On Mashed Potatoes

Posted by on Monday Apr 9th, 2012 | Print

In most header notes for mashed potato recipes, the Russet, Yukon, or Peruvian Purple comes off as a vehicle for butter and cream–or bacon, chives, sour cream, mascarpone, and cheddar. The existence of roasted potatoes, baked potatoes, and French fries assure us that potatoes taste pretty good on their own. Yet when we go to mash, we bring on the butter.

Last week, in one of the sweetest and best-written essays about food I’ve read in a while, Tom Junod over at Esquire taught me the Mashed Potato Rule. “There is no such thing as bad mashed potatoes as long as they’re actually potatoes, mashed,” he writes. Junod was comparing real mashed potatoes to horrible out-of-the-box flaked “mashed potatoes.” But the same rule extends to the question of whether mashed potatoes have to be instruments for conveying saturated fat to your tastebuds.

And as I think all vegans and some kosher eaters would tell you, they do not. In fact, when Susan Levin of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine wrote to Paula Deen after January’s diabetes fiasco, she assured the Southern cooking star that fattening classics like mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese translate beautifully to “hearty, delicious vegan dishes.” I’ll abstain from commenting on the veganization of macaroni and cheese. But mashed potatoes  lighten up beautifully. This allows for their enjoyment on Passover with brisket, when eating with vegans or dairy-free folks, and on a more frequent basis overall, since they don’t have to be a treat.

I’ve written about dairy-free mashed potatoes here before. They were an experiment and kind of a production: roasting garlic, using a lot of olive oil, etc. We’ve also featured a recipe for smashed potatoes, which are kind of like a cross between mashed potatoes and mayo-less potato salad.

But recently I realized that low-starch potatoes (that means Yukon gold, red potatoes, new potatoes, but not baking potatoes) can become creamy mashed potatoes with a few ladles of salty, starchy cooking water and a generous pour of olive oil. And a good mash. Just as adding pasta water to spaghetti can make a primavera sauce seem creamy, the potatoes’ cooking water turns the mash into a very edible side dish. The potatoes are not low fat–there was that pour of olive oil. The vegetable just ceases to be food only for eating champions and butter lovers. Mashed potatoes are always good, but now they’re not always heavy.

How do you make your mashed potatoes?

From my kitchen, albeit small, to yours,

Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK

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  • sammy

    This looks great! I’m having people over for dinner tomorrow and want to make something Passover-ish but not so traditional. Will definitely be making some kind of mashed potatoes!