Tips for Perfect (and flavorful) Mashed Potatoes

Written by Cheryl Arkison of Backseat Gourmet

Thanksgiving is my all-time favourite holiday. I love autumn immensely, and without the attachment of religious significance it seems like there is less pressure to perform on the holiday. Rather, it is a gathering of souls, all around a table.

In my university days we started a tradition of hosting friends for Thanksgiving, dinner for those of us too far from home and/or too poor to get there. It carried on through grad school and afterwards. Even now, we seem to gather with friends more so than our immediate families. It was always a classic feast, fueled by wine, stories, and laughter. Comfort and peace too.

Regardless of the company, when the Thanksgiving turkey arrives on the table there isn’t a single person who thinks, “Hey, I wish I had a baked potato to eat with that.” No, we all want a pile of mashed potatoes with a pool of gravy to accompany our turkey. Dan Quayle jokes aside.

Lumps, bumps, and insipid flavour mark the vast majority of mashed potato options we get served. But it really isn’t that hard to make good mashed potatoes. That is, potatoes that stand on their own and not just as a carrier for gravy.

Choose the Right Potato

What matters most when it comes to mashed potatoes is the type of potato used and how you mash it. Choose wrong and your pretty much guarantee either lumps or gluey potatoes. And no amount of gravy can cover that up.

The classic russet potato, with its slightly wrinkly brown skin and multi-purpose texture is a good one for mashed potatoes. You might describe the texture as mealy, as opposed to firm. This is because they have a low moisture content and high starches. Idaho is another good mashing potato.

Stay away from fingerlings, those soft and red skinned new potatoes, and the fancy ones in blue.

Of course, if you don’t mind a few lumps and less than ethereal potatoes, then go with your favourite reds (like I often do).


Hands down, the best tool for fluffy mashed potatoes is the potato ricer. Picture a giant garlic press and you’ve got it. Of course, in my small kitchen gadgetry is kept to a minimum, therefore I have no ricer. But I do like my masher. And use a masher you must!

I’ve seen recipes and posts about using an electric mixer for potatoes. I do not recommend this. It is very easy to get gluey potatoes this way.  Work the starches a bit too much and it can happen.

So, roll up your sleeves and get a work out in. You want to push hard with your potato masher and go through the pot well to get through all the lumps. In my house this is my husband’s job. I can’t get him to cook anything else but he knows that mashing potatoes is his job!

Basic Cookery

There is no real recipe for mashed potatoes. And if you come across one, I suggest throwing it out. Mashed potatoes is simple, easy cooking. Like everything else in the kitchen, it takes a bit of time and effort. In fact, the most irritating commercial to me at the moment is the one that tells people “Who has time to wash, peel, and cut potatoes?” It’s just potatoes people, not rocket science.

  1. All you need to do is wash, peel, and cut your potatoes. Aim for a consistency in size.
  2. Place them in a large pot of cold water, well covered. Bring to a boil on high heat. Cook until a fork goes through a potato quite easily.
  3. Pour your cooked potatoes into a strainer then pour them back into the cooking pot. It’s okay if a little liquid goes with them. Mash immediately.
  4. Stir in your preferred additions.

All Dressed Up

At a bare minimum I mash my potatoes with butter. After that I believe it is masher’s prerogative on additions. My husband, for example always uses butter and sour cream (plain yoghurt in a pinch), well seasoned.

The classic combo is butter and milk. That addition of dairy helps the creaminess, but isn’t necessary.

Here is a list of great additions for your potatoes:

  • Roasted garlic
  • Horseradish or wasabi
  • Buttermilk
  • Cheese – mascarpone, cream cheese, cheddar, blue (anything that melts easily)
  • Caramelized onions
  • Sauteed mushrooms
  • Bacon or ham
  • Chives
  • Mashed celeriac (celery root)
  • Sundried tomatoes
  • Or, leave the peels on for flavour and fibre

You can even roast the potatoes first and then mash them, for something entirely different. Cheri demonstrates that with her Roasted Mashed Potatoes.

Just remember that if you add in anything that isn’t already smooth, you are de facto adding lumps to your mashed potatoes. Not a bad strategy if they were a touch lumpy to begin with.

And after everyone has pushed away from the table you will either have no potatoes left or a mountain. May I suggest some gnocchi, pyrohy, or fish cakes with your leftovers?

What is your favourite addition to mashed potatoes?

About Cheryl

Cheryl is a mom to two energetic and strong-willed little girls. It’s a good thing they already like her cooking. She blogs the family’s cooking and taste adventures at Backseat Gourmet.

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  1. For everyday mashed potatoes I like butter and sour cream. If I’m making them a tad fancier, chives and creme fraiche are nice. My hubby likes to make his with roasted garlic and mayo which is also really tasty.

  2. I’ve done butter and herbs, but generally I eat mashed potatoes with gravy. I prefer them that way. 🙂

  3. I’ll add in some frozen peas at the end of the boiling time and then lightly mash with a fork, mixing in butter, a touch of cream and goat cheese. So tasty!

