Not to let the cat out of the bag or anything, but this is more by way of a very brief, technical primer than a recipe.
Know your friends:
• Butter, butter and more butter.
• Dairy – Whole milk, 1/2 and 1/2, and cream, whether singly or in combination. Also, you may replace some of the preceding with sour cream. Did you see low fat milk mentioned? Me neither.
• You need one of three pieces to make good mashed potatoes. Each of them makes for a different texture. Anyway: Ricer; Food Mill; or, Masher. Ricers make the smoothest, lightest, most elegant mashed potatoes. Masher leave some lumps, and the finished product is more substantial and “home style.” Food mills kind of split the difference, tending towards ricers for smoothness, and mashers in weight.
Know your enemies:
• Keep your food processor, your blender, your electric beater and your stand mixer away from dem spuds. Overworked mashed potatoes are starchy-gummy. They are to be eschewed (gesundheit!).
• Dry. Dry is bad. Use plenty of dairy.
• 2 lbs Russet or Yukon Gold potatoes
• 1/2 cup milk, or 1/2 cup half and half. Alternatively, mix them; or, use heavy cream; or, replace a couple of tbs with milk or cream with sour cream or yogurt
• 1/2 stick (4 tbs, 1/4 cup) butter
• freshly ground white or black pepper
• (Optional) A little freshly grated nutmeg
• (Optional) Minced chives; scallion tops; or garlic scape, aka “garlic chives,” aka “Chinese chives”
• (Optional) A little truffle oil or salt
Peel the potatoes. Cut small potatoes into four roughly equal pieces, medium potatoes into six pieces, and large potatoes into eight pieces.
Note 1: The purpose of cutting the spuds, rather than cooking whole is to cook everything evenly.
Cover the potatoes with cold water. Let them soak for a minute or two, the water will become cloudy. Drain the water and replace it with fresh. If the water clouds again after another minute, repeat one more time.
Drain the potatoes, and put them in a pot large enough to hold about twice the amount. Add enough fresh water to cover by an inch. Salt the water so that it’s roughly the same salinity as sea-water.
Note 2: You can use whatever salt you like. However, be aware that for boiling and steaming salt is salt. Anything other than ordinary table salt is needless expense.
Note 3: As a general rule, a level of saltiness similar to sea-water is correct for boiling and/or steaming any vegetable; and also correct for boiling pasta.
Put the potatoes over a medium-high flame and bring them to a boil. Reduce the heat to either a low boil or hot simmer and cover. Cook the potatoes until they’re easily pierced and/or broken with a fork – about 10 minutes.
Remove the pan from the stove. Drain the potatoes.
If ricing, rice. If using a food mill, mill. If mashing, don’t mash.
Return the pot to the stove over a low fire. If the potatoes remain unprocessed allow them to steam for a minute or two to get the excess water off the spuds and out of the pan.
Add the milk and/or cream (hold off on the sourcream, if using), and allow the milk to heat. For this purpose, you want potatoes that are not soupy but are just stiff enough to hold their shape, and this recipe should get you right to that point or at least very close. Remember, you can always add more milk later, if you feel the potatoes are too stiff.
Add the butter, in pieces no larger than a tbs and allow to soften.
Reduce the heat to very low. Add the yogurt or sour cream if using.
If the potatoes weren’t riced or milled, mash them now. Mash a few times, then use your masher to stir to incorporate. Work the masher around the pan, alternately mashing and stirring. You want an ultimate texture that floats between lumpy and grainy. You definitely do not want to mash the potatoes to smoothness, because they will be overworked and pasty.
If the potatoes were riced or milled, you need only mix them well enough to fully incorporate the dairy and butter.
Once the potatoes are mashed and/or the butter and milk are completely mixed in, add a few turns from the pepper mill, and a little salt and mix them in with a fork. Taste and adjust for salt and consistency. Mashed potatoes can take a lot of salt. If the potatoes are stiff and/or heavy, add a little more milk or cream.
Note 4: If using truffle salt, be careful not to overuse it. Plan on using regular salt as well.
If using, add the chopped chives or scallion top, any herbs, and the truffle oil.
Before plating, do a final and “taste and adjust.”
Note 5: The whole “taste and adjust” thing is one of the biggest separating good cooks from... well...
The above recipe is my original creation. If you wish to share it you have my permission to do so as long as you credit it to me, Boar D. Laze. I'd consider it a kindness if you would also mention my website, www.cookfoodgood.com where this recipe is also posted.
Edited by boar_d_laze - 2/25/10 at 2:27pm