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Turkey Day Mashed Potato Tips from the Doctor, aka Dr. Potato

Q:

How can I become a potato expert for one of the most important days of the year that family celebrates together – Thanksgiving? I was asked to bring the mashed potatoes. I moved away when I graduated from high school and when at my home I depend on the packages of dry mashed potato mix. These are so consistent, quick and economical when I want a side of potatoes. They are great, but not homemade. What do I need to know to make foolproof mashed potatoes that everyone will rave about?

A:

You came to the right place. Always start with Idaho® potatoes, the combination of warm days and cool nights, the right amount of water and volcanic or sandy soil makes for high solids and low moisture. By the way, did you know the official date of the Thanksgiving Holiday was decreed by Congress to be the fourth Thursday of November? On to the tips:

  1. With russets, peel and cut the potatoes into even size chunks, 1 to 2 inches. When you leave it whole, the outside of the potato cooks way before the inside and may absorb even more liquid.
  1. You can leave the potatoes in water until ready to use. Just add a little acidity, a tablespoon of white wine vinegar or lemon juice (fresh or concentrate) added to a gallon of water, or a teaspoon to a quart, will help the refrigerated potatoes submersed in water from turning gray, which happens when they are exposed to air. When ready to use, drain the potatoes and add to a pan with cold water.
  1. Always start with cold water and bring the potatoes up to a boil, then simmer.
  1. It depends on the chunk sizes of potatoes, but they should be fully cooked in about 15-20 minutes. Use a fork to pierce, or a sharp knife or tongs to smoosh or crush to test.
  1. With Yukon Gold or yellow flesh potatoes, feel free to leave the peel on and boil whole. Be sure to pick even sized potatoes for even cooking. With their light skins, you can peel most of the skin off when warm by wrapping in a cloth towel and rubbing the skin off with your hands.
  1. If making a small batch of mashed, you can cut the potatoes into even sized pieces and microwave until tender, or when a knife or fork can pierce the largest piece easily. I love doing this when mashing just enough for one to two people.
  1. Another option for the driest mashed potatoes, if you have time, is to bake the russets, cool slightly and scoop out the inside into a pan and mash further.
  1. Salt the water you boil the potatoes in. Once drained, and all other ingredients and liquids are added to the fully mashed mixture, taste again to see if more salt is needed.

 A.Celebrity chef Tyler Florence recommends that you boil the potatoes in cream and milk instead of water. He then adds spices and whole garlic cloves, pours off the liquid in a colander over a bowl to save the cooked liquid and skims off the cloves, bay leaves, etc. He then slowly adds some back into the mashed potatoes as stirring.

  1. Another option for boiling the potato chunks is to use chicken broth or stock. Save some to add in later for additional flavor. Once chunks are fully cooked pour off (drain) and mash.
  1. If combining milk and cream, why not just use half and half instead for your creamy mashed potatoes? Remember, don’t scorch. Heat to a boil and then simmer and keep warm to add back into the mashed potatoes.
  1. Make a large batch of mashed and prepare one half in the traditional way. For the other half, just before finishing, add in one of these flavor enhancers… grainy mustard, creamy horseradish, chopped green onions (use the whole bulb and green) are examples.
  1. Want cheesy mashed? Fold shredded cheese into the warm potatoes at the last moment, some mozzarella, white cheddar, Parmesan or Gruyere. Want extra cheesy potatoes that are super rich? Search a recipe for the classic Aligot potatoes or try our American versions: https://idahopotato.com/recipes/idaho-american-aligot-potatoes
  1. Mashed potatoes runny from too much liquid? One trick is to drain the hot water from the cooked chunks of russets and put back on the stove top to cook off any extra water. Stir occasionally to keep the bottom of the potatoes from sticking to the pan.
  1. Another trick for saving runny mashed potatoes is to break out the dehydrated instant mashed potatoes. For example, add in some Idahoan® Buttery Homestyle Mashed potatoes from the packet a tablespoon at a time. These are already fully cooked, you’ll just need to stir just enough to mix well and thicken.
  1. Always add warm or room temp butter (never cold) first then the warm liquid slowly to the cooked mashed potatoes. Cold milk or cream or butter will make the potatoes gummy.
  1. Use your food processor for something else, don’t whip the potatoes to mash, they will be over mixed and gummy as it breaks down the starch cells.
  2. Team “Lumpy” fan? Then you’ll want to use the traditional masher so that some of the potatoes retain their chunky shapes or bumps.
  1. If you are a Team “Smoothie” fan, bring you favorite tool, a food mill or a ricer is best for whipped, not mashed potatoes.