I have a pet peeve about mashed potatoes. I hate when they’re boiled after they’re peeled. It drives me crazy when people peel them, slice them really thin, and then boil them. I think they absorb so much water and then, after being mashed, they just can’t get their flavor back.
Clearly, based on how many of their recipes are my favorites, I’m a big fan of Cooks Illustrated, and their recipe for mashed potatoes was the start of that. My friend had checked The New Best Recipe out of the library, and I was at her place flipping through it when I saw the recipe for mashed potatoes, which called for the potatoes to be boiled in their skins. I loved the idea – how it maximizes the flavor of the potatoes. But, I hated peeling hot just-boiled potatoes.
This new recipe improves upon that idea by steaming the potatoes – so it’s just the tiniest bit more effort (because the potatoes need to be rinsed halfway through steaming) as a normal mashed potato recipe, but it makes such a difference! Seriously, I tasted these potatoes, before butter or salt or any of that goodness was added, and the flavor was – it was pure potato! Exactly what you want!
Adding melted butter first, before the liquid, coats the starch with fat so it can’t absorb the liquid, and liquid absorption is what leads to gluey mashed potatoes. Heating the milk before adding it to the potatoes just makes good sense – it keeps the potatoes from getting cold.
I know most people don’t use a recipe when they make mashed potatoes. But they should! Don’t you want amazing mashed potatoes every single time you make them? And all you have to do to get there is steam the potatoes instead of boiling them, and add melted butter before adding liquid. There’s no excuses!
Fluffy Mashed Potatoes (from Cooks Illustrated)
CI note: This recipe works best with either a metal colander that sits easily in a Dutch oven or a large pasta pot with a steamer insert. To prevent excess evaporation, it is important for the lid to fit as snugly as possible over the colander or steamer. A steamer basket will work, but you will have to transfer the hot potatoes out of the basket to rinse them off halfway through cooking. For the lightest, fluffiest texture, use a ricer. A food mill is the next best alternative. Russets and white potatoes will work in this recipe, but avoid red-skinned potatoes.
Bridget note: I don’t have a metal colander or a pasta pot, but a cheapo steamer seems to work just fine. I also don’t have a ricer or a food mill, but I actually like the texture that a potato masher provides. Really, the key is the steaming.
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes (4 to 6 medium), peeled, cut into 1-inch chunks, rinsed well, and drained
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
⅔ cup whole milk, warm
ground black pepper
1. Place metal colander or steamer insert in large pot or Dutch oven. Add enough water for it to barely reach bottom of colander. Turn heat to high and bring water to boil. Add potatoes, cover, and reduce heat to medium-high. Cook potatoes 10 minutes. Transfer colander to sink and rinse potatoes under cold water until no longer hot, 1 to 2 minutes. Return colander and potatoes to pot, cover, and continue to cook until potatoes are soft and tip of paring knife inserted into potato meets no resistance, 10 to 15 minutes longer. Pour off water from Dutch oven.
2. Set ricer or food mill over now-empty pot. Working in batches, transfer potatoes to hopper of ricer or food mill and process, removing any potatoes stuck to bottom. Using rubber spatula, stir in melted butter and ½ teaspoon salt until incorporated. Stir in warm milk until incorporated. Season to taste with salt and pepper; serve immediately.