Saturday, September 28, 2013

Mashed Potatoes (with Peel)

I threw in a mention of mashed potatoes last week, almost as an afterthought - but I realize I'm probably not the only person to have reached the Age of Consent (or, at any rate, Householding) without having a clue how to mash a potato.

When I was a kid, my family never ate mashed potatoes. There were two basic reasons for this.

First, we really didn't eat potatoes in any form, or pasta, or bread, very much at all. First there was the concept that starch was just what you filled up on to stretch the meat... and we were lucky enough to be able to afford as much meat as we wanted. And starch was all just Empty Calories (which wasn't so far off if you were just talking about instant mashed potatoes, or what my mom called Marshmallow Bread...)  Then the first iterations of Low Carb came around, and a series of doctors put Mom on a series of severely low carb diets. (None of which had any long term effect, but that didn't seem to bother anyone but her.) So, we thought,  potatoes=starch=filler=bad for you...

Secondly, my dad specifically disliked mashed potatoes. When we did eat carbs, we ate rice or noodles, occasionally baked potatoes. He married late in life, and before then ate in a series of boarding houses, faculty clubs, and restaurants - and he traveled a great deal for work, so still ate in restaurants all too often. Mom's theory was that he'd just eaten too much gluey mashed potato...

Flash forward a few years. I'd dipped my toe in vegetarianism, which changed my relationship to brown rice and whole wheat bread - and potatoes *with* the skins. And my then husband was going along with the idea... Now, I wasn't against *ever* eating meat - I just wanted to limit it - so every so often I'd try to serve him a meal that was a bit more typical of what he'd eaten growing up. Pot roast, meat loaf... and mashed potatoes. Sometimes, I admit it, I used potato flakes - but the first time I mashed a potato, I was astonished by both how easy it really is (especially if you *don't* peel it)  and how much better it tasted.

So - I don't peel potatoes. Most of the vitamins are in, or directly under, the peel, and peeling wastes them. Almost all the fiber is in the peel, and peeling wastes it. So - I should take an extra step, and do extra work and fuss more, to throw away almost all the nutrition? I don't think so... On the other hand, a big clump of coarse peel can be unappealing (pun, not intentional) especially if you're serving it to people not on board with all this nutrition stuff. (People often known as Family...)

The two techniques to allow you to do this are choosing the right potato in the first place, and cutting the pieces small.  (Well - you can also work the Trendy bit... I'm seeing restaurants serve them, calling them Smashed Potatoes... You, too, can Smash your fashionable potato!)

Big Idaho bakers? Save them for baking... You want the thin skinned ones. (Idahoes mash beautifully - but the skin stays pretty obvious... I'm OK with it, but other people might not be.) I usually, for just us, just use generic Potatoes sold in the bag or at the farmer's market - but to serve, say, Rich's parents, I used Yukon Gold. They mash nicely, and the skin is reliably thin.

Then, cut them fairly small before cooking. It takes a minute of cutting, but much less time than peeling, and lets the potato cook very quickly. Again, for us, I usually just cut them in eighths - or even quarters, if they're not big - but I cut them smaller for someone else. Little squares of thin skin just melt in - Rich's mother couldn't find them at all, and asked me about it!

After cutting, put them in a pot with water, cover and bring it to a boil, then simmer. Cut small like that, the potatoes cook in 10 minutes or less... It can vary, though, with both size and the particular potato, so I check every few minutes, by poking them with a knife. I want it completely tender, but not yet falling apart. I then turn it off (and leave it in the hot water, covered, until I am ready for it, as long as it is within ten minutes.)

When I'm ready to mash - usually just before serving dinner - I drain them. Then, I used a classic old fashioned potato masher... there are both this kind, and one with a squiggly sort of metal piece at the business end. If you don't have one, or are just mashing one potato, you can use a fork, but it will be a bit of a nuisance. If you're doing a lot, and have a stand mixer, I've been told that can be helpful - I think the manual has directions (though of course it assumes you've peeled the potatoes...) but I've never done that. If you do use a mixer, don't overmix - I understand that's the culprit behind the gluey potatoes in many a diner. That's not really an issue with a manual masher.

It's really pretty easy. You have at it with the masher, until the potato is all crumbly. Then you add something wet... Milk is traditional. I happen to like yogurt, and that's what I used here- we like the tang - but that's a very personal taste. If you're being luxurious, and have it on hand, a bit of half and half, or cream, or sour cream is really rich... Don't use plain water if you can help it, though - it leaves it, well, watery...  Most non-dairy milks should work well, too - I've used soy and it's fine. Rice milk might be a bit sweet... but that's a matter of taste. I haven't used almond milk, but I bet it would be good. The key is - a liquid with a bit of flavor.

Again, the amount will vary... I start with about a spoonful of whatever per potato. Start mashing again - and suddenly all the crumbles melt into this wonderful soft fluffy stuff, that just keeps getting fluffier as you mash. If it doesn't look quite right, add just a little more liquid - keep going until you have the texture you want, but stop before it gets runny. If you're going to put gravy on it, you probably want to keep it pretty firm - if you're just serving it by itself or maybe with a bit of butter, you may want it moister. I like having that control...

I don't seem to have gotten a picture of it all getting fluffy - I need another hand, sometimes...

But, anyhow - really easy, much better tasting, I think, than packaged flakes, and certainly more nutrition...  not Just Starch, or a filler.

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