For Thanksgiving dinner or any other time of year, these eight tips from a mashed potato pro will ensure you get perfectly creamy mashed potatoes every time. One of my favorite Christmas movies is While You Were Sleeping. Do you remember the scene where they are all gathered around the dinner table having a completely absurd conversation about tall actors dotted by random comments about the mashed potatoes?
“These mashed potatoes are so creamy…very mashed.”
I love it. It reminds me of my family in all the best ways. A family full of people who are a little bit cooky, who talk over the top of each other regularly, and who love good food.
Especially good mashed potatoes.
I am the chef most of the time in our house, but my husband is the master potato masher. When we first got married, I didn’t understand that making mashed potatoes was an art. But it is. He learned from his father–who would regularly peel, boil, and mash ten-pound bags of potatoes for Sunday dinners for their family of ten people.
I’ve spent seven years watching him, experimenting, and making him teach me his secrets. I’ve finally got it. I can make creamy dreamy mashed potatoes like the pro. I’m not gonna lie, I feel triumphant.
So, as a once-potato-novice, I thought I’d share with you the secrets he has taught me.
How to make perfectly creamy mashed potatoes
1. Choose the right kind of potato.
For the fluffiest, creamiest mashed potatoes, stick with basic Russet potatoes. Red potatoes and Yukon golds have a tendency to get gluey very quickly, so they aren’t good if creamy potatoes are your goal. I have read that if you use a potato ricer (a tool I don’t own) you can get Yukon golds creamy without overworking them, but for a traditional, creamy potato, I still recommend the good ol’ Russets.
2. Make sure you cut the potatoes into equal-sized chunks.
We usually do approximately one-inch chunks. You don’t have to get out a ruler or anything, but if your potatoes are all very different sizes, they will cook at different speeds. Unequal cooking can lead to under-cooked pieces that cause lumps in the finished product.
3. Start with cold water.
This isn’t pasta. You don’t have to bring the water to a boil before you add the potatoes. In fact, if you put the potatoes in the cold water on the stove in the beginning, they will cook more evenly. If you dump potatoes in boiling water, the outside will cook faster than the inside, which–again–can lead to lumps.
4. Cook them until they are JUST done.
It usually takes 25-30 minutes to boil potatoes, depending on how many you’re making. Test their doneness by poking them with a fork. If a fork slides through easily, they are done. If the potatoes are looking rounded on the corners (this means they are starting to dissolve) and fall apart completely, they are overdone.
5. Mash your potatoes BEFORE adding the milk and butter.
Once you add wet ingredients to the potatoes, they begin to bind together. This is how gluey potatoes happen. When you mash the potatoes on their own first, you break down the chunks without allowing them too much interaction with the butter and milk.
6. Warm up the milk and butter.
Melt butter and heat milk in the microwave for 30-60 seconds before adding it to the potatoes. This will keep your potatoes warm.
7. Add (plenty of) butter BEFORE adding milk.
Once you have mashed your plain potatoes, add the butter before the milk. Butter is more integral to the flavor, so you want to start with that. Then you can use the milk to achieve the desired texture. And don’t skimp on butter. I recommend at least one tablespoon per pound of potatoes.
8. Don’t overwork them!
When potatoes are mashed, they release starch. The more they are worked, the more starchy and gluey they become. So, don’t get carried away. Once all your ingredients are mixed in, leave it alone!
*Note: If you want garlic mashed potatoes, you can let a couple of garlic cloves steep in your melted butter to infuse the butter with the garlic flavor. YUM!
Alright, those are all the secrets you need to know for perfect mashed potatoes.
If you’re still unsure, here’s the basic recipe we use, although it’s flexible…
Perfectly Creamy Mashed Potatoes
- 4 pounds Russet Potatoes
- 1 Tablespoon salt
- 4-6 Tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup heavy cream or milk
- freshly ground pepper and additional salt, to taste
- Peel potatoes. Cut into chunks (approximately 1 inch). Place potatoes in a pot, and add enough water to cover them. Add salt to the water.
- Place pot on the stove, and turn heat to high. Boil uncovered until potatoes are soft and cut easily with a fork. This takes about 25-30 minutes.
- Drain potatoes and mash thoroughly using a potato masher or hand mixer (or a ricer if you’re really fancy).
- Melt butter, and add to potatoes. Stir in. Warm milk/cream in the microwave for 30-60 seconds and add it to the potatoes. Mix gently, being careful not to over mix. Add salt and pepper to taste.