I had a life-altering experience earlier this year. My husband’s parents came to Ohio to visit and we decided to take a trip out to Amish country. We went to a tiny adorable Amish restaurant in the town of Charm, Ohio. I ordered the pot roast and mashed potatoes; I was trying to pick the most home-y and comforting item on the menu. While I was expecting good food, I was completely FLOORED by the perfect mashed potatoes. They were out of this world delicious.
I have eaten plenty of mashed potatoes in my day, and while I liked them, they weren’t really on my favorite foods list until this day in Charm. That day, I set out to replicate those perfect potatoes. I have probably made mashed potatoes about 15 times since (to my husband’s delight), and I have learned a lot of things a long the way. With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I thought now would be the best time to share my tips for light, creamy, buttery, fluffy perfect mashed potatoes. Here’s what I have learned:
How to make perfect mashed potatoes:
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You need a potato ricer or a food mill:
I have to be honest, I am really against kitchen items that only serve one purpose. I live in a townhome with the typical townhome kitchen. If you aren’t familiar with the kind think long hallway with no cabinet or cupboard space. I’m talking about the kind where it takes you an hour to put the groceries away because you inevitably will knock all of the precariously placed cans down every time. Anyway, even with my cramped living quarters, it was TOTALLY worth it to purchase a potato ricer. I was pretty skeptical about actually needing this contraption, so when I purchased one I picked the cheapest one that I could find at bed, bath, and beyond (this is the one I have). It is totally adequate and costs like $12 so not much more than a regular potato masher. If I had known how much I would love my ricer, I probably would have invested in a metal one like this because it’s a bit more durable, but I don’t really think you can go wrong here. Also, lucky for you, if you are like me and don’t want to buy a one-trick wonder kitchen appliance, it turns out there are lots of other uses for potato ricers like squeezing water out of zucchini and even mashing LOTS of garlic. Here are some other ideas as well. This tool truly is a game-changer and makes the perfect mashed potatoes.
Use the right kind of potato:
I know it’s boring guys, but really and truly, regular old Idaho Russet potatoes really do make the most perfect mashed potatoes. There’s some science and some stuff to do with waxy and mealy potatoes to do with it that I don’t want to get into. Just trust me and get cheap, regular potatoes to do the job. No need to be all fancy.
Cook the potatoes in salt water:
I don’t know why I had never thought of this before, but cooking in salt water helps to season the potatoes as they cook, rather than mixing all the salt in after. I salt almost everything else before cooking, so it just makes sense to salt the potatoes before cooking them. For well seasoned mashed potatoes, I add a generous amount of salt (~1 Tbsp) to the cooking water.
Cook the potatoes until they are VERY tender:
The first time I used my potato ricer, I was actually mildly disappointed because there were still tiny lumps in the mashed potatoes, and the amish ones I’d had were silky smooth. I realized you get a much smoother texture with very tender, almost overcooked mashed potatoes. When I am testing my potatoes for done-ness, I want my fork not only to penetrate the potato fairly easily, but almost cause the potato to fall apart. Then I put it through the smallest attachment on my ricer for ultra-fine smooth, perfect mashed potatoes.
Lotsa Cream and Butter (optional):
While I hate to recommend anything too high in fat/calories, the very best mashed potatoes are the ones that are loaded with cream and butter. Sorry to disappoint. It’s just the honest truth. When I am making potatoes for a holiday or special occasion, I go all out and load up on the good stuff. A good ratio to follow is 4 Tbsp Butter and 4 Tbsp milk/cream per lb of potatoes. These ratios will likely seem like more than you are used to, and you might even fear your potatoes will be liquidy, but once it’s all incorporated they will be light and creamy, not liquidy, promise.
For those of you who felt like they were having a heart attack just reading about all that cream and butter, all is not lost. There are ways to make dang good mashed potatoes without all that fat as well. Most of the time I use milk instead of cream and cut the butter in half to 2 Tbsp/lb. When I do this there are a few ways that I get more flavor, since I’m losing a bit of richness and creaminess from cream and butter. Those options include:
- Cooking the potatoes in chicken broth instead of water, and even mixing a little chicken broth with the milk when mashing for amped up flavor. If you are avoiding dairy, you could even use chicken broth as your mashing liquid after your potatoes are done.
- Adding Garlic, a little parmesan cheese, or other spices/herbs. If you choose to add garlic, I like to add it when the potatoes are boiling, and then put it straight through the potato ricer. I add about 2 cloves of garlic per lb of potatoes.
SEASON, SEASON, SEASON:
I don’t know why, but most people have a real fear of the salt shaker. I get it, I have definitely ruined a meal or two by oversalting. But it’s important to embrace the salt in this recipe. Unfortunately, mashed potatoes are a common victim of underseasoning because they easily soak up salt and are naturally very bland. I leave seasoning to the very last step. Remember, you already added some salt to the cooking water, and you will also get some from the butter if you are using salted butter. You will also get more salt in your potatoes if you choose to cook with or add in chicken broth. Once you’ve added everything to the pot, taste the potatoes. Then add about 1/4 tsp of salt at a time until they are seasoned to your liking.
There you have it!
After following these simple steps, I think my potatoes are as good as the Amish. I might have to make the trek back out to Charm to find out, but I’m pretty happy with the result. I can’t wait to test it out on company for Thanksgiving, hopefully you’ll do the same.
Do you have any other tips for mouth-watering, perfect mashed potatoes? Let me know in the comments below!
Here’s a very basic recipe implementing the tips I talked about above.
- 2 lbs Russet Potatoes
- 1/4-1/2 C Butter, preferably room temperature
- 1/2 C preferably warm liquid, (options include milk, half and half, heavy cream, or chicken broth)
- Salt and Pepper tt
- Peel the potatoes and cut into quarters.
- Add the potatoes to cold, salted water (I add ~1 Tbsp of salt to the cooking water)
- Bring potatoes to a boil, once boiling turn heat down to a simmer and simmer until potatoes are very tender, to the point where they ALMOST fall apart when pierced with a fork (~20 min)
- Drain potatoes well, you don't want water potatoes. Process potatoes through the smallest attachment of a potato ricer.
- Return to cooking pot and mix in desired amount of room temperature butter (between 1/4-1/2 C). After adding butter, add liquid a little at a time until the potatoes have reached desired texture. I typically use all of it, but you may not depending on your preferences.
- Taste potatoes for seasoning, if they need more seasoning add salt about 1/4 tsp at a time until the potatoes are well-seasoned.