The Two Most Frequently Asked Questions About Mashed Potatoes
Potatoes have gotten a bad rap over the years. But the fault doesn't lie with the potato, which is actually quite good for us. Rather, the fault lies in all the fatty and heavy ingredients we add to/put on top of potatoes.
The holiday season is one time when we would prefer not to worry about all of that, though. I know that at the Thanksgiving table, there is nothing I look forward to more than rich and creamy mashed potatoes, and I refuse to apologize for it.
Mashed potatoes are a simple dish - comfort food at its best. But, for all their simplicity, people do tend to ask the same questions about making mashed potatoes year after year. So, bookmark this article or print it out because, here are Reluctant Gourmet's definitive answers to this pair of persistent potato queries. And don't forget to check out my recipe for great mashed potatoes.
Help! I have 16 coming for dinner. How many potatoes should I allow per person?
The most common answer to this question is to allow 1/3 to 1/2 pound of raw potatoes per person. This translates to between 5 and 8 oz. of potatoes per person. That's the simple answer, but as with most seemingly straightforward questions, there are many variables that must be considered.
Remember, you'll be mixing those potatoes with other ingredients, so for each 8 oz. of raw potato, you could potentially have up to 1 pound of mashed potatoes. And while I might load up with a majestic mound of mashers in the middle of my plate and then carefully place miniscule portions of cranberry, green beans, turkey and dressing around the edges, many people will want to give equal time to all of the other traditional Thanksgiving offerings.
- 1. How are you going to make your mashed potatoes? If you're mashing them with chicken broth and some light margarine, you might consider allowing closer to 8 oz. of potato per person, but if your plans include creme fraiche, cream cheese, sour cream, heavy cream or other rich and calorie-dense ingredients, go with no more than 5 ounces of raw potatoes per person.
- 2. Who are you serving? If your holiday table is decidedly child-heavy, allow maybe 2 oz. of raw potato per child. If you will be entertaining the entire defensive line of the Philadelphia Eagles, you might go for closer 10-12 oz. of raw potatoes per person. And if any of your dinner guests are on Atkin's or are Somersizing, throw out all your calculations.
- 3. What else will you be serving? I'm a fan of starches, so I'm all for the stuffing-mashed potato-big fat dinner roll trifecta, but if you're trying to offer a balance of proteins, carbs and fats at your holiday table, consider the other starches on the menu. If you're serving sweet potatoes, any other root vegetable such as carrots, parsnips or turnips, stuffing or dressing, rolls or biscuits or even another potato dish, you might choose to cut back on the potatoes to only 3-4 oz. or so per person.
- 4. How will you be preparing your potatoes? If you're just straight-up mashing the potatoes by hand, you will end up with a denser end product than if you use your mixer. If you whip your potatoes, they will increase in volume because of whipping in some air, so you can probably get away with 3-4 oz. potatoes per person if you are whipping them. When hand mashing, stick with 5-8 oz.
Help! I only have so many burners on my stove top. Can I make the mashed potatoes ahead and reheat them in the oven the next day?
The short answer to that question is "No, please don't do that." But, since I want you to understand why I'm telling you what I'm telling you, I will elaborate.
Potatoes, especially the ones that we like to use for mashed potatoes (Russets and even Yukons), contain large starch granules. When we cook them the starch granules swell up, or gelatinize, giving us the light and fluffy texture that we expect in a potato. Agitating the potatoes while they are still warm breaks up these fluffy starch granules. That's how we get a nice and creamy mashed potato. Here's the problem, though. Once your wonderful warm and creamy mashed potatoes cool, the starches firm up and what you're left with is cold and clumpy glue.
If you absolutely must reheat your mashed potatoes, cook and mash just the potatoes the day before. Then, reheat with your additional ingredients right before serving. Of course, you'll still be left with the issue of burner space.
An alternative is to mash the potatoes the day before with all of your other ingredients, but with more liquid than what you would normally use. You'll want the potatoes to be a bit looser in consistency than how you would normally serve them. When you reheat them, your potatoes should be at about the right consistency for serving.
Another trick I have seen for reheating mashed potatoes is to hold them in a crock pot set on low. This might be an option for you if you have the counter space. I would recommend stirring them periodically to keep them as evenly-heated as possible.
I don't think that you should try and reheat the potatoes without agitating them, unless you are going for a more sliceable end-product. If you want a fresh-mashed consistency, you're going to have to use a masher again or at least stir them vigorously with a spoon.
And there you have it. I do hope that I have helped you to consider the many variables inherent in planning potato quantities as well as given you my best advice about reheating mashed potatoes. I hope you have a healthy and happy holiday season, and think of me kindly when you hear someone say, "Pass the potatoes please!"