Spud Sunday: Good At Mash

Of late, I have been working on my mash technique.

Knowing that some people can get quite exercised when it comes to the subject of mashed potatoes, it is only right and proper that I should take my research in this area very seriously.

Potato ricer: the tool of choice for discerning mashers

Potato ricer: the tool of choice for discerning mashers

Now I have, over the years, managed to assimilate miscellaneous bits of mash know-how. I know, for example, that for a really smooth mash, I should have a potato ricer on my side. I also know that it’s best to mash those spuds when they’re still warm and that butter will be absorbed better if it gets in ahead of any milk or cream, rather than the other way around. And if I am indeed adding that milk or cream, I know that I’d do well to warm it up first, before it embarks on a hot date with those buttery spuds.

Yes, all of these things I know, yet sometimes I am visited by the awful spectre of gummy mash.

Luckily, Jeffrey Steingarten, in The Man Who Ate Everything, devotes considerable space to what it is that causes mashed potatoes to become something more akin to wallpaper paste than the comfort food of your dreams.

In essence, a gummy, gluey mash results when starch granules, which absorb water during cooking, burst and release their sticky contents. Steingarten found that the best way to avoid gummy spud syndrome was to cook the potatoes in two stages: first in hot water that is well below a simmer, after which they are cooled and cooked again, this time at a simmer, until done.

During stage one, the potatoes absorb water, which swells the starch. After they cool, the starch firms up and loses much of its ability to dissolve in liquid, so the potential for later gumminess is reduced. Further simmering brings the spuds to the point where the internal cell walls start to break down and cells separate easily rather than bursting apart, which is a good point at which to mash. Shirley Corriher in Cookwise agrees with Steingarten’s conclusions and recommends the same 2-stage cooking method.

Thus, having read this 2-stage advice from, not one, but two such credible sources, there was nothing else to do but give it a whirl. I have to say that I found it a somewhat alien experience to cook anything on the stove-top that was not either simmering or bubbling madly, but that was how stage one, with its spuds in hot water, went down. I can’t deny, however, that having passed through both stages, the desired effect was achieved and my resulting mashed potatoes were, in the end, quite glueless.

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Browned Butter Mash

Brown Butter Potato Mash

Mashed potato is not just about technique, of course. There are endless variations on the ingredients you can include to make a winning mashed potato formula. For example, in my world, mashed potatoes always include butter. However, I was struck by the notion lately that if I browned my butter first, I would end up with a warm, nutty-tasting mash. That’s pretty much what happened.

You’ll need:
  • 800g potatoes (about 4 medium-sized specimens), preferably a floury variety
  • 2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed using the blade of a knife
  • a sprig of rosemary, about 5-7cm in length
  • 150g butter
  • 6 tblsps hot milk (or more if you prefer a looser consistency)
  • 3 tblsps pine nuts
  • 1 tsp coarse salt or to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2-3 tblsps flat leaf parsley, chopped (optional)
You’ll also need:
  • A potato ricer is a useful, though not essential, piece of kit here.
The Steps:
  • Peel your potatoes and cut into roughly even-sized slices, around 1-2cm thick. Rinse them under cold water.
  • If you like, you can cook the potato slices using the 2-stage method, described below, adding the crushed garlic and rosemary to the water when adding the potato slices and removing them before you start to mash.
  • Alternatively, bring about 1.5l of water to the boil in a saucepan, add about 2 tsp salt, a sprig of rosemary, the pieces of crushed garlic and the potato slices.
  • Bring back to the boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer gently, covered, for around 15-20 minutes or until just fork-tender. While they’re simmering, you can brown the butter and toast the pine nuts:
  • Place the butter in a small heavy saucepan over a medium heat. Allow to melt and, as the butter starts to foam and bubble, stir continuously for around 6-7 minutes or until it turns a dark golden colour. It will have a butterscotch-like aroma. Strain into a bowl and skim off any foam.
  • Place a small, heavy pan over a medium-high heat. Add the pine nuts and dry-fry for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently, until they start to turn golden brown. Remove from the pan.
  • When the potatoes are done, drain well, removing the rosemary and garlic, and return them to the saucepan. Then either let them sit, covered by a tea-towel, for about 5 minutes or place the pan over a low heat and stir the potatoes gently for a minute or so while they dry out.
  • Put the cooked and still warm potatoes through a potato ricer, if you have one, or mash with a potato masher or, if all else fails, a fork.
  • Pour in the browned butter, leaving behind any sediment that collected at the bottom of the bowl, and stir through the mash.
  • Add in the hot milk and stir through.
  • Add salt and black pepper to taste.
  • Stir in the pine nuts and parsley, if using.
  • Grab a spoon and eat.
The Variations:
  • This mash is fairly rich as it is, though you could use some cream instead of milk and make it even richer. I also fancy upping the garlic presence by mashing in a few cloves of roasted garlic.
The Results:
  • Mash for around 4 people

