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5 tips for classic fluffy mashed potatoes

By Hilary Meyer, November 1, 2010 - 11:14am

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My grandmother used to make the most amazing smooth-as-silk mashed potatoes that were never gummy, lumpy or dry. What was her secret? Tons of butter and whole milk.

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I would love to follow in her footsteps and make her recipe as is, but I would have to spend the next month on the treadmill working those potatoes off.

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So this year for Thanksgiving I've decided to forgo my grandmother's version of classic, fluffy mashed potatoes, my favorite Turkey Day side dish, and look into healthier ways to get the same result. We've tested and developed many mashed potato recipes in the EatingWell Test Kitchen, discovering a few tips to getting the classic fluffy result without the aid of tons of butter and full-fat milk.

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Tip 1: Pick the right potato.
There are plenty of different kinds of potatoes out there, but all fall into three categories: waxy, starchy and all-purpose. When you're talking mashed potatoes, select either a starchy potato (like a russet) or an all-purpose (like a Yukon Gold). These two varieties are less dense and break down more during cooking—which leads to a smoother texture.

Tip 2: Serve them hot.
Mashed potatoes lose their luster as they sit. Try to serve them right away after finishing them. If you make them ahead and want to reheat them, do so slowly with the help of a double boiler. This way, they won't burn if they come in contact with the bottom of a saucepan on the stove. And since you won't be worried about burning, you can stir them less, which will prevent them from becoming gummy. This leads us to the next tip...

Tip 3: Pick the right tool for mashing.
Even if you've picked the right potatoes, overmixing mashed potatoes can lead to a stiff, chewy texture. Keep them fluffy by mashing them through a ricer for smooth potatoes or using a hand-held masher for chunkier potatoes. This limits the amount that the potatoes are processed so the starches stay intact. If they're overwhipped, the starches break down further and give you a sticky result.

Tip 4: Don't overcook or undercook the potatoes.
Cooking the potatoes just right is key. If they're undercooked, you'll have pockets of crispy potato chunks—a big no-no for classic fluffy mashed potatoes. If you overcook them they disintegrate and your potatoes will be soupy. The specific cooking time depends on the size of your potato: a perfectly cooked piece of potato should give no resistance when cut with a knife, but shouldn't crumble into a million pieces.

Tip 5: Cook them using the right method.
We believe steaming potatoes is the way to go. Steaming locks in flavor and keeps the potatoes moist while preventing them from burning. Make sure that your potatoes are cut into equal sizes, too—big pieces and small pieces cook at different rates.

What is your favorite way to make mashed potatoes? Tell us what you think below.

TAGS: Hilary Meyer, Food Blog, Dinner, Entertaining, Holidays

Hilary Meyer
EatingWell Associate Food Editor Hilary Meyer spends much of her time in the EatingWell Test Kitchen, testing and developing healthy recipes. She is a graduate of New England Culinary Institute.

Hilary asks: What is your favorite way to make mashed potatoes?

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