Make the ultimate mash.
While we might not have the 3000 varieties of potato that Peru boasts, we do have about 3000 recipes for how to cook them. But today, I’m only concerned with the most noble of all potato dishes – mash.
Don’t take mash for granted and treat it as a mere side dish. Sure, it can be a perfect partner for so many classics like beef bourguignon, Hungarian goulash or chunky bangers with sauce. Mash is also the silky topping for many a great shepherd’s pie, cottage pie or fish pie, and where would potato croquettes, fishcakes, or those Irish potato pancakes, boxty, be without mash?
But let’s finally elevate mash to being a dish in its own right. And let’s make it well. Here, with a little help from my friends, are five great secrets of creating perfect mash.
The right potato. You want a starchy, floury potato for a perfect mash.
NOW YOU’RE COOKING
While most us peel, cut, then boil spuds for mash, apparently that is all wrong. This method risks increasing the water content. I suspect top chefs don’t like that because it means they can’t cram as much cream and butter into the mash.
Mash master Guillaume Brahimi boils his potatoes whole with the skin on before peeling them. Matt Moran, whose decadent Aria mash is a thing of legend, likes to dry roast his before scooping out the fluffy insides. Irishborn Colin Fassnidge likes to do the same, but bakes the spuds on a layer of rock salt.
Forget that old-fashioned masher. For silky mash, you need to pass the potato through a drum sieve, a mouli or a ricer.
If you want to really get that mash super smooth, do as Matt and Guillaume do and “belt ’n’ braces” it by using a mouli and then a drum sieve. Guillaume goes one step further still, stirring the potato flesh in a pan over a gentle heat to dry it out even more before passing it through the drum sieve twice – each time with a little bit more butter and very hot milk mixed through. If you don’t want to buy a lot more kitchen kit, try using a masher and then a fine sieve.
One thing you must never do is blitz the potatoes as this will split the starch cells and make gluey mash.
Guillaume adds cold butter and hot milk in four stages of 50g each for every 600g cooked spuds, while Colin uses soft butter with hot milk and Matt adds hot cream to the hot potatoes. All are meticulous in seasoning generously but stay away from black pepper (use white instead) otherwise it can look like someone has ashed in your mash. And no one likes ashed potatoes.
George Calombaris swears by a generous glug of olive oil to help the smooth satininess of his mash and his skordalia. Gary Mehigan also adds olive oil with milk and a little butter for his mash at home, but when making mash for customers, it’s butter all the way – and way too much of it to be anything other than very naughty.
At home, I like this sneaky tip from Heston Blumenthal. Take some skins of washed floury potatoes and simmer in a small pan with milk. There’s so much potato flavour and starch in the skins, it will turn the milk wonderfully “potatoey” while the starch makes it creamy and silky. Mixing this milk into your warm mashed spuds means you don’t need cream to make a wonderfully creamy mash. You might need a little bit of butter for old time’s sake, though.
To make your mash truly decadent, try making aligot. For this French dish, mix 200g grated melting cheese with 500g mashed potato over the heat. Use raclette, gruyere or equal parts sliced mozzarella and grated tasty with a dollop of creme fraiche and a finely grated garlic clove beaten into the potato, until it goes deliciously elastic.
MAKE IT YOURS
There are many ways to step up your mash. I love finely chopped herbs such as chives sprinkled over the top. An Irishman like Colin will get wistful over champ (mash with butter and spring onions) or colcannon (mash with cooked kale or cabbage). For Colin’s colcannon recipe see delicious.com.au.
In the States, they are fans of using buttermilk and roasted garlic, while my grandmother topped a mound of mash with cubes of bacon, extra butter, lots of chopped chives and parsley (curly, naturally). In Brisbane, I discovered the dairy-free trick of adding a mashed avocado to potatoes instead of butter to make it creamy – and also a lovely shade of green.
Still, the best way to serve mash for me is with a great gravy. You can keep the roast chicken if I can have the gravy, peas and mash. At Scott Pickett’s ESP in Melbourne, he serves a sticky beef and truffle gravy that would be a beautiful degustation course in its own right with mash. In these days of a growing love of vegetables, maybe we’ll see that in a top restaurant in the not too distant future.