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.
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.
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!
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.