Sunday, March 28, 2010

Do the Mashed Potato!

Dear Tricia, I love mashed potatoes and make them a lot, but sometimes they get really gluey and pasty. How do I make them fluffy all the time?

This is an easy fix. There's a few different things you can change to make your taters fluffy all the time, but first lets figure out if you're using the right potato.
Potatoes are divided into two basic categories: waxy and starchy. Starchy potatoes (like Russet potatoes) are super high in starch content and don't have a lot of moisture in them. That's why they are great for things like baked and mashed potatoes- they fall apart easily when they're cooked. On the other hand, that's exactly why you don't want to use them for things like potato salad- they'll fall apart when you start to mix everything and just turn into mashed potato salad, and that's gross and then you'll ruin the 4th of July. Waxy potatoes (like Yukon Gold or Red potatoes) are higher in moisture content and lower in starch. That means they hold their shape really well when they're cooked and are better for things like potato salad or scalloped potatoes, but they're terrible for mashing. So first and foremost, make sure you're using a starchy potato if you want to make mashed potatoes. By the way, did you know that there's no such thing as an "Idaho Potato?" But something like 98% of potatoes grown in Idaho are Russet potatoes, so that's what they're talking about if someone mentions these so-called "Idaho" potatoes. Now you can correct them. I like to act really smug when I do that.
Alright, so now that you're using the right potatoes, lets talk about how you're mashing them. And try to sit up straight while you're reading- your posture is bugging me. When you boil the potatoes, the little starch molecules inside the potatoes mix with water and swell up. When it comes time to mash them, you're basically breaking the wall of the little starch molecules, letting out the water, and making the potatoes more gluey. So the more you mash, the more gluey they get. This is why you NEVER want to mash potatoes in a mixer- it mixes them way too much and they get gluey in like seconds. Just remember- beating the crap out of potatoes gives you crappy potatoes. Simple, right?

You can do two things to mash them into fluffy success:

1. Use a potato masher. That's the funny, kind of swirly shaped metal tool with a handle on it. Its really basic, but it works. And remember, just mash the potatoes until you get most of the lumps out and then call it a day. Being an over achiever when you're mashing potatoes doesn't give you better results.

2. Buy a ricer. A ricer is a super cool tool that most kitchens I've worked in use to mash potatoes. The ones in kitchens are big and a little confusing to put together, but now you can buy smaller ones for your kitchen at home that are super simple to use. Its just like the Play-Do attachment that you used as a kid that made the long, skinny spaghetti shapes and it presses the cooked potatoes through small holes without overworking them. Then you can add your hot milk, butter, and all the extra fixings that make your mashed potatoes awesome, give it a quick stir and you're done. If you like having fun kitchen equipment, a ricer is a good one to have, especially if you make a lot of mashed potatoes.

Alright, so now what do you do if you made gluey mashed potatoes and you haven't read this blog yet? You don't have to trash the potatoes. If you've got the time, you can scoop the potatoes into little balls, dip them in beaten egg and breadcrumbs, and cook them in a pan of super hot oil. When they're brown, they're done... drain them on some newspaper and you've got potato croquettes instead. No one will ever know you messed up to begin with. There are some great potato croquette recipes online, especially on the Food Network's website because they're super basic. Happy mashing.

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