Amazing mashed potatoes
3 pounds russet or Idaho potatoes, peeled and quartered
6 ounces butter (equals 12 tablespoons), cut into chunks, at room
12 ounces half-and-half
Salt and pepper (I prefer white pepper for this), to taste
Special equipment: Sorry, you're going to need a food mill or a potato
ricer. Not that you can't make mashed potatoes with a tool that looks
like a branding iron, but I'm talking about amazing mashed potatoes
here, and only a food mill (you might know it as an "applesauce maker")
or a potato ricer (which looks like an overgrown garlic press and
usually costs only a few bucks) will thoroughly mash the potatoes,
making them lump free, without shearing open the cells. A food processor
or blender, on the other hand, will rip the cells apart, releasing all
the starch inside them, and instantly turning your dinner into book
paste. And didn't we get over eating glue in kindergarten?
. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees (optional; see step 5 below).
. Place potatoes in a heavy pot, cover them with cold water by an
inch, and bring to a boil over high heat. When the water is boiling, add
enough salt to make it taste nearly like seawater, and turn the heat
down to a moderate simmer. (Starting them in cold water saves time and
lets the heat penetrate the potato more evenly.) Cook the potatoes until
a paring knife slips in and out of them easily; check them after 15
minutes, then every few minutes thereafter. Even though you're going to
mash them to a pulp, it is possible to overcook them the cells will
burst, release starch, and absorb water. How gross does that sound? So
be vigilant when they're nearly ready.
. A few minutes before the potatoes are done, warm the half-and-half
in a small pot. Try not to boil it, but you want it nice and steamy.
What we're doing is making sure the potatoes stay hot at every step of
the way, not just because hot food should be hot, but because this keeps
them from turning stiff. When the half-and-half is warm, season it
aggressively with salt and pepper you want it tasting a little bit
saltier than is pleasant, because this is going to season the potatoes
. If you're using a food mill, set your colander in the bowl of the
mill and drain your potatoes, letting the hot water warm up the mill.
(If you're not afraid, you can heat up your potato ricer too, but don't
burn yourself on the handle!)
. Drain the potatoes thoroughly, spread them in one layer on a
baking sheet, and put them in the oven to dry. While you're at it, get
your mixing or serving bowl nice and hot in the oven, too. Check on the
potatoes after 3 minutes or so, and give them a gentle turn. When all
the steam has come off and the outsides of the potatoes look floury,
they're ready. (Alternatively, you can dry them back in the pot over
very low heat, stirring to release the steam, but I like the simplicity
and consistency of the oven.) The idea here is to rid the potatoes of
all the excess moisture, letting them be as fluffy and light as
possible. Well, as fluffy and light as possible when you drench them in
butter and cream, anyway.
. Set the potatoes in the mill or ricer and purée into your hot
bowl, alternating every few chunks of potato with some butter; this
helps you mix them together evenly. Fold the whole mash a few times with
a spatula or spoon, tasting in various spots of the bowl, to make sure
the butter is evenly distributed. The butter, on top of being delicious,
will coat the cells of the potato and keep the half-and-half from
waterlogging them. Science is magic!
. Pour in the hot half-and-half in a moderate stream, folding or
whisking just until it's incorporated. The potatoes should be moist but
still firm enough to hold their shape. If they're stiff, add a little
more half-and-half. Taste, add salt or pepper if need be, and keep hot!
(And try not to eat it all before dinner's ready.)
More Francis Lam
Bill Garden in shade zone 5 S Jersey USA