Saturday, May 8, 2010

Perfect Mashed Potatoes?

I'm not great at mashed potatoes. It's a little embarrassing. It doesn't seem like one of those clearly tricky things that everyone struggles with.

I wasn't planning to make them today. It's little Ava's seventh birthday today and the Celebrated One always gets to choose the menu. I asked her to remind my addled brain with a fourteenth recitation of her preferred menu and I think she tweaked her choices. For awhile, there was no meat on her menu, just Egg Drop Soup from our favorite Chinese restaurant, Wok Inn. But today, her choices sounded exactly like what her brother and sister choose every year. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes with BOTH brown and yellow gravy, and salad.

After a long day at the little league field, I was in a rush to prepare this dinner. (An aside: It was Ava's first t-ball game of the season. It was at 9:00 AM. It was 40 degrees. Children were crying. Nobody was having fun. It was like a Greek tragedy.) I peeled and cut up the potatoes and started them cooking, while I waited for Mike and the kids to get home from Mother's Day shopping, bringing with them the chicken pieces for frying. (I'm hoping that wasn't my present.)

The potatoes ended up being tender long before the chicken was done and I got distracted by hurrying the other kitchen work when I should have been mashing the potatoes. The result was gluey mashed potatoes.

I did a quick Google search before posting in hopes that I could give you some clear answers about making perfect mashed potatoes. I found a Taste of Home forum where someone had a similar experience and asked the other readers for helpful hints. What was reassuring was that the number of people who responded indicated that plenty of people have a problem with getting the mashed potatoes right. Less helpful was all the conflicting advice. Some said, "You must have been using old potatoes." Some said, "You must have been using red potatoes." Also, "You must have been using a mixer." "You have to use a potato ricer." "You have to use a hand masher." "You have to heat the potatoes again after you drain them, in order to dry them before mashing."

A few people did mention what I ultimately think was the culprit... waiting too long (and allowing them to cool) before mashing. My mother-in-law also told me the potatoes are fluffier if the milk you add to the potatoes has been heated. All very interesting stuff, none of which was I taught before being unleashed into my own kitchen. What else can YOU teach me about mashing potatoes?


  1. Boil the potatoes until tender, drain water, mash them by hand, add butter, head up milk in microwave, add milk to potatoes and then use hand beater to mix. Add desired amount of salt. I mix them while they are piping hot. Turns out great everytime!

  2. I don't think this has anything to do with the texture but I always cook my potatoes in pretty heavily salted water. I think the flavor goes through better that way. I never have any trouble with texture and I've used all sorts of potatoes which leads me to think it must be a technique thing rather than an ingredient one.

    You should check with the Cook's Illustrated people. They have an opinion on everything; I think you get access to their website with your subscription.

  3. I call these "whipped potatoes" and I think I've made them once in my life, with lumpy results. I much prefer just hand-mashed potatoes and that's what I always make.
    My mom used to heat the milk before mashing her taties and hers always got nice.
    I hope your Celebrated One didn't notice and enjoyed her meal anyway! It was 50 degrees here yesterday but I swear the windchill was 40. Sheesh.

  4. I don't add milk. Just butter (lots of REAL butter) and a bit of room temperature cream cheese. I've also used red potatoes and had no problems. I do usually leave the skins on but I don't know if that has anything to do with it. I also use a hand masher most of the time but have been known to use a mixer on occasion. If I can't mash the potatoes immediately, I leave them in the water with a lid on to keep them warm until I'm ready. I've also mashed them and then put them in a casserole with butter on top and covered in foil. Then I put them in a warm oven until everything else is ready. Hope the next time works out better for you!


I write my posts imagining that I am already in the middle of a conversation with you. I hope you will comment and be a part of the conversation.