Everyone has their own idea of what makes perfect mashed potatoes. Whether you're seeking a creamy or fluffy mash, spuds rich with cream or something as light as air you can use the tips in this guide to make perfect mashed potatoes no matter which recipe you use.
Looking for a traditional recipe? See my favorite Recipe for Mashed Potatoes.
1. Choose the Right Potatoes
You'll need 1/3 to 1/2 pound of potatoes per person (I use about 2 1/2 pounds for 6 servings).
For light and fluffy mashed potatoes, choose Russetts. That's right, just plain old basic baking potatoes. They have little moisture and tons of starch, so, if treated right, they will mash up as light and fluffy as can be.
Yukon Golds have a natural buttery flavor that also have enough starch to mash up fluffy, they're always a great option, but especially if you're making lower fat versions of mashed potatoes. Even better are Yellow Finns, if you can find them. Both Yukon Golds and Yellow Finns bring so much natural flavor to the party, that just mashing them with a bit of butter and salt is going to taste better than most other versions of mashed potatoes.
Boiling potatoes - waxy red or white potatoes - have less starch and don't mash up as fluffy, but they absorb a lot of flavor, so if you're adding roasted garlic or caramelized onions or others flavorings besides butter and cream, boiling potatoes are, despite common wisdom, a good option for mashed potatoes.
2. Boil The Potatoes WholePlenty of recipes and tips will have you peel and cut potatoes into even pieces. A much better option is to buy potatoes that are all about the same size so they will cook evenly. Scrub these same-size potatoes clean, put them in a large pot, cover them with cold water, and bring the whole thing to a boil. Once the water is boiling, add enough salt to the water so it tastes salty. This will likely be at least a tablespoon and maybe more. Cook the potatoes until they are very tender when pierced with a skewer - let even small potatoes cook for 20 minutes before checking them.
You want the potatoes very cooked and as dry inside as possible, each time you check them they will pick up some water, so limit your tests as much as possible.
3. Dry the PotatoesDrain the potatoes, return them to the hot pot, and return the pot to low heat. Cook, uncovered, shaking the pan, for 5 to 10 minutes to evaporate as much water from the hot potatoes as you can.
4. Peel & Mash the Potatoes
I cannot stress enough the extent to which it is worth the $15 or so that a ricer costs when it comes to mashed potatoes (find a potato ricer here). A ricer mashes potatoes utterly and completely, without a bump or lump in sight. Not sold yet? What if I told you the ricer simultaneously peels and mashes? That's right - as you press the potato through the ricer, the pureed potato comes out while the skin stays behind. It's fast, it's easy, it's thorough - it's ideal for perfect mashed potatoes.
If you don't have a ricer, all is in no way lost. Scrap off the peel from the hot, cooked potato - a paring knife will pull that peel right off and an oven mitt or latex glove will let you hold the hot potato. Then mash the potatoes thoroughly with a potato masher or sturdy fork.
5. Avoid Processors, Blenders, and Mixers
The fast, mechanical action of mixers, blenders, and food processors can quickly turn the delicate starch in potatoes into a gluey, spackle-like substance. If you've cooked the potatoes enough - until they are very very tender - these devices are completely unnecessary for fully mashed, utterly lovely mashed potatoes. If you do use them, be careful to whirl or blend the potatoes only as long as it takes to mash them.