Kitchen talk: What's the best way to mash potatoes?

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Lifestyle 2 weeks ago

This week, R.J. Harvey, culinary director of Potatoes USA, and Sean O’Connor, executive chef of The Foundry on the North Shore, offer advice on how best to make light and fluffy mashed potatoes for your Thanksgiving feast.

Q: What’s the best tool and way to mash potatoes? 

A: To get the best texture, you don’t want to mash the potatoes too much. So use a potato ricer. Starch reacts the same way as gluten — the more you work it, the more elastic it will get and the more gluey the mashed potatoes would be. And once you have incorporated the excess starch in the mix, you cannot take it out.

When you use a ricer, all you have to do is fold in the potato so it comes out light and fluffy and without any lumps.

However, if you don’t have a ricer and only a masher or mixer, choose a potato that has a relatively low moisture content — like a russet. Avoid white or red potatoes because they have a higher moisture content.

And make sure the butter and cream are hot. First drizzle in the melted butter so that it coats the potatoes and then the cream before folding in the potatoes.

The potatoes also need to be fully cooked. This does not mean that the potato should disintegrate in the water but a knife or fork should easily pierce through the spud.

If you are flavoring the potatoes with roasted garlic, cheese or herbs, add them at the end. Since you want to keep the mixing to the minimum, puree or mash the garlic before adding it to the potatoes. Finely grate the cheese and let it sit at room temperature so that it will melt faster into the potatoes. Similarly, use herbs that are finely chopped.

I prefer boiling potatoes with their skin because I like the earthy flavor and the skin has nutrients. But cut them in chunks before boiling to hasten the cooking time. Russets oxidize faster and so place the diced ones in cold water while you cut the rest.

When it comes to reheating mashed potatoes, pull it out of the refrigerator at least an hour before serving. The starch in the potato hardens when it is refrigerated. Reheat it in a shallow pan with a large surface area so that the heat spreads faster throughout the potatoes. A tall saucepan with a small surface area is not recommended because the top part of the potatoes will stay cold and you will be stirring a lot more to heat it through.

Add a little water when reheating the potatoes, as it will expedite the process. But remember, if you don’t want the potatoes to be gummy then don’t mix it too much.

— R.J. Harvey, culinary director of Potatoes USA

Q: This Thanksgiving I want to up my game on the stuffing. What breads work best?

A: Bread plays a big role as it’s what gives the stuffing structure. The bread needs to be dried first as otherwise the stuffing will be soggy. So don’t even think of using fresh baked bread that is soft.

I like to use sourdough or Italian bread as they dry out well and you don’t have to work with them much. Brioche is light, airy and eggy and so it works best only in a bread pudding-like stuffing.

Cornbread is popular because its hint of sweetness accentuates the celery, onions, herbs and sausage. Also, its dry texture is a natural fit for stuffing.

Swapping rye bread for the usual white could change the flavor of the stuffing.

I have not tried making stuffing with focaccia but it could turn out very well. Just make sure to toast it in the oven before tossing it in the stuffing.

The best way to dry out the bread is to cut it into cubes or strips and leave them out overnight on the kitchen counter or bake them in the 200-degree oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

I usually toss the bread with sausage, cranberries, walnuts, fresh thyme and chicken stock. You can be creative and use almost anything in a stuffing but it always should have celery and onion. Saute them before combining with the other ingredients. Likewise, always brown the sausage first before tossing it with the bread and the stock.

While add-ins do add flavor, don’t go crazy and add too many. Bread is the binder, and if there are too many add-ins it will not be able to hold the stuffing together.

When baked, a good stuffing should be moist but not wet. It should have a bite but should not be crunchy. And the consistency should be the same throughout the stuffing. If the middle part is softer than the outside, you need to bake the stuffing longer.

When reheating the stuffing, make sure to cover it with foil before placing the dish in the oven.

— Sean O’Connor, executive chef of The Foundry, North Shore

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