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As simple as this recipe for that beloved side dish is (just potatoes, butter, milk and seasonings), there are some keys to ensuring creamy, smooth spuds. Chef Ryan Scott shares his tips, plus suggestions on how to elevate basic mashed potatoes in case you want to experiment!
Keys to Creamy, Smooth Mashed Potatoes:
—Avoid Waterlogged Potatoes
Excess water can yield runny mashed potatoes and dilute the flavor. To ensure your potatoes are as water-free as possible, cut the raw peeled potatoes into bigger pieces. Additionally, don't overcook them and return them to the pot after draining and heat briefly to evaporate any residual water. Another option is to boil the potatoes unpeeled and whole, which also saves precious time because you don't need to deal with the peeler! Ryan boils large russets this way in salted water until just tender, about 30 minutes, then drains them and sets them aside to cool for about 10 minutes. After that, he uses a butter knife to help remove the peel in sheets. He calls this his "easy-peel" method.
—Use a Ricer or Food Mill
Pass the cooked potatoes through a ricer or food mill. Nothing else will give you the same silky texture. (If you prefer to use an electric mixer, be careful not to overbeat them or they can become gluey.)
—Heat the Milk and Butter
Ryan likes to use a combo of milk and cream for extra richness and heats it with the butter before stirring it into the potatoes. When the mixture is hot, the potatoes can handle more of it without getting soupy.
As good as plain mashed potatoes are, though, sometimes it's fun to mix things up. If you want to get more creative, check out these ideas from Ryan.
5 Ways to Mix Up Basic Mashed Potatoes (including a Chef-Approved Shortcut!):
1) Stir in Ranch Dressing Seasoning Mix
For 6 to 8 servings, prepare 6 large russet potatoes using Ryan’s easy-peel method above. In a small pot, combine 1 ½ cups heavy cream, ½ cup milk, 4 Tbsp ranch seasoning, 1 ½ sticks unsalted butter and ½ tsp salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Put the potatoes through a ricer, then transfer back to the pot and stir in the hot cream mixture and ⅓ cup sour cream. Alternatively, you can break up the potatoes with a potato masher or electric mixer, then add the cream mixture and sour cream and continue to mash until creamy and smooth.
2) Make a Mashed Potato Casserole with a Cheesy, Crunchy Topping
Start with the ranch mashed potatoes above (or your favorite mashed potatoes) and put them in an 8-by-8-inch baking dish. Melt 2 Tbsp unsalted butter and, in a small bowl, thoroughly combine it with 1 cup panko, ½ tsp dried parsley, ¼ tsp dried chives and ¼ tsp dried thyme. Top the potatoes with 1 cup shredded white cheddar cheese, then sprinkle the panko mixture evenly over the top and bake at 450°F until the crust is golden brown, about 10 minutes. (Bonus: You can assemble this dish a day or two ahead and refrigerate it, tightly covered, without baking it. Before serving, bake it at 375°F until heated through and the crust is golden brown, about 30 to 35 minutes.)
3) The Ultimate Chef-Approved Shortcut
If you're short on time and energy, delicious mashed potatoes are truly just a box away. According to Ryan, caterers who have to feed large numbers of people sometimes rely boxed mashed potatoes (yes, the dehydrated flakes your mom used to buy!). He calls them a "lifesaver" and says that when you add a lot of butter, a lot of cream and a lot of love, they are great, gorgeous and hold really well. In fact, he's had professional cooks work for him who weren't able to taste the difference! Serve the potatoes as is or use them in one of the recipes above. (Bonus: The flakes make a wonderful gluten-free crust for meat and fish and can also be used to thicken sauces and the like.)
Here's Ryan's recipe for his "Nobody's Gonna Know" Instant Mashed Potatoes:
In a large pot (at least 5 quarts), bring 3 cups water, 5 cups milk, 4 cups cream, ¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) butter, 1 clove garlic (peeled & minced), and 2 tsp salt to a boil. Turn the heat off and add a 13.7 oz box of instant potato flakes. Stir just to combine, cover and let the mixture rest for 5 minutes to absorb. Add 1 cup parmesan cheese and use a stiff whisk or large serving fork to fluff the mashed potatoes and completely mix in the cheese. Do not overmix or the mashers will become gluey!
4) Think Trifle (It Isn't Just for Dessert!)
Ryan creates a savory trifle by layering mashed potatoes with pesto (he adds sage), caramelized pearl onions and crispy bacon. He tops it with crispy leeks and fresh chopped herbs, but you can use whatever ingredients and combos you like. The trifle can be served right away or reheated later and looks great when you cut into it like a lasagna.
Use store-bought pesto or try Ryan's sage version:
In a food processor, combine 1 cup fresh sage (roughly chopped), 1 cup fresh parsley (roughly chopped), ½ cup fresh chives (roughly chopped), 1/3 cup EVOO, ½ tsp salt, ¼ tsp ground pepper, 1 small clove garlic, 3 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese and 1 Tbsp lemon juice. Puree until smooth.
5) Air Fryer = Easy, Creative Toppers
Ryan tosses ingredients such as 2 cups frozen pearl onions or potato peels with 2 Tbsp olive oil and ½ tsp salt, then air fries them until dark caramel brown and soft (for the onions) or browned and crispy (for the potato skins). Layer those in a trifle or use them as a topper on regular mashed potatoes for a hit of color, texture and flavor. (This can also be done in a conventional oven by cooking on a baking sheet at 450°F for 15 to 18 minutes.)