The Steingarten/Corriher 2-Stage Cooking Method For Mash

This is the path to non-gummy mash as derived from the writings of Jeffrey Steingarten & Shirley Corriher. The 2-stage cooking process is, of course, fussier than just boiling or steaming your spuds but if you are plagued by gluey mash, this is worth a try.

You’ll need:
  • potatoes, preferably a floury variety
  • salt
You’ll also need:
  • An instant read thermometer will be your friend for this method, at least the first couple of times through. A potato ricer is also recommended.
The Steps:
  • Peel your potatoes and cut into slices around 1cm thick. Rinse the slices to remove any excess starch.
  • In a saucepan, heat enough water to cover the potato slices. The water should be hot (with some steam rising) but well below a simmer (a temperature of around 79C / 175F).
  • Add in your potato slices and some salt (about 1 tsp for every 750ml or so of water) and reduce the heat to low. The temperature of the water should reduce with the addition of the potatoes to around 71C / 160F.
  • Cook, uncovered, at this temperature for about 20 minutes. You may need to add small amounts of cold water from time to time if the water starts getting too hot.
  • Drain your potatoes and run them under the cold tap until they feel cool to the touch. At this stage you can refrigerate the slices if you’re not ready to use them straight away.
  • When ready to finish cooking, bring some fresh salted water to the boil, drop in the potato slices and bring back to a simmer. Simmer the slices for about 5 minutes or until fork-tender.
  • Drain the potato slices, then return them to the saucepan. You want the potatoes to dry out before you mash them, so either cover the saucepan with a tea-towel and let the potatoes sit for about 5 minutes or place the pan over a low heat and stir the potatoes gently for about a minute.
  • Mash the still-warm potato slices using a potato ricer if you have it or, if not, a food mill or potato masher.
  • If you’re adding butter, mix it in now, so that it gets melted by the warm potato.
  • Now stir in any milk or cream (which should be warmed up before you add it) .
  • Season and add herbs or whatever else takes your fancy.
The Results:
  • Creamy mashed potatoes instead of wallpaper paste.
Comments
  • Yeah, I’ve had mashed taters that weren’t appetizing. I ate it just for the sake of the hosts feeding me. That’s some pretty good advice into making some good mash. I’ll need to keep that in mind.

  • Man, I could eat mashed potatoes forever. Good tips! I’ve only had one bad mashed potato experience (eww pasty), but I’ve never had a browned butter experience. Time to try!

  • I love your idea of browning the butter first! Sounds wonderful!

  • jenn: I was amazed that there was so much to know about mash – some good stuff for me to keep in mind too!

    kickpleat: I think I could keep going on mashed potatoes for quite a while myself :)

    Natasha: don’t know why I never thought of it before – if you like browned butter, it’s definitely worth a try

  • BROWN BUTTER MASHED POTATO! omg. I need to try this immediately!

    I’ve never tried to two step method. I’ve done some experimenting start with cold vs hot water. Usually I just live with a few potato chunks to avoid overmashing (living sans ricer right now) and gumminess.

    It’s amazing how a different type of potato can make a huge difference as well.

    A little off mashing topic, but I wanted to ask you about french fries? I was taught that Kennebec is the best to use and to fry, freeze, and re-fry. A multi-step approach. Have you done any french fry experimentation?

  • yum and yum again! looking forward to trying this.

  • Thanks, must try this.

    It’s possible to use waxy here, isn’t it? and not floury, apparently it gives a more puree effect – thick, and creamy, not light and fluffy….

    I live in a house of waxy supremacists. Getting a floury potato in the door is tricky….

  • You are so gifted in the ways of the potato! Browned butter mashed taters is just genius. Hello, Thanksgiving side dish:)

    I knew all the other mashy rules, but I didn’t know about the two-stage cooking method. I guess I skipped that page in my otherwise well-worn Cookwise. Hmmm. I’ve had good luck w/baking the potatoes before mashing as well.

