I always thought everyone knew how to make proper mashed potatoes until I ate at a couple of places where the people in charge of mashed potatoes were clearly not up to the task. (And one place was a very fancy-shmancy restaurant in town, where I was tempted to march into the kitchen and make my own mashed potatoes.) Who knew it was so easy to screw something so simple, so elementary, up beyond belief? Now it is my mission to educate the world on the making of the humble mashed potato. It's not rocket science.
First, start with the right potatoes. For the love of all that is holy, never, ever buy something called “white” or “table” or “all-purpose” potatoes. They might technically be potatoes, but they’re useless. Buy “russet” or “Yukon Gold”.
Now, for two reasonably hungry people, peel 3 or 4 medium sized spuds and cut them into halves; cut each half into 8. Put them in a medium sized pot and put in enough water to just come to the top of the potatoes. A couple of bits sticking out of the water is okay. Now put the pot onto, medium heat and get it to the boil. When it’s boiling, turn the heat down until it’s bubbling but not furiously. Put the lid on the pot so that it’s slightly off-kilter (so it won’t boil over.) and let the potatoes cook until you can put a knife easily through one. (About 20 minutes.)
Now, drain the water off. Now drain them again. Give them a shake and drain one more time. You want as much water as possible out of that pot. Put the pot with the potatoes on low heat with the lid off, and let the heat dry out the spuds for a minute or two. (Careful not to burn.)
When the potatoes are really dry, get out the masher and go to them. Mash until you’ve gotten most of the lumps out, but don’t worry if you have a few.
At this point, you’re going to start using a wooden spoon, but if you want really smooth potatoes, use a mixer now.
Add about one or two tablespoons of butter and stir until melted. Now add a little bit of milk, cream or chicken stock (no more than a couple of tablespoons at a time.)and stir. Keep adding liquid until you’ve reached the consistency you want. Season with plenty of salt and pepper. (Always add the fat before the liquid, otherwise you will get grainy potatoes.)
Serve these right away.
I usually do the mashed potatoes right before sitting down to eat…they don’t keep for long. (You can put the lid on them on the turned-off-but-warm-burner for about 15 or 20 minutes) I tend to cook the spuds and either leave them in the hot water for a little bit, until I’m ready, or I drain them and leave the lid on and keep them on the turned-off-but-still-warm-burner, and that usually buys me 10 to 15 minutes or so.
There. That is my deed to benefit all mankind. I feel like Bono.