Beginner Basics: The perfect creamy Mashed Potato – no butter needed.

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Seriously. No butter needed.

And not because I’m trying to make a healthy recipe. It’s because you don’t need it. At all. Unless your conscience can’t take it. (Or your grandma.) Then, by all means, add the calories. But you really won’t have to.

The reason? Most people add butter for flavor and richness, to make up for the lack of creaminess. But you can get that on its own – without the butter.

Go ahead and forget everything you know about mashed potatoes.

The box of powdery dryness.

The “peel, then cut, the dump in boiling water.”

The “pour in milk, butter, and salt until you like how it tastes.”

No, this way, the best way, isn’t any more difficult. Just different. So hear me out, and give it a try next time, ok?

The Golden Pick

You have to pick the right kinda potatoes. This is the most important step. Yukon Golds are the #1 best (and only, in my opinion!) potato to use for this. You’ll see why a little later. But seriously, keep your eye out for these beauties. They are creamy and the flesh is slightly yellow. The taste is slightly sweeter than a “regular” baking potato or even small red ones.

A Cut Above

Second, (after you wash those potatoes of course), cut them into equal sized squares. In the culinary world, this is called a large dice. Just make it even. BTW, when you use these beautiful Yukon Golds, you don’t have to peel them if you’d rather save the time (and your forearms!). The skin is really thin compared to the regular baking potato.

Get in the tub before you turn on the water.

As in the potatoes should get in the pan first. Then add the water. Cold potatoes – Cold water. Simple as that. Your water should cover the top of the potatoes.

This is so the potatoes all cook evenly and heat up slowly with the water.

Add in a tsp or 2 or salt at this point.

Turn on the heat

At this point, I cook them on 8. As in high medium high. Keep them uncovered. If you don’t, you’ll have a volcano of starchy water all over your cooktop.

And while I’m on that point – add in a little bit of oil and your water won’t foam (and boil over) as much!

Boil, boil, toil and trouble.

Well, it’s not trouble (if you put that oil in your pot and resisted the urge to cover them.) But definitely boil. You should start to see some white coming to the top of the water. Don’t panic. That’s just the starch from the potatoes leeching into the water. The time you boil depends on a couple of things – how big your “large dice” is and how many pounds of potatoes you used to begin with. Just keep boiling and checking by trying to pick one of the hoppin’ potato squares up with a fork. If your fork goes through very easily, then you’re done cooking. For me, because I use a smaller “large dice”, this step usually takes around 10-15 minutes.

When they get out of the bath, don’t get the water on the floor!!

Well, I mean, who likes wet floors when you’re walking around in socks? My husband certainly doesn’t! Your potatoes don’t want anymore to do with water either. When you drain your potatoes in a colander, let them hang out in the colander and extra minute or two longer than you’d think. We want all the water gone. On that note, do this for your pasta too. You went through all this trouble already, don’t ruin your almost-perfect concoction by letting boring ol’ water hang out with your golden beauties. But another (often neglected) important step is to put those potatoes back into your hot pan. On top of the hot burner. For just a few minutes – usually about 2 or so. You’ll need to shake your pan around to keep the ones on the bottom from burning. This totally dries out the potatoes and ensures you have all the water out. And it is another step in ensuring you’ll have no lumps!

Sorry about the out-of-focus photo! I’m still learning my new lens!

Don’t you just love the detail on the side of my pot though?

Don’t make glue!

Potatoes have such a complex makeup of sugar and starch. So complex an entire biology lesson should be devoted to it. One thing, though, that will turn your potatoes into glue faster than you can run to your craft box and grab it yourself is dumping a bunch of cold milk or butter into these hot potatoes. Lumps of glue is what you’ll get. So, please, please, don’t dump cold stuff into your hot potatoes!

Grab some buttermilk and heat it up (with your butter if you’re using it.)

No buttermilk handy? That’s OK – use a whole milk – we get ours from a local dairy farm nearby – and add in a Tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar for each cup of milk you have so it curdles ever so slightly. Set it aside, before you heat it, for about 5 minutes and it’ll be ready.

Then heat it up. You want it hot – as hot as your potatoes.

But don’t put it in the potatoes yet!!

Mash ‘em with a Masher

Here is where what I did will not correspond with what I’ll teach. Using a masher or a ricer is the best best best way for getting fluffy (not glue-y) potatoes. Because when you use a blender, or a mixer, or a food processor, the blade can go right through those starchy cells, break ‘em apart, and make a nice paste-y, glue-y mess.

But I really wanted to use my KitchenAid. :) So, I used the paddle attachment, set on 2 (hoping it wouldn’t be too violent), and mixed away.

The biggest key to this step is to mash your potatoes – no matter what method you use or what tool you have – before you add any liquid.

I’ll say it again – Do not add any liquid to your potatoes until you mash them as smooth as you want them. Dry. Just do it.

Buttery Golden Smooth Potatoes

Here’s where those Yukon Golds come into play really nicely. (As opposed to a different kind of potato.) When you add in the flavor of the extra salt in the boiling water with the creamy sweet flavor of the potatoes, this bowl of deliciousness will actually taste buttery. Ever so slightly. Go ahead, try it.

See? It’s like magic! And we still haven’t added any liquid.

Now that you’re itching to do it, give the babies some milk.

Now you can do it. Add in your hot buttermilk. (And butter if you must, to keep yer mama happy.)

I did say to make sure your milk was hot, didn’t I? BIG key.

Also, if you really like flavor, add in one block of cream cheese. Again, make sure it’s hot. This is optional (and not pictured), but it’s how I make ‘em. And how I get compliments. So, if you like compliments, add it.

One More Time

Now is the final mix. It shouldn’t take long – your potatoes are already smooth. Which is important – the longer you mix and mash, the more starch you break down and the glue-y-er they get. You can taste (and taste and taste) at this point to see if you need to add a little more salt. You probably won’t need much though.

Showtime!

Now you’re done.

Whew! Seem like a big ordeal for simple mashed potatoes?

It’s worth it. Trust me.

And from start to finish, including peeling, the whole thing really only takes about 35 minutes. That’s half the time of the last Downton Abbey episode you watched.

I just wanna dive in.

Ingredients for 12 heaping servings

6 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
1/2 tablespoon oil added to cooking water to reduce foaming
12 ounces neufchatel or cream cheese
2 cups buttermilk or plain yogurt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne, parsley flakes or dried chives, salt and pepper to taste

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