Mashing matters

For standout spuds on Thanksgiving, you've got to get the technique down pat

Cooking 101

November 22, 2006|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,[Sun reporter]

Chances are that if you're hosting a Thanksgiving meal tomorrow, you'll be mashing potatoes. What sounds like a simple, traditional task actually requires a fair amount of decision-making. Do you want your tubers smooth or "smashed"? Peels on or off? Should you mash by hand or use a mixer or food processor?

Baltimore International College chef instructor Greg Wentz says you should start by choosing the right potatoes. The higher the starch, the better they mash, he says, so look for russets, Yukon golds or fingerling potatoes if you want a smooth finish. If you prefer a chunkier, smashed version with peels on, lower-starch red potatoes work well and add color to the dish.

Look for potatoes that are consistent in size, and chop them in a large dice so they will cook uniformly. Bring cooking water to a gentle, not rapid, boil and cook until potatoes are tender but still hold their shape. When you add milk, butter or cream, it should be hot; cold liquid can make your potatoes gummy.

For smooth potatoes, you can use a hand masher or a mixer. Wentz suggests using a flat-topped potato masher with a plastic head so you can mash the drained potatoes right in the cooking pan. That way, you'll have a more immediate sense of when you've worked the potatoes enough. For a chunkier dish, a mixer can work well, too, but in either case remember that thoroughly cooked potatoes need to be mixed for only a short time.


Here are some tips for great mashed potatoes from Greg Wentz, chef instructor at Baltimore International College:

Choose potatoes of roughly the same size, and chop them evenly in a large dice.

Boil gently, so potatoes are tender but retain their shape.

Start mashing before you add liquid, to break down the potatoes.

Keep liquid hot and add it a bit at a time; once you've added too much, you can't turn back.

Go easy on the salt, so the potatoes will go better with gravy and other dishes.

If you're adding garlic to the potatoes, roast it first.

To keep your smooth potatoes creamy white, use white pepper.

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