Everyone says you have to make mashed potatoes right before you serve them. Everyone is wrong. Each year at Thanksgiving and Christmas, I spend cocktail hour over a hot stove, churning potatoes, steam melting the red lipstick off my lips. I leave the potatoes until the last minute because I’ve been told by countless recipes, food writers, and Cooking Channel stars that they should not be made ahead of time due to their precious texture. Screw that. I want to spend the moments before the meal like everyone else, with a pool of Camembert spilling off a cracker in one hand, and a glass of wine in the other.
I don’t care if my potatoes are slightly gummy, or lukewarm, or too smooth (we like a chunky mash). Mashed potatoes are a mixture of starch, milk, butter, and salt. If the texture is a little off it’s not going to be bad. Less than perfect potatoes are worth it if it means you can eliminate one more stressor from the high-stakes holiday. Plus, if you have time for happy hour you will care a whole lot less.
I like to make my potatoes with both olive oil and butter to give them a little more flavor. The recipe below calls for 8 large cloves of garlic, which may seem like a lot, but their flavor really dulls as they boil with the potatoes. I leave the garlic out when I make these for Thanksgiving because I don’t want the potatoes to compete with all of the other flavors on the Thanksgiving plate. Christmas, on the other hand, could use a little garlic.
So how far in advance is “make-ahead”? I usually make them a few hours before the meal, after I’ve got the main courses out of the way and the pie cooling off in the background. I’ve never tried making them a day in advance but I’m sure you could. Why not have leftovers as the main meal? Just leave them in the pot to re-heat them gently on the stove. Mix in hot milk to help them warm up without overcooking them. If you do overcook them or overwork them and they aren’t perfect, add more butter and have another cocktail. Who cares?
What you need
- 2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed clean and cut into 1-inch chunks (peel them if you don’t like the skins. Luckily everyone in my family loves the skins.)
- 8 garlic cloves, peeled
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 TB salted butter, melted
- 1 cup hot milk
- Fresh cracked black pepper
What you do
-Bring water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add potatoes, garlic and 2 teaspoons salt and cook at a brisk simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.
-Drain potatoes and garlic. Return to pot and mash. Beat in olive oil and 1 TB butter then thin to desired consistency with milk. I start off with 1/2 cup. Check seasoning. At this point I’ll crack in a ton of black pepper and I’ll usually add another 1/2 teaspoon or so of salt, but trust your own tastebuds.
-Add the other 1/2 cup hot milk and the other TB of butter just before serving to reheat/rehydrate the potatoes. Scoop a sneaky tablespoon of butter on top of the mound of potatoes to serve. When people see a crown of butter melting down a mountain of potatoes, their faces light up like a Christmas tree.