Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mashed Potatoes

I haven't posted anything food related on here in awhile and as I continue to avoid looking at my pathetic bank account, I figured I'd give you guys something to do on Thanksgiving that will make your parents proud of your ability to actually feed yourselves. Thus: Mashed Potatoes! I mean, how can you not love these? I am one of those people who takes potatoes over sweets 9 times out of 10 (with the body shape to prove it) so I might not be the best example but yeah, mashed potatoes are the best (well, next to french fries, and au gratin, and a loaded baked and scalloped...). It's fairly stupid easy but, well, I've had discussions with some of you about not owning the most rudimentary of kitchen utensils so we start with the basics.

And, in fact, for this being a stupid easy thing to make, potatoes surprisingly have a lot of their own tools. Just to get starches down our throat. I know, right? Also: if you are eating instant mashed potatoes, I don't want to talk to you. At all. Ever. It's an affront to the potato. And bad economics. A box of instant potatoes is, what, $3.99? A 10 lb bag of potatoes costs about that and yields way more. Don't EVER eat anything instant, do you hear me? There are just no excuses. If you're gonna kill yourself, if should be with real butter and cream and home cooked foods. /climbs off soap box  Minor exception: frozen veggies CAN be better than fresh, especially in the case of peas, but other than that: no.

(Oh! An aside! (you've missed these): When I moved from the all natural state of California to the deep fried state of Louisiana, getting used to their cooking habits took me a long time. And mostly I rebelled against them and tried to change their ways. Other than incorporating Tony's heavily into my repertoire, learning I would be looked at funny if I said "soda", and upping my spice tolerance, that is. Why in god's green earth does everyone in the south use freaking margarine? WHY?! It makes exactly zero sense. I'm pretty sure it's been proven to be worse for you than regular butter. My college roommate, smart, gorgeous, ridiculously popular, had it in our fridge when I moved into our room. "What in the hell is that?" I asked her. Seriously you guys, I'd never seen it before. Never. I'd also never heard the n word spoken out loud 'til I moved to Louisiana either, so, ya know, yay for being a sheltered Californian? I was unfamiliar with this weird tub of butter-like substance. It seemed, as I learned more about the South, to be a staple of every household. One that I to this day do not comprehend. If I'm going to kill myself, it is going to be with full fat, full flavored, full caloried butter. Not that imitation crap. So, just, yeah, BUTTER in your mashed potatoes.)

Large pot
Potato peeler
Potato masher

Cooking items:
Stick o' butter
Russet potatoes, 4lbs-ish, but really you can do this with any amount
cream, about a half cup.

Rinse the potatoes. This makes them easier to peel. I don't know why, just trust me on this. Take your potato peeler and peel the potatoes. Don't have a potato peeler? I think you're lame and should go to the store and buy one because they cost about $3 but if you insist, a paring knife will do. Just be extra super careful. If you're using a peeler, it's pretty self explanatory, take it and peel off the skin. I make this a competition if someone is "helping" me do this. I can get through ten pounds of potatoes in less than 30 minutes. If ever in prison, this skill will likely come in handy. If you're using the knife, you're going to take thin ribbons of potato skin off. I like to make a game when using a knife of how much I can peel off without lifting the knife off the potato. Yes, I'm well aware that I might need something like a life.

Alright, your potatoes are peeled. Rinse them again to get rid of the rest of the dirt. Cut them into 1 inch cubes (in half lengthwise, in half lengthwise again, run knife down to cut them into roughly uniform pieces). Throw potato cubes in a pot, add water to cover. Add a ton of salt. Place on stove on high heat. Wait for them to boil. Boil the bejeezus out of them. You should be able to stab them with a fork and not meet any resistance. I do want to caution against over boiling. You can leave them boiling forever, 'til they're falling apart and they'll still make a decent mash but they're much better, contain less water, if you make sure they retain their shape. So boil on high for about ten minutes and check them, then check them every five minutes until they're done. You are WAY better off overcooking than undercooking though. No one likes crunchy mashed potatoes. Err on the side of too much rather than not enough.

When fork tender, carefully remove pot from stove and strain potatoes.

