How To Make Mashed Potatoes

There are many ways to mash potatoes. Here’s a favorite way!

It’s no secret mashed potatoes taste best when they’re made with lots of cream and butter, and we don’t skimp here. But keep in mind, you can use as much or as little butter and cream as you like.

Mashed Potatoes

Photo by Jennie Phaneuf

1. We used a blend of red and russet potatoes. This combination creates a slight texture variation. If you prefer completely smooth mashed potatoes, this method still applies, but russet or Yukon Gold potatoes–with their high starch content–are the best mashers.

We used 6 potatoes, 1 cup heavy cream, 1/2 cup salted butter, and salt to taste.

2. Peel the potatoes, removing as many of the eyes as possible with the tip of your peeler. (If you prefer more rustic mashed potatoes, keep the skin on half of them.)

3. Submerge the potatoes in a bowl of cold water to keep them from turning brown while you are chopping them.

4. Cut the potatoes into similar-sized chunks so they will cook evenly: the cubes should be about 1½ to two inches wide.

5. Use a pot large enough to hold the potatoes with enough water to cover. Add salt, if desired. Place the pot over a high heat and bring the water to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer.

6. Simmer, covered, until tender–about 15 to 20 minutes. A knife tip inserted into a potato should meet no resistance; if the potato clings to the knife, the potatoes need to cook longer. When potatoes are done, remove from heat and drain immediately.

Reserve the potato water if you would like to use it in place of butter or cream when mashing, or if you plan to make a vegetable soup stock or sourdough bread.

7. Let the potatoes sit for a minute to dry and to allow any excess water to drain from the bottom of the colander. Meanwhile, heat the butter and cream in a small saucepan at a low temperature. (You can also use the microwave for this step.)

8. We used a food mill to make these mashed potatoes. A food mill or potato ricer are probably the best tools for mashed potatoes, as they won’t over-mix, which can result in a gluey texture. Other tools work just fine, however–but the finished product might not be as smooth and fluffy.

A ricer or mill ensures that once the potatoes have passed through the grate at the bottom, they’ll be lump-free: the potato is forced into small “grains” like rice. The biggest drawback with using electric mixers is that they can overwork the potatoes to the point where the starch molecules break. Use care: mix the potatoes enough to avoid lumps, but not so much that they take on a sticky, gummy consistency.

9. Once the potatoes have been passed through the mill, drizzle half of your hot cream through and around the grate to get every last bit of potato. Clean off the bottom of the ricer, and add any additional mashed potatoes to the bowl you have been working in. Gently stir in the remaining butter and cream.

10. At this point, taste the potatoes for seasoning and adjust to taste. Test for consistency, too: if the potatoes are too thick, add more cream. Other herbs and spices can be added at this point as well–chopped chives, Italian parsley, Parmesan cheese, crumbled bacon, roasted garlic, chopped scallions, or creamed leeks are all delicious additions.

Four Methods for Mashing Potatoes

What’s the difference between using a potato masher, a handheld mixer, and a food mill or ricer? Jennie Phaneuf of The Messy Baker has some great insights to share.

Method 1: Potato Masher
The easiest and quickest way to make mashed potatoes is with a potato masher. You probably received one as a wedding present. It’s the thing in your utensil drawer that has a long handle with a zig-zag shaped head or a plate with holes attached to the end. If I’m in a hurry or want to enjoy a bowl of mashed potatoes during the week, I bust out my potato masher. You’ll have your potatoes mashed in no time. This method of mashing is also a great stress reliever—pound those potatoes into submission!

When using the potato masher, you’ll want to drain your fork-tender potatoes and place them back in the pot you boiled the potatoes in. To prevent an unnecessary mess and mashed potato splatters on the wall, I recommend mashing the potatoes with the masher before adding any liquid. Using a rubber spatula, gently stir in the warm milk mixture. Season with salt and pepper.

Method 2: Handheld Mixer
If you have a few extra minutes and desire a creamier, whipped mashed potato, the handheld mixer or stand mixer attached with the whisk attachment may be more your style. The beaters of the handheld mixer or whisk of the stand mixer yield a smoother, fluffier bowl of mashed potatoes.

Drain your fork-tender potatoes and transfer them to a large bowl (if using a handheld mixer) or to the bowl of your stand mixer. Whip, starting on low and slowly increasing your speed to medium to prevent it from raining mashed potatoes, until you reach your desired consistency. Turn the mixer down to low and slowly add the warm milk mixture until thoroughly combined. Season with salt and pepper.

Method 3: Food Mill
So, you don’t want a single clump in your mashed potatoes? Okay, I feel ya. If you’re willing to spend some extra cash and make a little room in your pantry, the food mill is where it’s at. This is my favorite way to do the mashed potato. The result transcends any other potato-mashing method. Think creamy, silky, velvety potatoes without a single lump—I just drooled a little.

These are the kind of potatoes they make at the expensive restaurants. For example, Thomas Keller makes his potatoes this way. If you want an unforgettable mashed potato experience, you’ll want to use the food mill.

The food mill is easy to use. Place the mill over a large bowl and add the cooked potatoes to the bowl of the food mill. Turn the handle until all of the potatoes are mashed. Scrape the bottom of the food mill to release any potatoes that may be sticking to the bottom of the grater. Gently stir in the warm milk mixture and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Warning: Once you go food mill, you won’t go back. It’s true, folks. I exclusively use the food mill to prepare my mashed potatoes.

Method 4 (emergencies only): The Stoutest Fork You Own
I’ve never had to try this, and I don’t know how effective it would be, but it would work in a pinch if you had a fierce mashed potato craving and none of the equipment listed above.

Trouble-Shooting Mashed Potatoes

Here’s how to fix the most common mashed potato problem:
How To Fix Watery Mashed Potatoes

Easy Ways To Lighten Up Mashed Potatoes

To reduce the fat content of traditional mashed potatoes, use low-fat sour cream in place of butter, and milk or broth rather than cream. Try some of these excellent spiced-up mashed potato recipes:

Now that you know how to make mashed potatoes, start getting creative with our mashed potato recipes.