Thursday, November 17, 2011

On Mashed Potatoes...

I love potatoes in pretty much any form. Baked, fried, scalloped, mashed. I had a conversation with a friend recently about some very disappointing, terrible in fact, mashed potatoes I ate at a local restaurant. She had recommended the place to us, and I like to check out local places, so off we went.

I ordered steak tips and mashed potatoes. It is one of the meals I will order if available, to judge the basic culinary worthiness of a restaurant when dining at a new place. It is not fussy, and can be done by a diner or by a high falutin' place. The steak was alright. They had prepared the tips with some sort of sauce, which was a bit too bitey for my taste. I think steak tips are best when done simply and grilled to a medium doneness.

The potatoes were terrible. I could not decide if they were instant or just bad. They had a weird texture, too dry or something, and had a strange flavor. And this is what baffles me. Mashed potatoes have to be one of the easiest side dishes in the known universe. I mean, the most basic version is quite simply potatoes, cut up and boiled, mashed with some milk, butter, salt and pepper. You don't even have to worry about how long to boil the potatoes really. Not like with potato salad. Then you need them done enough to be tender, but not fall apart tender. With mashed, the longer the better.

Of course the kind of potato used can make a difference, but I have used all kinds, mixed varieties in the same batch, and still, it is good.

Sure, the hardest part is the prep work. Washing, peeling if you don't like a more rustic version with peels in it, and cutting. But still not hard like breaking down a whole chicken. Which for the record I have not ever done. Because it is kind of gross.

For the mashing part I use a masher, not a ricer or a hand mixer. Some people like a really light, whipped effect for mashed potatoes, which would make them whipped potatoes, not mashed, and that is fine, for them. I like the rustic effect of a few lumps, a few bits of skin. I add milk conservatively, mixing in between to get the right consistency. This part I think is a personal choice, how thick or thin you like your potatoes. And don't forget the butter, salt and pepper. At this point you are done. Serve.

My boss has said that making mashed potatoes in her large, Irish Catholic family has been a religion and the source of more than one Bobby Flay like throw down. She likes to use cream, or at least half and half instead of milk, and at least one stick of butter. You will of course get some seriously rich potatoes with that method. And I watched The Pioneer Woman's HGTV show where she made mashed potatoes that practically induced a cardiac event just watching her prepare them. She used A LOT of butter AND cream cheese. She stated that these were popular on her ranch. I WONDER WHY.

My point is you can get creative with potatoes if you want, adding cheese, which I do when I use leftovers for the top of Shepherd's Pie. But at minimum it is just a bunch of boiled, mashed potatoes mixed with milk and butter. Go forth and mash it up people.


Jodi Anderson said...

I am really picky about mashing potatoes. Like you, I use a hand masher, the old kind with the wooden handle. I don't like the new ones with little square holes. WTH?

I read once, and I'm pulling this from memory so I could be wrong, that using a beater to mash the potatoes breaks them down too much so that the cells begin to release starch.

This was a really interesting post and it made me realize how strong of an opinion I have on mashed potatoes. For the record, though, I do like to occasionally do fancy ones, like something baked with some cheese inside. Ah, I just figured out how to do my Thanksgiving potatoes. Thanks for getting my brain going!

Audubon Ron said...

Easiest dish in the world. I use new potatoes (red ones) boil til it falls apart, drain, mash in butter, cream and plenty of salt. Serve immediately. They can dry out if left on the heat too long. As far as flavor, I'm always picking up a dishwater taste these days. Maybe it's just me, but I find most kitchens have bad cleaning habits.

Also, the potato masher is also good for mashing whole tomatoes from a can when making a tomato gravy.

The Zadge said...

So funny that you posted this today: I made my Mom's famous Twice Baked Potatoes Tuesday night, which are mashed potatoes, inside of a scooped out baked potato, topped with cheese. And I hand mashed them - not whipped! My friends thought they were just delish! I'm an Irish Catholic (fallen) girl and I know my taters!