Humble Ingredient: Potato

Halibut and mashed potatoes
The classic tall chef’s hat that dates back to the 16th century has 100 folds in it; each fold is supposed to represent all the ways there are to make an egg.  If a young girl in Calbria wants to get married, she is supposed to know how to make 100 pasta shapes before she’s eligible to be a bride (I wonder if that still holds…!).

I’m thinking 100 ways to make potatoes might be more practical.

The first thing to consider is that not all potatoes are created equal. Some have a higher starch content, or a higher moisture content, some are waxy, and they come in lots of colors.

Yukon golds and russets are probably the most versatile potato because they are in the mid-range of moisture and starch. For years I wondered how the French got that lovely golden color to their pureed potatoes, I tried everything short of yellow dye#4, then I figured out they used a yellow potato. Duh.

Russets, or Idahos, are supposed to be the best for mashed potatoes and baking, along with Yukon Golds.

To peel or not to peel? That is the question, and the answer depends on where you are from. I like peels on in most cases because I believe they add flavor. I don’t want peels in my mashed potatoes because they tend to look like something nasty fell in the pot.

Don’t put your spuds in the refrigerator, put them somewhere dark and cool, you know, like the root celler you have but never use. Yes, step right up ladies and gentlemen, your brand new condo comes with a parking space and a root cellar. In my dreams.  The cabinet under the sink will now be called my root cellar. 

Here’s Basic Mashed Potatoes 101:Mashed Potatoes

1)    Olive oil mashed potatoes. Your body like olive oil, it’s good for you, use it instead of traditional butter.
2 medium potatoes (for 2 people, make more if you really like mashed potatoes)
3-4 T Olive Oil
3 T milk
Salt, Pepper

Peel and roughly chop the potatoes, boil in salted water until tender. Usually about 10 minutes, don’t let them get too mushy and falling apart.
Drain and return to the pot. Using a hand held whipper, start mashing the potatoes, adding the olive oil in a thin thread. This just means don’t dump in all the oil at once, you’ll spend too much time mixing it into the rest of the potatoes. Once the oil is incorporated, add the milk. Adjust the milk depending on how loose or firm you like your spuds.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Watch it with the pepper, it can look like cigarette ashes in the potatoes, so you may want to hold off on the pepper.

Variation: Garlic and Parsley mashed potatoes.  Finely chop 1-2 cloves of garlic and roughly a tablespoon of parsley. When you drain the potatoes, before you put them back into the pot, add the garlic and parsley and 1 T of the olive oil. Let the garlic and parsley gently cook for a minute or two. Add the drained potatoes and mash as above.

Variation: basil potatoes. Great in the summer when there is more basil than you know what to do with. Make as above, but as you finish mashing, toss in a handful of finely shredded fresh basil. Don’t reheat, the basil flavor is clearest when it hasn’t been heated.

Variation: Parmigiana potatoes. Make as above and toss in a handful of grated parmigana right before serving.  You can also just add the cheese to the top of the potatoes and run the plate under the broiler to get a bubbly brown crust.

We could probably do 100 variations on just the mashed potato. What’s your favorite variation?


  1. Dana McCauley on December 9, 2008 at 6:50 pm

    So true! I recently discovered a new way to make stuffed baked potatoes – how can that happen after 42 years of potato love?

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