By Molly Watson
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.