The Ultimate Holiday Side Dish

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There was one year, just one, that someone forgot the mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving Day, and it nearly sent my house into a state of panic. Questions like "can you still make them" or "is there a box of instant somewhere in the back of the pantry" were the first reactions. Then, mumbles of "I can't believe no one remembered the ultimate holiday side dish" were heard for the rest of the day.

The mashed potatoes have not been forgotten again, and since this terrible oversight, I have been the one responsible for making them. Though they seem deceptively simple, there are a few common mistakes that can happen to any good masher, here are some tips to make sure you end up with fluffiest, tastiest potatoes possible.

  • Certain potatoes are better mashers. I favor Yukon Golds, but Russets are also a great starchy potato, perfect for mashing. Steer clear of waxy red potatoes, they do not absorb liquid as well as a starchier potato and often leave your mash lumpy.
  • Start with cold, salted water. Just like hard-boiled eggs, I start with placing the item, in this case the potatoes, in a pan and covering with cool water. Starting with cool water and bringing the water and potatoes to a boil together helps with even cooking. Also, don’t forget the salt. Starting with salt from the beginning builds the foundation for well seasoned potatoes, and means adjusting seasoning and mixing in less at the end.
  • Keep the potatoes warm. I like to mash the potatoes in the same pan I boiled them in. It creates one less dirty dish, and the pan is warm. I also do this over the lowest setting on the stove or with the stove off if it is still warm. Also, allow the cream and butter to get to at least room temperature before adding it to the potatoes or warm it on low, on the stove. Warm cream and butter absorbs better and more quickly. Again, this means less mixing, which brings me to the last tip.
  • Work quickly. As potatoes are mashed starch continues to release, the more starch the more gummy the potatoes become. So work efficiently and quickly, and avoid the use of a food processor or blender, both of which will destroy any possibility for the preferred fluffy texture of mashed potatoes.

Lastly, you can always experiment with flavor when it comes to potatoes. Fresh herbs, roasted garlic, blue cheese, horseradish, or nutmeg are all great ingredients that will add a little something extra to the ultimate holiday side dish.