The Science of Perfect Mashed Potatoes
We all love perfect, fluffy, creamy mashed potatoes, right? Achieving this perfection takes more than just a recipe; you need to understand the science behind the desired results. Chef Angie Ragan, semi-finalist on Season 1 of Gordon Ramsay’s Next Level Chef, gives us the science behind her perfect mashed potatoes!
Tip 1: Peel Potatoes with a Knife
Chef Angie’s grandmother taught her to peel potatoes with a knife. While most of her staff prefer peelers, Angie still peels with a paring knife because, in her words, “It gets the whole underneath the skin off and all the little black marks off. That layer right under the potato skin, especially if it’s a little bit green, is bitter.” So, start your journey toward the perfect mashed potatoes by peeling with a knife to remove any hint of discoloration and bitterness.
Tip 2: Put Peeled Potatoes in Water
When you peel potatoes, immediately immerse them in a bowl of water. Potatoes begin to oxidize as soon as their flesh is exposed. The water protects them from discoloration and from getting an oxidized flavor.
Tip 3: Cut Potatoes the Same Size
Cut your potatoes the same size. Chef Angie explains that if your chunks of potatoes are different sizes, then the smaller ones will overcook while the bigger ones may stay undercooked in the center. She emphasizes that you canNOT make perfect (or even good) mashed potatoes with uncooked potatoes. That will cause lumps. Plus the overcooked potatoes will give your dish a “gluey” texture.
Tip 4: Start Potatoes Cooking in COLD Water
Chef Angie says that we should always cook roots (and potatoes are roots) by starting them in cold water, cold pans, cold pots, and cold ovens. This brings them up to temperature slowly and evenly and helps prevent overcooking. So in the case of mashed potatoes, start your cut potatoes in cold water.
Tip 5: Salt Your Cooking Water
Potatoes need a lot of salt, so you need to salt your cooking water. There are a couple of different schools of thought on this. Some people like to salt their potato water like you’d salt a broth. Others (like Chef Angie) like their potato water to be as salty as the ocean. Her catering business, after all, is called Salt by Angie! Whichever way you prefer, stir the salt into the cold water.
Tip 6: Use the Pot’s Lid Appropriately
Once your cold potatoes are in cold, salted water, you will cover them with a lid and bring them to a boil. You always want to bring water to a boil with the lid on. The lid traps the BTUs (British Thermal Units–a measure of the energy it takes to heat the water), allowing the water to come to a boil faster. Once the potatoes are boiling, remove the lid and turn the heat down so that they simmer gently.
Tip 7: Cook Potatoes Just Until They’re Done
Chef Angie preaches about the importance of watching your food so you know when it’s done. It’s less about setting a timer, and more about keeping an eye on it. You want to cook the potatoes JUST until they’re done. You’ve probably noticed this before, but sometimes when you cook your potatoes the edges get kind of frayed. Those are overcooked. And overcooked potato is what gives mashed potatoes that glue-y texture (which is far from perfect). Check your potatoes by poking them with a knife or fork. The need to be soft enough to be easily pierced but still have well-defined (not frayed) edges.
Tip 8: Cook the Moisture Out of Your Potatoes
This next step is part of Chef Angie’s scientific method for getting perfect mashed potatoes. Most home cooks don’t know to do this, so it’s a great trick. Once your potatoes are cooked correctly and strained, you’re going to add them back to your dry pan and cook off the extra moisture. Just place the pot back on your burner, begin stirring the potatoes around, and watch the moisture begin to come off them as steam. The potatoes will begin to break up during this process, which is fine. That extra moisture will have a negative effect on the texture of your mashed potatoes, so cooking it off is important. When the potatoes begin to look dry and steam stops coming off them, they’re finished.
Tip 9: Rice Your Cooked Potatoes
An important step to perfect mashed potatoes is to use a potato ricer. You’ll put all your cooked, dry potatoes through the ricer. This process creates a lot of surface area you’re really looking for on your potatoes, allowing you to fluff them really well.
Tip 10: Add WARM Cream to Your Potatoes
While you’re cooking your potatoes, you can gently warm your cream. Infuse any flavors you prefer by putting them directly into the cream. Add garlic, parsley, thyme, tarragon, rosemary, chives, onion…whatever you like! As the cream gets hot, the flavors will infuse into the cream. After you’ve riced your potatoes, add cream to them slowly, whipping as you add. You can whip the potatoes with a whisk, a spoon, or a mixer, but NEVER put them in a blender. Add cream to the consistency you like, erring on the side of too runny. As they sit, the potatoes will firm up a bit.
Tip 11: Add COLD Butter to Your Potatoes
Chef Angie says that after you add WARM cream to your potatoes, you stir in COLD butter! This is all part of achieving the perfect texture.
Tip 12: Taste and Adjust Your Perfect Mashed Potatoes
The very important final step to serving perfect mashed potatoes (or anything, according to Chef Angie), is to TASTE them. Adjust your salt and other flavors as needed.
We sure hope Chef Angie’s method for perfect mashed potatoes is helpful! In her words, “It’s science!” If you’d like to watch her process, click this video: