The secret to perfect mashed potatoes isn't in the cream, the butter, or the appliance or utensils. It's all about the potato.
Russet or baking potatoes (high starch) are my first choice for the fluffiest mashed potatoes, with Yukon Gold, round white, and red bliss (medium starch) tied for second place. A combination of Russets and one of the others is even better. Low-starch potatoes make delicious mashed potatoes, but don't overmix them or they could become dense and gummy.
If you care about lumps, put the hot drained potatoes through a ricer before you begin to mash. I often use an electric mixer on low speed to finish mixing the potatoes. A stand mixer with paddle attachment makes mashing big batches much easier. Check them for texture and avoid overmixing.
- Put peeled and quartered potatoes, about 2 1/2 pounds, in a large saucepan and cover with water. If you are using unpeeled red potatoes, cut them into smaller pieces so the peels won't interfere with the masher. The water should be at least an inch over the potatoes. Add about 1 teaspoon of salt and then bring the water to a boil over high heat.
- Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and cook for about 15 to 20 minutes. The potatoes should be tender enough to pierce easily with a fork.
- In a saucepan over medium heat, heat about 1 cup of milk, half-and-half, or light cream with 4 tablespoons of butter until the milk is hot and the butter has melted.
- Drain the potatoes thoroughly, put them through a rice or mash to break up, and transfer them to a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer.
- Stir or whisk in the milk and butter mixture gradually, then mix in 1/4 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper and add salt, to taste. Reheat the potatoes over low heat, if necessary.
- Mix the drained potatoes on low to medium-low speed for about 1 minute, and then slowly mix in the hot milk and butter mixture. Add about 1/4 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper and salt, to taste.
- If you're using a hand masher, choose the grid style masher or the flat one with little holes in it. The old-fashioned mashing utensils require a little more work and might leave you with lumpier mashed potatoes.
- Put hot mashed potatoes in a buttered slow cooker on the low or warm setting to keep them warm for a big dinner or holiday meal.
- Don't use a food processor, blender, or hand blender to mash potatoes.
- If you like a more rustic look and texture, leave the skin on red-skinned potatoes or new potatoes.
Some Healthy Tips
- Use skim milk or stock instead of milk or cream.
- Use evaporated milk in place of the milk and butter.
- Replace the butter with olive oil.
- Add a little nutmeg to the mashed potatoes.
- Use browned butter in the potatoes.
- Use part sour cream with the milk or cream, or replace the milk or cream with sour cream.
- Add some cheddar or blue cheese to the potatoes, or replace the milk with cream cheese.
- Combine the mashed potatoes with other mashed vegetables, such as rutabaga, sweet potatoes, parsnips, or carrots.
- Serve the potatoes with a topping of shredded cheese, green onions, or crumbled bacon.