Mashed Potatoes, and a Confession

12 02 2010

It occurred to me when I picked up this week’s CSA panier that in nearly two years of writing a food blog, I have never written about one of my favorite – and most frequently made – dishes: mashed potatoes.  I plan to rectify the situation today, but first I’ve got to get something off my chest.

A confession, if you will.  (My Catholic conscience is hoping this will help.)  The chef was on a bread training course this week, which means I was running the show from Monday to Thursday.  We had a stage this week, which, as usual, nobody bothered to tell me about in advance.  By stage I mean a junior high student who is spending a week in the pâtisserie to see what it’s like, and if he (it’s almost always a he) is interested in doing an apprentissage there later.  Well, this week’s kid was lacking in the common sense department.  On the first day I asked him to find the pastry cream in the walk-in (success), grab the small mixer bowl (success), and put the pastry cream in the mixer bowl (failure).  He put the ENTIRE bowl right into the mixer bowl.  I couldn’t help but laugh, and then wonder how I was going to get it out of there, which luckily didn’t turn out to be too much of a problem.  It was a real lesson in giving VERY specific instructions.  Which can be trying on the patience of someone who is just trying to get some work done.  Generally the mishaps were along these lines, though – not a big deal, but enough that I had to drop what I was doing to solve problems. 

There was one incident that really pissed me off, though, and that was when I sent the kid downstairs to take the sheets of biscuit over to the oven (don’t get me started on the impracticalities of my workplace layout).  I figured it would take him a while, guessing that he would carry the sheet pans over one at a time instead of two, but by the time I had scaled and spread out nearly six more sheets of biscuit and he had neither returned nor sent up the dumbwaiter so I could refill it, I got irritated.  I went downstairs and found him sitting down next to the empty dumbwaiter, eating a warm pain aux raisins, and chatting with one of the salesgirls.  Grr.  I shot him a nasty look, slammed the dumbwaiter closed, and stomped back upstairs, grumbling about how I hadn’t had my breakfast yet, either.  And I was hard on him for the rest of the week.  That’s what I feel bad about.  I mean, he’s just a kid.  He’s not being paid.  He’s there to learn, true, but maybe I should have been nicer.

What do you know?  I think that worked.

So, mashed potatoes.  I’ve got these down to a science.  I’m sure that there are loads of people who will disagree with me, but this is how I make them, and they always taste good.  Whether or not I’m peeling them, I always cut my potatoes into small pieces.  This is mainly a time thing – diced potatoes cook so much faster than whole ones.  Then I simmer them in copiously salted water until very tender.

drying the boiled potatoes

I drain them well, then return the pot to low heat to dry the potatoes a bit.  The trick to great mashed potatoes (and French fries, incidentally) is to replace as much of the water as possible with fat.  After a minute or two (you don’t want them to get crispy or anything) I add butter, softened if I had the foresight, and start mashing.

Add butter

I now own a potato masher, but I used to do it with a whisk – that’s how tender those taters should be.  Anyway, mashing in the butter first helps to coat the potato starch which will prevent glueyness (gluiness?) later when you add your dairy.  I usually use cream, but sometimes I cut it with milk.  And sometimes it’s sour cream.  No matter the dairy, at this point I switch from the masher to a rubber spatula.  Folding in the dairy also helps to keep glueyness at bay.  Along with the cream I fold in a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Tasting and adjusting the seasoning is the best part!

Folding

This particular batch was made with skins, and the little red potatoes I had were on the waxy side (my ideal mashing potatoes are the floury Russets), which makes for a denser mash.  Still, really tasty, and just the thing to eat while  snuggled up on the couch on a snowy evening.  Steak optional, but oversized glass of red wine obligatory.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

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11 responses

12 02 2010
Cookie

You just reminded me of how much I LOVE mashed potatoes but haven’t made them in a while. I’ll definitely have to make some soon!

12 02 2010
Hannah

That looks SO good with the skins included! I’m going to try leaving the skins on mine next time… and then I’ll have to go the whole hog and make them your way, as at the moment (my confession time) I tend to put them through a potato ricer.

Also, *laughs* re: worker boy. I’ve had some hilarious moments with my brother calling me for cooking explanations. What is “folding”, for example, though my favourite was the comedy of errors that ensued when I tried to explain what “melt chocolate over a double-boiler” meant. (Brief excerpt: “What do you mean, put the bowl in the saucepan without it touching the bottom? Am I meant to make it magically float in the air?”

12 02 2010
isathreadsoflife

Chère Croque-Camille :) I learnt quite a few things tonight. First, the petit pain aux raisins must have been delicious (to forget one’s task ;) and the salesgirl, pretty ! Then mashed potatoes (ou pommes de terres en robe des champs) avec la peau, surely taste Much better. I must try it soon. And finally cream instead of milk in your mashed potatoes is just what makes a snowy evening unforgettable :) Do you add un petit peu de muscade ?

12 02 2010
laura k

It must be February, because I, too, just wrote a mini ode to mashed potatoes, and am now I’m thinking of having them for dinner again tonight. Mmm, mashed potatoes.

13 02 2010
hungry dog

Ah, mashed potatoes–is there a more comforting food? Yours look wonderful indeed. I like posts like this–I think learning how other people make the basics can be extremely enlightening!–so thank you.

As for your feeling bad, don’t. Yes, in a perfect world we would all be patient all the time. In the real world, you do your best, and it’s hard not to get frustrated in a situation like this–yes, he may not be getting paid but you are, and you’re relying on his follow-through to perform fully. So, give yourself a break (an have a big glass of wine!)

13 02 2010
trisha

What better way to work out your frustrations than on a nice bowl of potatoes?

13 02 2010
Marissa

Bonjour Camille!
I stumbled across your blog this morning and as an American pastry chef that’s looking for a job in Paris, I was wondering, how did you land your job at a Parisian pastry shop? Merci en avance!

13 02 2010
croquecamille

Cookie – They’re such a good winter dish!

Hannah – There’s nothing wrong with using a ricer – it really is the best way to get ultra smooth and fluffy potatoes. If I had one, I’d definitely use it when I wanted upscale (read: Robuchon-style) potatoes. And yes, trying to explain cooking techniques can be tricky, even in your native language!

isathreadsoflife – I have never tried nutmeg in my mashed potatoes, but it sounds delicious! I’ll have to try that next time. :) And avec la peau is nice for a change – I like the texture contrast as well as the added fiber, which makes it healthy, so I don’t feel bad about using all that cream ! :)

laura k – Maybe that’s why I had mashed potatoes on the brain…

hungry dog – Thank YOU! See, I knew confessing would help alleviate the guilt.

trisha – Truly, they soothe the soul in more ways than one.

Marissa – Welcome! Long story short: lots of legwork. After translating my résumé and writing cover letters in French, I had at least three different French friends look them over so I could make sure everything was absolutely correct. I applied to five places in my first round, and was rejected by all. Out of the second round of five applications, I got one interview, which went well, but they didn’t have any room for me at the time, so I had to keep looking. I think there were about three more applications after that, one of which resulted in a same-day phone call and eventual job offer.

15 02 2010
tasteofbeirut

Liked reading about your future “apprenti”; supposedly they are used (or expect) being treated very badly and abused at every turn, it is part of the game.
Your potatoes look great, I am gonna make me a batch asap!

16 02 2010
Wendy

See, the Catholic upbringing helped. :-)

Love,
Maman

16 02 2010
croquecamille

tasteofbeirut – Maybe so, but I still feel bad sometimes.

Maman – Yes, it did!




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