Thursday, January 17, 2008

Gourmet Mashed Potatoes: A supreme side dish

I realized as I posted the roasted salmon with three peppers sauce this week that I had never described how superior mashed potatoes can be if they are made well. Mashed potatoes would go well with that salmon and its sauce. I was reminded again when "garlicky mashed potatoes" turned up last evening on the side dish menu at "Manuel's", a good local tavern. Mashed potatoes -- the term sounds about as inspiring as white bread. But wait.....

I grew up with mashed potatoes. My mother, a New Englander of solid Irish ancestry served them for dinner 3 to 4 times a week. And her potatoes were excellent, good enough to just eat alone. In the last decade or two, mashed potatoes have crept beyond humility and into classy restaurants with creative chefs. Whether garlicy or buttermilked, with or without skins still in them, or with other flourishes (how about wasabi?), a bed of exciting mashed potatoes enhances beautifully grilled fish or roasted meat and provides a base for savoring the sauce.

Here's the principal way I fix mashed potatoes these days. As you'll see they've come a long way from my small-town childhood kitchen table. There is some French influence in this, as well as what I learned from home. For this version I'm using russet (Idaho baking type) potatoes for fluffy elegance, but Yukon gold with the skins unpeeled make heartier and richer, if somewhat less elegant, mashed potatoes. The Yukon gold version, though without the skins, is actually closer to what you might encounter as purée de pommes de terre in France.

There are a couple of minor tricks in the technique, plus several seasonings I am partial to. The recipe will serve six as a side dish. If there are leftovers, they can be made into flattened cakes, lightly floured, and fried in a little oil or butter in a non-stick pan for delightful potato cakes.

These potatoes would compliment a number of the dishes in this blog. Good candidates include: salmon with 3 peppers sauce (1/15/08); Alsatian chicken in white wine (1/14/08); Swedish meatballs (10/30/07); roasted salmon with fruited glaze (9/7/07); Russian meat pie (1/17/07); lemon-dill roasted salmon (1/10/07); Dijon chicken breasts (11/26/06); Autumn pork stew with fruit (9/30/06).

Gourmet Mashed Potatoes Tim

2 lbs potatoes, Idaho baking type or Yukon gold
1 medium clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
Seasonings: 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Large pinch cayenne or 1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
4 tablespoons butter
1-1/2 tablespoons horseradish
1/2 cup half & half or whole milk
About 1/2 cup water reserved from boiling the potatoes

Peel the potatoes (or skins can be left on if not too thick or spotted: if not peeling, scrub potatoes well and remove any bad spots), and cut into 2-inch chunks. Place cut potatoes in cold water so they do not brown. In a pot you can mash in, boil potatoes in just enough water to cover the potatoes, adding peeled garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Boil until quite tender and beginning to flake off on the edges (10 -12 minutes), testing with a tooth pick or 2-pronged fork.

Drain the potatoes, saving part of the water in a bowl. Return the pot to the heat briefly and shake the potatoes to dry the bottom of the pan. Add the salt, pepper, nutmeg, cayenne or Tabasco, butter, and horseradish and mash well to break up all lumps. Taste at this point and add salt if necessary. Add the half and half or milk and continue to mash and mix. With the masher, beat in the reserved boiling water until a soft fluffy consistency is reached. Mix well with a spoon, since the potatoes in the edges of the pot may not have been fully seasoned. Taste again and adjust any seasonings necessary.

Cover and keep very warm until served. Or the potatoes can be stored, refrigerated, then put in a covered microwaveable casserole and reheated in the microwave, stirring and fluffing several times between microwavings, prior to serving.

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