Wednesday, April 18, 2007

favorite food. mashed potatoes.

I am not sure where or when I first tasted mashed potatoes. (I do remember a friend telling me that she first had them at the restaurant at the top of the Space Needle; she had never seen mashed potatoes before and thought they were ice-cream). Probably it was some cafeteria where mashed potatoes came from a box and were served in an ice-cream-scoop-shaped mound, with a dent in the middle creating a well for a dipperful of gravy made from a mix. (I have to admit for a secret fondness for these instant mashed potatoes with instant gravy. In college I would eat bowls and bowls of instant mashed potatoes, made with whole milk and lots of butter and lashings of cheese, heated up in the microwave, seasoned with salt and pepper, all mixed together in my latte-bowl mug. It sounds disgusting. Probably now I would think they were disgusting). They were part of the school lunch, served up with slices of drab turkey and lukewarm soggy piles of stuffing. I thought it was heaven.

Since that first taste of mashed potatoes, I have nearly always ordered anything that comes with mashed potatoes whenever we ate in restaurants, even if I am not in the mood for the main dish. In steakhouses the potatoes were fragrant with garlic; in French restaurants they were smooth purées that seemed to be equal parts potato and butter (and in the late nineties/early noughties they came in little black Staub cast-iron cocottes, equal parts pretension and cuteness). I ordered mashed potatoes at every opportunity available because we never made them at home. I can remember only one occasion - I could be wrong; it could've happened more than once - that we had mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving. (Our tradition was to make the potato gratin Dauphinois from Julia Child's The Way to Cook). I never owned a potato masher until I was in my early twenties and finally broke down and bought one (made by Oxo, it has a cushy rubber handle).

And now I make them all the time, experimenting with different methods - boiling potatoes whole and unpeeled, then peeling them (ow! hot!) and mashing, or peeling and quartering the potatoes before boiling them - but always with lashings of butter and milk, a sprinkling of salt, sometimes regular old table salt, sometimes with the flaky shards of Maldon salt that surprise me with their crunch. Sometimes I use the floury white russet potatoes which yield a fluffier, smoother mash; most often I turn to Yukon Gold potatoes, which give a creamier, more textured mash. After reading an article by Jeffrey Steingarten I peel and slice my potatoes before cooking them, and I usually do this in the morning before going to work, leaving the sliced potatoes in a bowl of water in the fridge. At the end of the day when I stagger through the door (as I did tonight), all I have to do is boil the potatoes, beat in the butter and milk and salt, and dinner is ready. (Often there will be a steak marinating, as there was tonight, all ready to slip into a hot pan, but that is another story).

I am not sure what I would choose for my last meal on earth, but I am sure mashed potatoes will be on the menu.

1 comment:

Juanita J. Sanchez said...

I made twice-baked potatoes last night, something rare around here since several of my strange children claim to hate potatoes. Anyway, my husband and teenager were in heaven. I used cream cheese, butter, salt, and a little milk to mash up the innards, then mixed in some cheddar cheese. Bacon, green onions and more cheddar on top, baked slowly... I think they were good! (Still on my diet so I didn't have one.)

Have you tried the Ore Ida frozen mashed potatoes? They're not bad, not bad at all.