Are you ready for mashed potatoes? I know I am. Mashed potatoes are the cornerstone of a good holiday dinner, right up there with the turkey and gravy.
Can I make a confession? If someone told me that there was a problem with the turkey, but we still had plenty of mashed potatoes I’d be okay. But if the tables were turned and we had an abundance of turkey but no mashed potatoes? I’d be as sour as a can of unsweetened cranberry sauce.
Let me ask you something: Do you make an indentation in your mashed potatoes to hold the gravy? I do, and don’t you feel a little sad when the spoon hits the bottom of the plate while you’re forming your gravy pool? That pool is never quite big enough, is it?! Maybe this year we should go ahead and take another spoonful of taters.
Three Mashed Potato Recipe Secrets
This recipe has three techniques that make all the difference.
Secret #1 is in the cooking and cooling of the potatoes. I use russets, which cook up drier and whip up fluffier. I drain them of every drop of water, until they’re so dry I get Cotton Mouth just looking at them. Then I replace the lost moisture with a tantalizing trio of butter, half and half, and cream cheese.
Because butter is such a major player in this recipe, I like to splurge on the fancy high fat butter. Half and half adds a nice creamy flavor without being too rich, and the cream cheese adds a little tangy-ness that balances the dish.
Secret #2 is to add a little onion to the mixture, using a sneaky cooking method so that no visible pieces of onion are detectable. We all know kids who will run at the sight of mashed potatoes with alien “things” in the dish, and this reaction has also been known to occur with certain menfolk who like their mashed potatoes pure and classic.
The onion is slow-cooked until very tender, but we don’t allow it to brown at all. By cooking the onion this way, it “melts” into the potato mixture adding a lovely subtle flavor without causing anyone undue alarm.
Secret #3 is optional, to sneak in a little roasted garlic (or a lot). I personally could eat several pounds of mashed potatoes containing deep brown roasted garlic in a single sitting, but when one is bringing a dish to Thanksgiving there are other palates to consider. If you’d like to add roasted garlic to the potatoes but don’t want to freak out those who are sensitive to the adaptation of a classic dish, I’ll show you a pan-roasting technique that keeps the garlic a nice, stealth light color while mellowing and sweetening its flavor.
Let’s Get Mashing!
Gather your ingredients and arrange them in a little vignette on your kitchen counter, as I always do.
JUST KIDDING! I never do this in real life.
An optional first step is to pan-roast garlic to add to your mashed potatoes. Roasting the garlic in a pan keeps it from browning as much as oven-roasted garlic, which works nicely when you want to keep your mashed potatoes pristine white.
You can add as much garlic as you like. When I’m making this recipe for a potluck, I’ll typically add 2-4 cloves of roasted garlic. For heartier palates, I might add 10 or more cloves.
I usually roast the whole head of garlic, even if I’m only adding a couple of cloves to the mashed potatoes, and then use it for other cooking during the week.
To start, take apart the garlic head and leave the peels on the garlic cloves.
Cook over medium-low heat in a small covered skillet, turning often, until softened, about 20-25 minutes:
Cut the root end off and slip the garlic from the skins. Put in a small dish, cover and reserve for now.
Here’s how the peeled, soft, pan-roasted cloves look:
Next, peel the potatoes and cut them in even-ish pieces:
Add to a large pot, cover with cold water, heat and boil until very tender, 20 to 25 minutes:
While the potatoes are cooking, finely chop half a sweet onion:
Saute the onion in 1 tablespoon butter in a small skillet over medium-low heat, until translucent and tender but not browned:
Add the 1/3 cup cubed cream cheese and stir until it melts. Cover and reserve this mixture. You’ll use it soon!
When the potatoes are tender, drain them in a metal colander set over the cooking pot until they are completely dry:
Start mashing them, while incorporating 1/2 cup butter:
Keep on mashin’….
Add the half and half, the salt and the onion-cream cheese mixture. If you’re adding the optional garlic, press 2 or more cloves through a garlic press or finely chop and add to the mixture. Keep mashing!
As the potatoes break down, they will absorb more of the butter, half and half and cream cheese. The onions and garlic will “melt” into the mixture.
See? All the evidence of our sneaky add-ins is well hidden:
Mash until the potatoes are the consistency you like. Adjust seasonings, spread in a nice dish and serve hot. Or cover the dish with foil and keep warm for up to an hour.
Here’s the printable recipe:
- 2 pounds russet potatoes
- 1/2 large sweet yellow onion, such as Vidalia
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) best quality butter, cut in 1/2-inch slices
- 1/3 cup cream cheese, cut in 1-inch cubes
- 1 cup half and half, warmed
- 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- Optional: 2 to 20 cloves pan-roasted garlic (Directions below)
- Garnish: chopped chives and melted butter (optional)
- If you're going to add the optional pan-roasted garlic, read the directions below and begin with that step.
- Peel the potatoes and cut each in about 8 even pieces. Put in a large pot and cover with cold water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to simmering and cook until potatoes are tender when poked with a fork, about 20-25 minutes.
- While the potatoes are cooking, heat 1 tablespoon butter in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add the finely chopped onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent and tender but not browned. Add the cubed cream cheese and stir until cream cheese melts. Cover and reserve.
- Drain the potatoes into a metal colander and set the colander over the pot. Shake a few times and drain all the liquid off the potatoes until they are very dry. Pour any liquid out of the pot and return the potatoes to the pot. Add the sliced stick of butter and lightly mash with a potato masher until the butter is all melted and incorporated into the potatoes.
- Add about 7/8 cup of the half and half and the salt. If you're adding the optional garlic, press 2 or more cloves of pan-roasted garlic through a garlic press (or finely chop) and add to the mixture. Continue mashing. Add the onion-cream cheese mixture and continue mashing. As the potatoes break down they will thicken. Add remaining half and half if needed. Mash until the potatoes are the consistency you like.
- Spread in a dish and serve at once, or cover with foil and keep warm for up to 1 hour. If you like, garnish with chopped chives and melted butter just before serving.
Pan Roasted Garlic
Pan roasting garlic keeps the cloves from excessive browning, which is nice for classic, white mashed potatoes. The technique is quick and easy. Here's how to do it:
- Separate the garlic cloves but keep the peels on.
- Arrange them in a small skillet and turn the heat to medium. Shake the pan occasionally while heating. When you begin to smell the garlic, reduce the heat to low and cover. Cook, flipping the garlic over occasionally, until the garlic becomes very soft and tender, about 20 minutes. The smaller pieces will be done sooner, and the larger cloves may take longer.
- Remove the garlic cloves to a wood cutting board. Cool the garlic and use a knife to cut off the root end. Use at once or store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 401Total Fat: 25gSaturated Fat: 15gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 68mgSodium: 579mgCarbohydrates: 41gFiber: 6gSugar: 4gProtein: 7g
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Do have a completely different method for making mashed potatoes that you LOVE? Do you have any tips or variations to add to this recipe? I’d love to hear from you. You can leave a comment on this post or email me at mail@ elizacross . com.
Happy Thanksgiving and best always,