The Secret to Buttery Garlic Mashed Potatoes (No Gravy or Cream Needed)

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Potatoes are Meathead's second favorite food and they go great with my favorite food. I can eat them any way you can cook them and mashed potatoes are essential for Thanksgiving.2010-11-23-mashed_potatoes.jpg I recently had some great garlic mashed in a restaurant, without gravy, and they were so delicate, mellow, and sweet. Not that heavy G-A-R-L-I-C breath stuff. I immediately went to work trying to duplicate them. But I failed. I came close when I roasted the garlic first, but no cigar. That's because I didn't know the secrets to great garlic mashed.

I belong to several internet discussion groups, and one day I read a note about garlic mashed from one of the people whose comments I always pay attention to on the SmokeRingBBQ list.

Chef Kurt Lucas of Organic Fresh Fingers develops organic meals for children. He has been the Executive Chef at Oregon State University and he has worked for Michel Richard, the famous French Chef of Citronella in DC.

The secret Chef Lucas taught me, is boiling the garlic to reduce its pungence and increase its mellow sweetness. And lots of butter. Most mashed potato recipes call for cream, half-and-half, or milk. This recipe is so good and creamy you don't need any cream in the mix or gravy on the table. But if you insist, you can mix in some cream or half-and-haf, but taste it first! Another secret, I have learned the hard way, is to mash them only a little with an old fashioned potato masher. When I use my blender it adds too much air and the glutens can get gummy. Besides, you cannot make skin on smashed potatoes in a mixer. Whipped potatoes are another technique and another recipe.

Yield. 4 small servings
Preparation time. 30-45 minutes

2 pounds Russet Burbank or Yukon Gold potatoes, after peeling
6 medium cloves of garlic
1/4 pound unsalted butter (1 stick), cut into 1/2" chunks
6 pinches of salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper (fresher is better)
2 tablespoons of your favorite fresh herbs

About the potatoes. There are many different potatoes to choose from (read my article The Zen of Potatoes). Russets are a great all round tater, fine for for mashing, and Yukon Golds have an especially nice buttery flavor. Select large potatoes because they are easier to peel. Each potato has a slightly different texture and flavor, so experiment until you find your fave. If you clean the skins thoroughly with a brush or scrubby sponge, you can leave them in for more texture, flavor, and nutrition.

About the garlic. If you have roasted or grilled garlic on hand, you can skip boiling the garlic, but frankly, I like the boiled version better. Click here to see how to roast garlic.

About the butter. If you use salted butter, cut back a pinch of salt in the mashing step. Yes, I know that's a lot of butter, but we don't eat mashed potatoes every day, do we?

About the herbs. Fresh herbs are great in mashed potatoe. Try chives or one of the Simon & Garfunkel herbs: Parsley, sage, rosemary, or thyme. Oregano and basil are also great. My favorite is fresh rosemary. That's thyme in the picture above. Click here to learn more about herbs and substitutions.

Optional for cheeseheads. Add 3 ounces grated cheddar cheese or boursin cheese spread. Click here for my recipe for home made boursin.

Optional for carnivores. Add 3 strips crispy bacon crumbled into bits or toss some leftover rib meat or pulled pork in the mix!

Do this
1) We want to begin by de-fanging the garlic of its sulfury pungence and convert it to sweetness by cooking it. Peel the garlic cloves, remove the woody root, and cut them in half. Bring a non-reactive saucepan with a quart of water to a boil and add a pinch of salt and the garlic. Boil the garlic for about 15 minutes. You need lots of water to remove all the pungence of the garlic.

2) While the garlic is cooking, get another pot of water boiling. Don't use the garlic water for the potatoes! Make sure you have enough water to submerge the potatoes about an inch below the surface. Add two pinches of salt. Wash the potatoes and cut them into thumb-sized chunks. Try to get the chunks about the same size so they all finish cookin about the same time. When the water is boiling, add the potatoes and boil them until a fork pierces them with only a little resistance, about 15 minutes, depending on how large the chunks are. Don't overcook the potatoes so that the exterior is mushy and they fall apart when you pierce them. Chef Lucas warns that "overcooked potatoes tend to soak up water and can become runny."

3) Drain the garlic, drop them in the serving bowl, add the butter, three pinches of salt, black pepper, and herbs, and mash everything into a paste with a fork.

2010-11-23-potato_masher.jpg4) Drain the potatoes thoroughly. I like mine with some chunks, more smashed than mashed, so I just dump them into the bowl and use an old-fashioned wire masher. If you like yours smooth, use a potato ricer (it looks like a giant garlic press). Squeeze them through the holes into the bowl and mix with a large spoon. Before serving, taste them and add more salt and pepper if you wish.

Optional. Here's where you can add cheese, meat, or cream. I recommend you do the recipe as is the first time, and then riff on it the second time if you wish.

5) Holding mashed potatoes. Getting all the parts of a meal ready at once is the trickiest part of cooking, so if the rest of the meal isn't ready when the spuds are, you can keep them warm in a slow cooker or heat them in the microwave for 2 to 3 minutes just before serving.

Tell us your mashed potato secrets.

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