Recipes for mashed potatoes number in the dozens, based on the addition of ingredients other than the potato, salt, pepper, milk and butter. This recipe is for making really good regular mashed potatoes. The idea is that starting with the right potatoes and using good techniques will lead to wonderful mashed potatoes every time. Other than choosing russet potatoes (my favorite) the real point of this recipe is learning the best techniques to guarantee success in taste and consistency.
A word about potatoes is in order. Use fresh Russet or Idaho potatoes and do not refrigerate them as that will screw up the sugar and starch balance. Cut out any bad sections from the potato prior to cooking. You should not have to remove any eyes as that infers you do not have a fresh potato, but in any case remove any eyes. Wash each potato in cold water under a faucet to remove any dirt and set it aside.
The goal is to make mashed potatoes that are light and moist, not gummy or lumpy or too dry. You will quickly see that there are two parts of the process that matter the most ... the boiling/simmering period and the control of milk addition to get perfect consistency while whipping the potatoes using an electric mixer.
Ingredients: (makes four very generous to six large servings)
3 very large fresh Russet potatoes (about 2 1/2 lbs.)
1/2 stick of room temperature butter
1 tsp. of sea salt plus 1/4 tsp. of sea salt to be added to the saucepan for cooking the potatoes
1/2 tsp. of black pepper
1/2 to 1 cup of milk
1 quart of water or two 14 ounce cans of chicken broth
1/2 tsp. of distilled white vinegar (optional)
Turn on the oven to 160ºF.
Wash and peel the potatoes, keeping in mind the general information given earlier in this recipe about potato quality.
Cut each potato into pieces no more than 1/2 inch thick and roughly 3/4" by 3/4". The idea is that you want the pieces to cook through quickly while simmering so the outer surface does not become mealy. Immerse the cut pieces in a large bowl of cold water.
Put one quart of water or two 14 ounce cans of chicken broth into a three quart saucepan. If you use the chicken broth then add 1/2 cup of water to the saucepan.
Add the vinegar (optional) and the 1/4 tsp. of sea salt to the saucepan. Mix the contents.
Drain the water from the potato pieces and add them to the saucepan. The liquid should just cover the potato pieces. If not, add additional liquid. Cover the saucepan with a lid.
Heat the saucepan contents over high heat until the liquid boils gently, checking frequently to avoid boil over. Then reduce the heat to low and simmer the potatoes for ten minutes, with the lid partially covering the saucepan. Fully covering the saucepan with the lid will result in boil over, and that isn't fun to clean up later.
After ten minutes of simmering use a spoon to extract one piece of potato and puncture it with a fork. If the fork goes through fairly easily the potatoes are done cooking and they should be captured in a strainer and set aside. If the potatoes are not done cooking (raw in the center) it will be difficult to penetrate them with the fork, so let them simmer for an additional minute and test for doneness again. Repeat as necessary. It is important to avoid overcooking the potatoes. If they start to disintegrate while simmering or look mealy they have been cooked too long. They should not fall apart, in fact they should look pretty much the same as when they were first put into the saucepan.
If you are making gravy with your meal then the cooking liquid remaining from the saucepan should be saved and set aside in a bowl to be used in making the gravy.
Put the drained potato pieces into a large mixing bowl and use your electric mixer to process them to eliminate all lumps. Start on low speed and increase the speed to medium for about two minutes. Check the consistency and if necessary mix for an additional minute.
Add the butter, the one teaspoon of sea salt and the 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper and mix for a minute on medium speed.
Stop the mixer and add 1/2 cup of milk. Start the mixer on low speed and operate it at that speed for a minute to get the milk well blended with the mashed potatoes. Then increase the mixer speed to medium high to whip the potatoes. Whip them for one minute at that speed and then increase the speed to high for one minute.
Stop the mixer and test the consistency of the mashed potatoes. If they are too stiff or too dry then add 1/4 cup of milk and repeat the whipping process of the previous step. Repeat this step only if necessary.
Check the final consistency of the mashed potatoes. They should be light and moist, not clumpy and not gooey or gummy. If they are clumpy or too dry then make one final addition of 1/8 cup of milk and repeat the whipping process.
Put the mashed potatoes into a serving bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, and place the bowl into a 160ºF warming oven.
Serve the mashed potatoes when all other parts of the meal have been placed on the table.
Have each guest add gravy or butter to their individual portion of mashed potatoes according to their wishes.