Are you the sort of person who insists that Thanksgiving mashed potatoes can only be served straight up buttery, or are you willing to allow room for a little creative adulteration in the name of bigger, bolder flavor?
Either way, we've got you covered. We started by creating a master recipe for basic, buttery-creamy mashed potatoes that are delicious just as they are. Stick with this version if you think mashed potatoes with anything beyond the basics (and a few lumps) is just a distraction. But in case you're the type who gives thanks for the wild side of things, we also offer you six ways to jazz up our basic recipe.
But before we tackle any of that, you first have to consider your potato varieties. Which variety you use depends on the type of mashed potatoes you want. If you prefer super fluffy, pure white mashed potatoes, russets are a good choice. If you're going for ultra-buttery, use Yukon Golds. And if you like to leave the skin on all or some of the potatoes, red bliss are a good choice because their thinner skin mixes into the mash (Yukon Golds are a good middle ground, but russets are too thick).
How you mash the potatoes also changes the consistency of the dish. For ultimate fluffiness, squeeze the potatoes through a ricer. Food mills also make very smooth potatoes. If you're going for chunky (or left the skins on), you'll want to use a hand-held potato masher. Then there's the mixer. Some people use it, but it's not a great choice. It can easily overwork the potatoes, breaking down the starches and producing the dreaded gluey potato syndrome. If you insist, go easy.
Perfect mashed potatoes
Start to finish: 30 minutes
5 pounds potatoes, peeled or not, cut into 1-inch chunks
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 to 1 1/2 cups half-and-half, warmed
Ground white pepper
Place the cut potatoes in a large pot, then add enough cool water to cover by at least 1 inch. Stir in 1 tablespoon of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Cover and cook until the potatoes are very tender and a fork penetrates them easily. Timing will vary by potato variety, but should take between 10 and 15 minutes. Be careful not to let the potatoes cook beyond this point; you want them tender, not totally broken down.
Drain well in a colander, then return the potatoes to the pot. Set the pot over medium heat and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, shaking the pan now and again, to cook off excess moisture. Remove from the heat and mash.
Once the potatoes are mashed to your liking, stir in the butter and 1 cup of the warmed half-and-half. If you like a wetter mashed potato, add the additional half-and-half. Season with salt and white pepper. Serve or use a variation below.
Nutrition information per serving: 260 calories; 70 calories from fat (27 percent of total calories); 8 g fat (4.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 20 mg cholesterol; 410 mg sodium; 44 g carbohydrate; 4 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 4 g protein.
Sour cream and onion
Use sour cream in place of the half-and-half and mix in 1 bunch of chopped scallions. Add a splash of milk to adjust the consistency, if needed.
In a small saucepan over medium-low, cook 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter until the milk solids on the bottom of the pan turn light brown and smell fragrant, 5 to 6 minutes. They will continue to cook a little longer, so be careful not to burn them. Stir into the potatoes in place of the room temperature butter and add 2 tablespoons finely minced fresh rosemary.
Stir in 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese, 3/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts and the zest of 1/2 lemon.
Stir in 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 2 tablespoons Dijon or spicy mustard, 1/4 cup prepared horseradish and 1/4 cup chopped fresh chives.
Stir in 1/2 cup crumbled cooked bacon, 1 cup crumbled cooked sausage and 1/2 cup finely chopped salami.
Slice the top off 2 heads of garlic, just so the tips of the cloves show under the papery skins. Drizzle with olive oil and wrap loosely in foil. Roast in the oven at 350 F for 45 minutes, or until very tender. Meanwhile, thinly slice and saute 2 large yellow onions in a little butter over medium heat until well browned, about 20 minutes. Squeeze the garlic cloves out of the skins and mash with a fork. Stir into the potatoes, along with the caramelized onions, and a hefty dose of ground black pepper.