Now, if you want to be fancy, you can combine the butter and cream over low heat in a sauce pot on the stove. All the chefs in the world would tell you to do this, but whatever, it's not necessary. Oh, and we're using cream. Yes, cream. It's actually called "Heavy Whipping Cream". It's Thanksgiving. Don't be the asshole who makes the healthy version of mashed potatoes with your 1% milk. Everyone will hate you. In particular me. Oh, and you can use more than just a stick of butter. Use all the butter you want. Pretend you're Paula Deen and butter those potatoes up. 1 cube was just a starting point. There's actually an inside joke in my family where we call mashed potatoes with equal parts potato to butter French mashed potatoes. This stems from when we were in France (pretentious anecdote alert) eating at Le Jules Verne. My entree came with a small copper pot on the side loaded with the most insanely decadent mashed potatoes ever. And whenever we eat at French restaurants, their butter/potato ratio still seems to be about equal. Thus: really buttery mashed potatoes are French mashed potatoes. Made funnier if my mom says it in an accent. (This is actually a restaurant trick for just about everything. Want to know why their food tastes better than yours? They've added butter all along the way, way more than you would ever dream of using at home, to make their food taste good.)

Once you have strained your potatoes, return them to the pot. Turn the heat back on low. You're essentially going to dry out your potatoes without cooking them. Do this for about five minutes, stirring them occasionally. (You are free to skip this step.)

Get out your masher. I recommend one that looks like this:

That's my preference. I like my mashed potatoes a little rustic and not perfect so that masher works for me. If you want super silky smooth mashed potatoes, run them through a food mill or a ricer. If you have to ask what a ricer is, get the thing pictured and don't be such a gunner, okay? For the love of god do not use a mixer. Whipping mashed potatoes makes them super extra starchy somehow and tasting like what I can only imagine cafeteria food tastes like so while that may seem like a reasonable short cut, it is not and the potato gods will know and smite you. Do. Not. Whip. Your. Mashed. Potatoes. Got that? This whole thing isn't taking you that long anyway, so deal with it. (The worst part is peeling. What can I say? Thousands of years of human evolution and a peeler or a knife is the best we can do. Yes, there is also the apple corer but it wastes a lot of the potato.)

Pour your melted butter/cream mixture over the potatoes and get to mashing. If you didn't melt those together, no worries. Just cube up your butter and toss it in the potatoes and pour the cream over the top. You might want more than my guess at an estimated amount of cream, depending on how loose you want your potatoes/how well they're holding up. You don't want them swimming in cream but you want the right consistency. As with the Supreme Court's ruling on pornograph: you'll know it when you see it.

Mashing them is very basic behavior. Just get in there and mash 'em up. Do it until you have the consistency you want. Like I said, I don't like mine perfectly smooth, a few lumps and a rough consistency is right for me. But it's up to you. You'll know. (I'm saying that a lot here, but just trust your instinct. You can always go in and mash more) Make sure you at least thoroughly incorporate the butter, cream, and potatoes.

You'll need to taste test along the way. Add more butter or cream as you see necessary. You might need to throw in a heavy pinch of salt. Because fun fact: potatoes don't really taste like anything. That's why you'll be covering these in turkey gravy later. So add more butter, cream, and salt until they taste perfect to you. Again: you'll just know when you got it right. This is a fairly un-fuck-up-able recipe. It may end up too salty, it may end up a little too creamy but they'll still be edible. 

You can make the mashed potatoes well ahead of dinner, just leave them in the pot and then reheat them on low heat while stirring. If you don't stir and use anything but low heat, you will burn the mashed potatoes and ruin Thanksgiving. Yes, ruin it. Don't do that.

If you want to be fancy, you can add sour cream for a little tang to your mashed potatoes. Cream cheese will add, well, creaminess. You can roast garlic (bulb of garlic, top sliced off, drizzle of olive oil, wrap in foil, place in oven for 1 hour at 375, smush out bulbs) and add it to your mashed potatoes. Fresh rosemary is nice, as well as other fresh herbs. You can do any or all of that if you want extra credit. But frankly? I'm a purist. Just the salt, butter, and cream for me. And then slathered in turkey gravy.

Can't wait for Thanksgiving...

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