  • brown butter is a fabulous idea. I have tried that with mashed yams but never these guys! Yum. GREG

  • Who knew making mashed potatoes could get so technical. :) But such an important veggie deserves special attention. I like a lumpy mash, yet often feel that is the easy way out. I grew up with the smooth and creamy kind and do crave them that way often.

  • That’s all so interesting, especially as winter and my need for insane levels of comfort food like mash begins again. I usually add some milk, butter, salt and an egg yolk and blend the mash with a hand-held processor..simple and somewhat effective. Will try out both of these techniques now though, you learn something new etc etc.

  • I am so going to use browned butter for my next mashed potatoes! The potato ricer has a place of honor in my kitchen – I don’t know how I ever mashed without it. Many thanks, as well, for the tip about warming up the milk first. I didn’t realize those poor potatoes were getting such a cold dairy shock!

  • gastroanthropologist: I’ve not done much french fry experimentation – mainly because I lack a deep fat fryer! I have always understood, though, that a 2-stage fry-cool-fry process is recommended. I’ve not come across Kennebec potatoes but I understand that the preferred potato of chip-shop owners in the UK & Ireland is maris piper.

    kiss my spatula: enjoy!

    Keith: you can indeed make mash with waxy potatoes and the the texture will be different as you say – and if waxy supremacists are in residence, then waxy is what you’ll have to work with :)

    Jenni: It was one of those why-have-I-never-thought-of-this-before moments, and a pretty good one at that! Meanwhile I can see how baking the spuds first would also be a good route to mash, with a very nice by-product of baked potato skins – yum.

    sippitysup: it’s one to try for sure

    Lori: hey there, I didn’t realise that mash could get so technical myself, but I’m learning :)

    Ciara: it is indeed getting to that comfort food time of year; I must say that I haven’t tried putting egg yolk in mash – though I’ve had fried eggs with mash, which I guess is not that different…

    Tangled Noodle: well of course I am not surprised that rice woman has a potato ricer :) – and do try out the browned butter in mash – would love to know what you think

  • Brown butter mashed taters – you’re a genius. What a brilliant idea, but I know its going to lead me to the path of gluttony as mashed potatoes are a serious weakness of mine,

    J Steingarten is a personal hero of mine – I want his job! I read with interest his ideas on mashed potatoes and thought him a wonderful man who deserved a Nobel prize of some sort.

  • [...] A potato ricer is handy for mashing the spuds (and for a general low-down on mashed potatoes, see here) [...]

  • Hi
    where did you get a potato ricer ??

  • Hi Hockeysticks – I got my ricer in Kitchen Complements in Dublin, though I have seen them in other specialist kitchen supplies shops elsewhere in the country – hope that helps!

  • Hi,
    Wonderful idea.I liked your tips very much.I will surely try out these two methods.Hope i will get success as i have some bad experiences with mashing techniques.

  • Hi there Game – thanks for stopping by and hope those tips help you with your mashing!

  • [...] just a mashed potato dough. You’ve made gnocchi, you can make [...]

  • [...] need to start with some mashed potato. If that causes you any level of grief, I do recommend you nip over here for advice on mashing. Whatever else you do, I will ask that you remember to salt your water well when boiling your spuds [...]

  • [...] does, of course, assume that you are, at the same time, making some other potato dish (such as mash) which involves first peeling your [...]

  • [...] you boil it, steam it or mash it? Bake it, fry it or roast [...]

  • [...] For the mashed potato, if you have some leftover mash, then by all means use that. Otherwise, either bake some potatoes and scoop out the flesh to use here, or boil or steam some potatoes as you would for regular mash. [...]

  • [...] happily eat gobs of this with roast spuds, oven baked chips or fried potato cakes, mix it with mashed potato, stir it through a plate of gnocchi, swirl it into a bowl of potato soup, dollop it onto a baked [...]

  • [...] course, I’ve had much to say on the making of mash in the past. And it is generally accepted wisdom that, to avoid a gluey outcome, you should keep [...]

  • If I made a gluey mash, then semi rescued it with cheese and butter and milk.. would it be OK on my fish pie? Will it get worse after baking?

  • Hi Carol, my guess is that the mash will be no better and no worse after baking. Apart from drying out on the surface, I’d expect it to have more or less the same consistency as when you put it into the oven – so, if the semi-rescued mash seems ok (or at least, you’re happy enough to eat it as is) then it’s probably ok on your pie. Hope that’s of some help.

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