Everyone looks forward to mashed potatoes, especially at Thanksgiving (the sides are the best part of the meal, after all). But no one's going to reach for seconds on your mashed potatoes if they're gluey, cold, or worse, tasteless. Thankfully, we're here to help you make your best-ever dish.
To get it right the first time (which is even more important when you're pressed for time!), shop for some of the best potatoes for mashed potatoes (Russet or Yukon Gold, with their naturally buttery flavor and dense consistency), grab your favorite recipe (we recommend this one!) and double-check this list to avoid common pitfalls. After mastering the basics once and for all, we're certain that mashed potatoes will become your thing to make every holiday.
Read the tips below, and don't forget to watch our step-by-step video above for the easiest way to make mashed potatoes that taste great every. single. time. Who can argue with that? Here are seven common mistakes to avoid when cooking mashed potatoes:
1. Using the wrong type of potatoes
Choose higher starch potatoes (like Russets or Yukon golds) for the fluffiest, smoothest, and most flavor-packed mash. 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 — if you've added it — salt. Top tip: If you add salt early on, you won't need to as much at the end.
3. Starting them in hot water
Cover them with cold water, add salt, then boil 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.
4. Under-draining the potatoes
Make sure to drain well after cooking to avoid a mushy, watery mess. If you'd like, gently reheat the drained potatoes on the stovetop to dry them out slightly before mashing.
5. Warm up 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.
6. Overworking the potatoes
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 makes them gluey and unappetizing. Be gentle with your potatoes, and you'll be rewarded with light, fluffy spuds as well as happy, well-fed guests.
7. Making them too far in advance
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 warm setting, that will work too. Fluff 'em up again before serving.
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