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For some of us, the best thing about Thanksgiving dinner isn't the turkey, or the stuffing, or even the pie. It's the mashed potatoes: simple and pure, adorned with little else but milk, butter and salt, but treated carefully enough that they stay light and fluffy, not dense and gluey.
Different potato varieties result in somewhat different results, but for the most part you want a starchy or medium-starchy variety for that fluffiness. I like Yukon Golds for the best flavor, but feel free to play around with your favorites and see what you like.
Plenty of recipes call for boiling the potatoes unpeeled — or even whole — to help them maintain their starch, but in the interest of time, I always peel and cut them into chunks, and the results speak for themselves.
More important, I think, are these steps, which I demonstrate in this Food Hacks video for PostTV:
■ Season the cooking water with salt, as you would when cooking pasta. I add about 2 tablespoons to a large pot; this seasons the potatoes more fully from the get-go.
■ Boil the potatoes until very tender, then drain them, return them to the empty pot over medium heat and stir for a few minutes to let as much of the extra liquid as possible steam off. That helps them absorb the milk and butter better.
■ Use a ricer or a food mill, if you have one. In essence, this purees them the most thoroughly but gently, keeping them from becoming gluey, which can happen if you put them in a food processor or even whip them with a mixer. If you don’t have one, use a masher with very small, sharp holes. (Of course, if you want your potatoes rustic and chunky, you can use a fork, a wooden spoon or any masher you can get your hands on.)
■ Melt the butter (for 3 pounds of potatoes, I use 6 to 8 tablespoons) in the milk (about 1/2 cup), keeping it hot before adding it to the potatoes. That also helps with the absorption and keeps the final result hot if you're serving immediately.
What if you’re not serving immediately? These potatoes are easy to reheat (with a little more milk) in the microwave, or over low heat on the stove top.
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