How to become a mashed potato GOAT

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Susan France

For all its culinary hipness, Boulder is really ground zero of the Mashed Potato Belt. You don’t have to look far to uncover the evidence. You’ll find mashers enhanced with manchego cheese (Dagabi Cucina), white cheddar (Boulder ChopHouse), duck fat (Cured) and jalapeño cream cheese (The Roadhouse). The Lazy Dog Saloon has garlic mashed potatoes and at the Boulder Cork, spuds are smoked, then mashed.

Boulder’s 50 shades of spuds range from Flower Child, where organic potatoes are smashed with roasted garlic and thyme, to red-skinned mashers at KT’s BBQ. They are both high-cuisine (roasted leek whipped potatoes at Steakhouse No. 316), and casual (Yellowbelly’s smashed potato fries). That doesn’t include the hundreds of places serving regular mashers and, in some food service cases, reconstituted powdered whipped potatoes with canned gravy.

There are a lot of foods with which we have a casually indifferent relationship… but usually not mashed potatoes. We love them. They speak to us deeply of comfort, mom and gravy, and provide creamy mouth-filling satiation that can be tweaked to fit almost any dietary choice from Keto and vegan to non-dairy… but preferably not fat-free.

For anyone who believes in supporting local, sustainable food sourcing, mashed potatoes are about as Colorado as you can get. Colorado produces about 2 billion pounds of potatoes annually in the San Luis Valley, near Greeley, and some in Boulder County.

If you do the 23andMe search on the russet potatoes in your pantry, you’ll discover Colorado roots. Idaho’s signature spud owes a lot to Lou D. Sweet, the farmer who discovered a great-tasting variation in a field of russets he was growing in Carbondale around 1910. These became bred into the famous russets that are now America’s most popular potato and used for most of the French fries.

Too many of you only enjoy mashed potatoes when you go out to eat. If you perfect the art of making mashed potatoes — if you become the Greatest of All Time — people will love you.

Unlike celery, potatoes come in many varieties and sizes that are best suited for different dishes. Russets are great for fries, as bakers and for making whipped potatoes. Red-skinned potatoes retain their shape after cooking and are good for salads, soups and roasting. Tender fingerlings are perfect roasted.

All Colorado varieties can be mashed in some fashion, but my choice is Yukon Gold potatoes and other yellow and white potatoes. They have a nice buttery taste and moist texture and don’t need to be peeled.

There are several key moments in the mashers-making process that are critical to producing an exceptional side dish.

I start with about two pounds of Yukon Gold (or white) potatoes cut in chunks in a big sauce pan that has cold water a couple of inches above the potatoes. I add at least a tablespoon of salt, sometimes more. It should taste like the sea. Bring the pan to a hard boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a separate pan, heat 4 to 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter and 1 to 1.5 cups milk or cream over low temperature until hot, but not boiling. You never want to add cold milk and butter or you get clumps.

Test the potatoes. They should be very tender, but not mushy. The more often you make mashers, the better you’ll get at knowing when different types of spuds are done cooking. Practice. Potatoes are cheap and you can eat the mistakes. 

As you drain the potatoes, save some of the cooking water.

After draining, place the potatoes back in the warm pan on low heat for a few minutes. This is an important step. This dries the potatoes, allowing them to absorb more milk and butter.

For the best super-creamy texture, you need to use a potato “ricer.” A mixer, a handheld masher or a wooden spoon also works as you add the heated milk and butter gradually to the potatoes in the pan. If it needs thinning, add some of the cooking water. Taste first and then season with salt and pepper. If you use white pepper, the color of the mashers will remain a pristine white. Some folks add a ton of other ingredients but good mashers don’t need accessories, except as optional toppings. Serve immediately in a pre-warmed bowl and sit back and accept the kudos, thanks and applause.

Real Good and Local

Trying to eat locally? Start with this year’s prestigious Good Food Awards, the highly competitive Oscars of the artisan food world, which included honors to 11 Colorado companies. Oak Aromatic Cocktail Bitters from Boulder’s Cocktailpunk won in the Elixirs category, along with Palo Santo Cocktail Bitters from Dram in Salida. Local winners in other categories included: True Blonde Ale, Ska Brewing, Durango; Pepperoni at Il Porcellino Salumi, Denver; Carmen Estate Coffee, Commonwealth Coffee Roasters, Denver; Honey Salted Caramels, Bee Ranch, Lone Tree; Salty Peanut Butter, The PB Love Company, Denver; and Colorado Green Chile Potato Chips, Morgan Handmade Rations, Denver. Colorado scored three Spirits winners: Rye Vodka, Bear Creek Distillery, Denver; Cultura Cask-Finished American Single Malt, Deerhammer Distillery, Buena Vista; and Maryland-Style Rye Whiskey, Leopold Bros., Denver. 

Local Food News

Denver-born Babette’s Artisan Bakery has relocated to Longmont’s Prospect neighborhood. The serious French bakery is famous for darkly baked pastries and crusty breads and also serves pizza, salads, desserts, and beer and wine. … Chef Radek Cerny’s French-inspired L’Atelier has closed in Boulder. Cerny’s previous local eateries have included the European Café and Le Chantecler in Niwot. … Denver Restaurant Week Feb. 22-March 3 offers multi-course dinners at several price points at hundreds of restaurants. A three-course feast at Louisville’s 740 Front can feature deviled eggs (with candied bacon), grilled seabass (with lemon caper butter sauce) and panna cotta (with raspberry coulis). … Plan ahead: Longmont Restaurant Week is March 29-April 7.

taste of the week

Take slices of roasted lamb and beef. Tuck them in a warm pita bread. Add veggies, salty feta cheese and a thick tzatziki sauce and it becomes my favorite gyro sandwich at the Mediterranean Market on 28th Street in Boulder. The Market also makes outstanding fried-to-order falafel and carries a nice selection of Middle Eastern and European groceries, jams, candies and snacks.

Words to Chew On

“February, month of despair, with a skewered heart in the centre. I think dire thoughts, and lust for French fries with a splash of vinegar.” — From “February” by Margaret Atwood

John Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles on KGNU. Podcasts: news.kgnu.org/category/radio-nibbles