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.
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.
Browned Butter 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- potatoes, preferably a floury variety
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.
- 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.
- Creamy mashed potatoes instead of wallpaper paste.