A lot of people like to refer to autumn and winter as “soup season,” but I’ve always considered these colder months to be “mashed potato season.” Whether eaten as a (non-negotiable) holiday side, or as a mid-week meal, few things comfort and satiate quite like a bowl of creamy, smushed spuds.
It’s a simple enough concept: Cook some potatoes, then mash them with fat until creamy. Season them with salt, and eat them. None of it is hard, but there are two major ways you can ruin the mashed-potato-eating experience, and I am guilty of both. (It was a long time ago. I’ve grown so much since then.)
Big mistake #1: Mashing with blades
Nearly every novice potato masher makes this mistake. Food processors, blenders, and the like seem an efficient way to mash potatoes, but the problem is you’re not mashing at all — you’re obliterating them. Instead of fluffy and creamy spuds, you’ll end up with a gluey, gloppy mess.
Mashing is a much gentler action than blending, or anything else that happens inside your food processor. Ricers, potato mashers, and wooden spoons break up the cooked pieces of potato while keeping the starch molecules more or less intact. Fast moving, super-sharp blades tear these molecules. This liberated starch then mixes with the liquid in your mash, forming an unappetizing paste.
If you’re a potato eater who truly hates lumps in their mash, get a ricer. Ricers break potatoes down into tiny (rice-like) bits by forcing them through little holes. These extruded — but still fluffy — spud flecks are then coated with dairy and fat, creating a kind of fluffy potato emulsion, rather than a goopy mixture.
Big mistake #2: Putting the peels down the garbage disposal
Dumping your potato peels down the garbage disposal won’t ruin the taste or texture of your mash, but it will sour the whole experience. I once nearly ruined Christmas Eve by trying to get rid of potato peels this way at my parents’ house. (Having shoved many a vegetable peel down the disposal before, I was dismayed to find potatoes were the exception.)
Once again, the combination of pesky starch and sharp blades is to blame. The peels are slippery and thin, which make it easy for them to slide down into pipes and wrap themselves around the blades of your disposal; and trying to break them up with those blades releases their starch, creating a thick, sticky paste.
It’s a bad scene, and not one that you want to create during the holidays, when plumbers are already overbooked. The easiest solution is to not create the problem in the first place, but if some potato novice clogs your disposal with peels, all is not lost. Baking soda and vinegar can help break up clogs, though I must confess I have not tried this particular method, because I have not clogged a disposal with potato peels since that one harrowing ordeal on that fateful Christmas Eve. (An ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure or, in this case, baking soda.)