    There’s a restaurant near me that serves a mashed potato trio – horseradish, creme fraiche and lobster. It’s unbelievably good!

  4. Denise Zonfrillo says

    As a tradition in my family, Mom would always make a separate side of mashed potatoes combined with rutabaga! MY FAV!

  5. alison @ Ingredients, Inc. says

    Wonderful post! My kids love mashed potatoes, and this is some great information!

  6. My absolute favorite restaurant in town, Au Pied Du Cochon, served their potato puree with cheese curds. They arrive piping hot and the curds get all stretchy. YUM!

  7. My kids love ranch dressing in mashed skin-on red potatoes.

  8. Great tips! I often make the mistake of using the wrong potatoes, which does make a big difference.

    I think, though, that you’re missing out on a lot by peeling the potatoes. The majority of a potato’s nutrients are in and just under the skin and you lose them when you peel.

    Mashed potatoes are very dear to my heart (!) and I love to eat them. That said, I haven’t found really any negative difference in scrubbing them and cooking with the peels on. The peel mashes into the potatoes, adds a lovely colour and slight texture, and so many nutrients.

    Give it a shot! And if you do use those reds by mistake (or on purpose), the skin will add a gorgeous colour element. I actually really love it!

  9. My fam loves “smashed” red potatoes. I leave the skin on and barely smash so there are still bigger chunks. Butter, salt and pepper … ooooh now I want a potato! 🙂

  10. Oh, I just remembered. This place I used to work at would boil young fingerlings, drain, add cream and a touch of Dijon and mash with a fork. SO good. I love adding a touch of Dijon to my mashed spuds to this day.

  11. My first time to this lovely blog! I haven’t had mashed potatoes in months…can’t wait for the holidays around the corner and plates full of mashed potatoes. You’ve got me thinking about spicing/changing it up a bit.

  12. I laughed out loud at this: “It’s just potatoes people, not rocket science.”

    Mashed potatoes are my favorite!

  13. Wonderful tips!! Thanks!! I’ll remember these next time I have to mash potatoes 😀
    I also love to boil the potatoes with part water, part chicken stock to impart a smidge more flavor to the potatoes 😀 Extra tasty!!

    Thanks again!!
    Wonderful potatoes are in my future 🙂

  14. I love me some mashed potatoes! I don’t like the tough thick skins, but those delicate red skins I always leave in there…and yes, I do love mashed red potatoes! I don’t like them silky smooth, but chunky. I always cook several cloves of garlic with the potatoes, and they get mushed up along with everything else. Add butter/EVOO, salt and pepper, and some fresh parmesan. I’ve also added cooked parnips, which add a different/complex flavor. I’m sure not everyone would like it, but I did.

  15. I could eat mashed potatoes daily and not tire of them! I love mashing up some reds with broccoli and cheese … or mushroom gravy … or just smothered in butter!

  16. Good mashed potatoes are just divine. I love them with butter and milk. Yum, yum.

    Going to miss you this weekend in SF. 🙁

    • Aw, thanks, Robyn. That means a lot! As misery loves company, I will be surrounding myself with other’s who are missing out on the fun. Check out our hashtag ‘BHF10PP’ on Twitter to follow along. =)

  17. Mashed is my least favorite way to eat potatoes, but I make them for my family, and your tips are right on.

  18. I use my electric mixer to make smooth mashed potatoes.

    If you think about it, you put peas in Shepherds Pie, which is mostly mashed potatoes (at least my Grandma’s recipe!). I don’t normally like peas either, but in the pie they are soooo good.

  19. My family likes my Mashed Root potatoes, but f they knew what was in there they probably wouldn’t try it.
    Cut everything into 1″ size and boil.
    Leek, Potato, Turnip, rutabaga, celeriac, garlic, onion
    Mash or food processor with butter, cream, salt.

  20. Those mash potatoes look savory. My two favorite additions are bacon or cheddar. Both add a strong taste to the mix.

  21. I make buttermilk mashed potatoes w/ loads of butter and silky heavy cream. Seems to be the husbands favorite. He says they are so good there is no need for gravy!

  22. I know EXACTLY which commercial you mean – it irritates me so much! Perfect example of how marketing can convince people of just about anything… “Cooking is *soooo* much trouble, wouldn’t you rather we did it for you? We just won’t mention the 500% markup and all the preservatives…” Personally I’d rather take the 5 minutes to do it myself and know what I’m eating and where it came from; so many factories are both unethical and unhygienic.

    Love the recipe ideas – thanks for sharing! I’m always on a quest for better & better mashed potatoes 🙂

  23. I could eat mashed potatoes every day and never tire of them – different types of cheeses to mix in, minced or -my favorite- roasted garlic, parsley or any herbs on hand – they’re the perfect vehicle to use up any bits that need using out of the fridge.

    Plus I just love mashed potatoes. <3 lol

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