By Wolfgang Puck
A plate of mashed potatoes ranks among the most widely beloved side dishes I know. It’s easy to understand why.
They’re an ideal comfort food: earthy and mild, rich yet also austere, filling and yet delightfully easy on the palate. They also go with virtually any main dish. At Spago, my CUT steakhouses, and many of my other restaurants, they’re a very popular companion to grilled meat, poultry or seafood, as well as to stews and braises. They’re so easy to vary, too, with the potatoes providing a blank canvas for any culinary artist to embellish with seasonings and enrichments.
Did I mention that mashed potatoes are also easy to make? Although I think most people don’t know the few simple secrets to make them perfectly, you can easily master mashed potatoes with just a little bit of attention to detail.
The first step is to start with the right potatoes. I like ones that combine the slightly mealy quality of baking potatoes with the finer texture of waxy boiling potatoes. That usually leads me to the Yukon Gold variety, which also possesses a wonderfully rich, naturally buttery flavor. But you could also use common russet potatoes too.
The next key is to cook the potatoes properly. Use salted water, which helps season them as they simmer to tenderness. And don’t cook the potatoes too long, or they’ll get too watery to give you the consistency you need; in fact, as I explain in the recipe, I even dry them out a bit in a hot pan to eliminate any excess traces of water.
The way you actually mash the potatoes is another key step. I like to use an inexpensive ricer or a food mill, which gives them a uniform, smooth and slightly fluffy texture.
Last but not least, there’s the matter of flavoring the potatoes. One of my favorite ways is to make them into what the French call “pommes aligot.” It’s a traditional preparation from south-central France in which the finely pureed potatoes are generously flavored with garlic and stirred together with warm cream, butter and a rich melting cheese to achieve a consistency that resembles a thick fondue almost as much as it does the mashed potatoes most Americans know and love.
Sure, you can use my secrets for cooking and pureeing to make mashed potatoes any way you might like them (even using low-fat milk instead of the richer ingredients). But please also try the following recipe, and you’ll discover a new dimension of mashed potatoes that you might never have dreamed was possible.
French Style Potato Puree with Garlic and Cheese
- 1 3/4 pounds (875 g) Yukon Gold potatoes or russet potatoes, peeled, cut into halves or quarters depending on size
- Kosher salt
- 8 cloves garlic, peeled, 6 or 7 left whole, the remainder finely grated
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) heavy cream, plus more as needed
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks
- Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
- 6 ounces (185 g) whole-milk mozzarella cheese or Cantal cheese, coarsely shredded
- 1/4 cup (60 mL) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Freshly ground black pepper
Put the potatoes and whole garlic cloves in a large saucepan with enough cold water to cover the potatoes. Season with salt. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat, skimming off any froth that rises to the surface.
Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, partially cover the pan, and cook the potatoes until they are tender when pierced with a wooden skewer or a small, sharp knife, 20 to 30 minutes.
Drain the potatoes in a colander. Return them to the same pan over medium heat. Partially cover and cook, shaking or stirring occasionally, until excess water evaporates and the potatoes look dry, 3 to 4 minutes. Meanwhile, bring the cream to a simmer over medium heat.
Transfer the potatoes to a bowl. Working in batches, rice the potatoes and garlic cloves back into the same pan. Alternatively, pass them through a food mill; or use a hand-held masher and mash the potatoes and garlic in the pan.
Place the pan over medium heat. A little at a time, stir the hot cream and the butter into the potatoes. Stir in a little nutmeg and the grated garlic to taste.
Still over medium heat, stir in the mozzarella or Cantal in batches, along with the Parmesan, until the puree looks stringy and resembles thick cheese fondue. If needed for a more fluid consistency, stir in a little more cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
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