Well the first posting on the 3 things I know about cooking. This first one is a simple one but it’s one of those things that’s easy to get wrong and so good when it’s done well -mashed potatoes. My mum taught me this – she’s lovely and I love her to pieces but she’s crap at cooking and apart from rice pudding which nobody eats any longer, this is the only thing she can cook well. Sorry mum. But this is Helen’s signature dish.
My explanations won’t include precise measurements nor timings. If you’re going to enjoy this cooking lark you going to have to start doing it by sight and touch, taste and smell. First thing, nice glass of wine. We cook on a Rayburn here in the UK and some fancy stainless steal thing in Italy. I prefer the Rayburn because it’s so forgiving. But it’s slow – that means I get hotter, longer. So it’s crisp white wine with lots of ice to slake my thirst. Sauvignon blanc here in UK or verdicchio or pinot grigio in Italy. That’s the crucial first step sorted.
Next step is to get some nice potatoes and peel them. I’ve read a lot of clap trap about the best potatoes for this. I don’t tend to use baking spuds and not often baby potatoes (too much peeling) unless it’s to do some skins-on mash (see later). Just get some nice medium-sized, fresh (firm) ones. Peel at least one more than you think you need. Cut them into pieces about the size of a snooker ball. Too big and they won’t cook through evenly; too small and they’ll turn to sludge. Get them into a saucepan of water straight away. Make sure the water covers the potatoes. You can add salt if you like, we tend not to these days. Boiling time should be gauged by prodding them with a knife. When it goes in easily they’re done. Don’t have the ring full on – a full saucepan will easily boil over. So keep an eye on things. You can let them sit in the hot water whilst you get the other food ready. Good food preparedness is all about getting things to be ready at the same time. They’ll be fine sitting there, ring off, water still hot for several minutes if necessary.
Another little tip is to think about what you’re cooking alongside the mashed. If you’re having say, bangers and mash the sausages will always take longer so get them in first. If you having, say, sweetcorn with the mash, put them in with the potatoes to cook (swill them with some boiled kettle water later). A good buy is a set of steamers that’ll sit on top of a saucepan. You can then steam-cook peas or leeks as the spuds are doing but they’ll take less time, so add them a bit later. Try and keep your veg just ever so slightly under-cooked to maintain all the goodness and taste experience. You’ll be able to tell by tasting. Over-cooking is just so easy. You’ll get to gauge it with experience.
Anyway back to the spuds. This next bit will take a few minutes so don’t make this you’re last task otherwise food on the plate will start to cool. Drain the saucepan with a lid/plate. Just be careful as the steam and water will be hot guys. Use good thick oven gloves, cloth etc. Next step add a good knob of butter and if you have a masher roughly mash the lot together. Next add a splash of milk (or creme fraiche if you’re feeling decadent). Not too much or you’ll drown the contents, but enough to create a moist mix. Then, here’s the secret, mash the spuds with a fork. Don’t go mad or they’ll fly everywhere but really whip those spuds like you were whipping cream. For a good minute or so. Get right into the bottom of the pan to ensure you whip all the contents. Keep checking the spuds for sight of any lumps – the enemy of great mash. Now taste the spuds – creamy, light and frothy eh? They should look really white not grey. Top up your glass.
Presentation is important, don’t be lazy about this. If you’ve got some nice serving dishes set out the spuds in one of those – these are worthy of special lay-out. You can ‘peak’ the spuds with a fork so they look inviting. Maybe sprinkle with some ground pepper or paprika. If you fancy, put a sprig of fresh herbs on top (basil or parsley) or sprinkle with parmesan or any hard cheese and crispen up in the oven for a minute. Or you can leave all the pratting around and serve straight to plate of course. Though do try and remember to pre-heat serving dishes and plates in the oven for a minute or so. Remember gloves!
As an alternative, you can boil the spuds, cut into boilable pieces still, with their skins on but remember to clean them really well firstly. I’ve used one of those pan scrubbers on them to clean them before now. They’ll still need mashing but they can be more roughly mashed with less need for creaming with a fork. Still add butter and a splash of milk. They’ll look browner of course but taste really good in an earthier sort of way. These tend to be good mashed spuds to try adding your own bit of favourite flavouring eg touch of mustard, some garlic perhaps.
If any of these mashed get left over (unlikely), just put them in a sealable bowl or plastic container and use for bubble and squeak next morning fried up in a pan with a little oil or butter with some left over veg.
Have another glass mate, you’ve done well. Hey and practice makes perfect. If you mess up, try and figure out what you did wrong and just remember not to do it next time. Also don’t be afraid to try a couple of tweaks of your own. But with flavourings always remember that less is often more. Let me know how you get on.
Buon appetito amici