Everyone looks forward to the sides at Thanksgiving -- they're the best part, after all! But no one's going to reach for seconds of the mashed potatoes if they're gluey or cold or tasteless. Start out with your favorite recipe, avoid the seven pitfalls below, and your guests will be begging you to make the spuds every year!
1. Using the wrong type of potatoes
Choose higher starch potatoes (like Russets or Yukon golds) for the fluffiest, smoothest mash. They also absorb flavorings more easily. Waxy potatoes (such as red or white varieties) require more mashing to become creamy, which could lead to the dreaded "potato paste".
2. Not salting the water
When potatoes cook, the starch granules swell and absorb water and salt, if you've added it. You won't need to add as much at the end, and your final product will be well-seasoned, not bland.
3. Starting them in hot water
Cover them with cold water, add salt, then heat to boiling and reduce to a simmer. If you start in hot water, they'll cook unevenly, with the outside falling apart before the inside is cooked.
Make sure to drain well after cooking. You want them to taste like potatoes, not water. If you'd like, gently reheat the drained potatoes on the stovetop to dry them out slightly before mashing.
Related: The Best Potato Mashing Tools
5. Adding your flavorings straight from the fridge
Let your butter come to room temperature before melting it into the hot potatoes, then mash in the warm milk or cream. It will be absorbed more easily, and won't cool everything down.
The swollen starch granules in your cooked potatoes are in a delicate state. Mashing them too vigorously -- say, in the food processor -- or for too long releases lots of starch, which can make them gluey and unappetizing. Be gentle with your potatoes and you'll be rewarded with light, fluffy spuds, and happy well-fed guests.
7. Making them too far ahead
We're big fans of preparing food ahead of time, especially when there's lots of cooking involved, but potatoes don't take kindly to sitting around for long periods. Refrigerating them overnight sounds like a no-brainer, but they'll start to taste like cardboard. Want to make them ahead anyway? You can hold the prepared potatoes in a heat-proof bowl, with the surface covered with plastic wrap, over a pot of simmering water for up to 2 hours. If you have a slow cooker with a keep warm setting, that will work too. Fluff 'em up again before serving.
- By Catherine Lo
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