Roasted Garlic Smashed Potatoes: Get fancy and add chopped fresh herbs: chives, rosemary or maybe sage to your mashed potatoes. Or if you really want to dress up your spuds, add a head of roasted garlic. This is Thanksgiving — amp it up. (Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Properly made, comfort food is an art. Mashed potatoes are no exception — more important, most Thanksgiving tables are not complete without them.

And though personal preference may have a lot to do with what you might consider the “perfect” mash — do you like your potatoes smooth or lumpy? Creamy or fluffy? — there are nevertheless some tips you can follow to elevate your spuds above the rest of the pack. Continue reading below, for a few of those tips.

What potatoes do I use? For light or delicate mashed potatoes, use bakers, like russets. With their high starch content and low sugar, they’ll whip up nice and fluffy, perfect for soaking in all the cream, butter and sour cream you can throw at them. If you prefer mashed potatoes that are denser, like those trendy “smashed potatoes,” use boilers.

Whether to keep the skin on is one of those personal-preference things. I usually peel if the potatoes have thicker skins (the skins can be a bit chewy); if I’m using thin-skinned potatoes, and am going for a more rustic look, I’ll leave them on.

Store peeled potatoes in a bowl of cool water (make sure they’re immersed) before cooking to keep them from browning.

Don’t cut the potatoes before boiling them; cook them whole. Cutting the potatoes makes them more likely to soak up water as they cook, making for soggy mashed potatoes.

For a fluffier texture, use a potato masher or run the potatoes through a ricer. It’s easy to overwork the potatoes using an electric mixer, which can make them gummy.

Mash the potatoes while they’re still hot, before they’ve had a chance to cool. Mashing while hot will give the potatoes a lighter texture.

Add butter for richness and cream or milk to give the potatoes the desired consistency. For a little tang, you might try adding sour cream or yogurt to your potatoes.

Get fancy and add chopped fresh herbs: chives, rosemary or maybe sage. Or if you really want to dress up your spuds, add a head of roasted garlic. This is Thanksgiving — amp it up.

Mashed Potatoes

Active work time: 10 minutes

Total preparation time: 30 minutes

  • 6 baking potatoes
  • Salt
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup hot milk, evaporated milk, half-and-half or whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened
  • Pepper
  • Cream (optional)

Note: Potatoes can be peeled before or after cooking, but peeling afterward prevents them from absorbing water, and they hold together better.

Cook potatoes by either boiling or steaming:

To boil, in heavy saucepan with tight-fitting lid, cook potatoes in about 1 inch boiling, salted water until fork-tender. If whole, cook 30 to 40 minutes; if cut up, 20 to 25 minutes. If the lid doesn’t fit tightly, water may boil away. Check occasionally and add more water if necessary.

To steam, place wire rack on bottom of kettle or large saucepan and add water to just below level of rack. Bring water to boil, add potatoes and cook, tightly covered, until fork-tender. If whole, cook 30 to 45 minutes; if cut up, 20 to 30 minutes. If the lid is not tight-fitting, check occasionally to see if water should be added.

Peel potatoes (this can also be done before cooking). Use a potato masher, electric mixer or ricer to mash potatoes.

With a potato masher, press tool into potatoes in downward motion, forcing potatoes through cutting grid. With an electric mixer, begin by mashing potatoes slightly with stationary beaters. Turn the mixer on low speed and whip to desired consistency. With a ricer, place boiled potatoes in a perforated cylinder, then squeeze long handles together to force contents through ricer holes. Let rice-like pieces mound in serving dish.

Beating with a mixer or wooden spoon, gradually add heated milk, evaporated milk, half-and-half or whipping cream, according to taste, until light and fluffy. Potatoes will be creamier and thinner if more liquid is used. Finish with softened butter or margarine to taste. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve immediately or spoon into greased casserole and smooth light film of cream over top. Keep warm in oven heated to 250 degrees F. Cover with towel to absorb steam.

Makes 4 servings.

Roasted Garlic Smashed Potatoes

Start to finish: About 1 hour, plus roasting time for the garlic

For the roasted garlic:

  • 1 head garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

For the potatoes:

  • 2 pounds red boiling potatoes
  • Coarse sea salt
  • 6 tablespoons softened butter
  • 1 head roasted garlic
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, more if desired
  • 2/3 cup sour cream, more if desired
  • Freshly ground black pepper

For the roasted garlic: Heat the oven to 325 degrees F. Cut the top of the pointy tip off the garlic (no peeling necessary), just enough to expose the tips of the cloves. Place the garlic on a small sheet of foil and drizzle a little olive oil over the cut end of the garlic head, then sprinkle a pinch each of salt and pepper.

Seal the garlic head in the foil. Place the garlic in the center of the oven (place the foil directly on the rack; you don’t need to put it on a baking sheet) and roast the garlic until the cloves have softened and the garlic is aromatic, 45 minutes to an hour (the garlic can be roasted while you cook the potatoes). Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

For the potatoes: Place the potatoes in a pot with enough water to cover by 1 inch and add 1-1/2 tablespoons salt. Cover and bring to a boil, cooking until the potatoes are soft and a knife easily pierces the potatoes, 30 to 50 minutes, depending on the size of the potatoes. Drain the water out of the pot.

Add the butter to the pot, and squeeze the soft roasted garlic cloves out of their skins into the pot. Use a potato masher to coarsely smash the potatoes and garlic together. Pour over the heavy cream and sour cream and continue to mash to combine (for a coarser texture, stir in the heavy and sour creams with a spatula or wooden spoon). Season the potatoes with ¾ teaspoon salt and several grinds of pepper.

Taste the potatoes, adding additional heavy or sour cream if desired, and adjusting the seasoning if needed. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Noelle Carter is the former Test Kitchen director for the Los Angeles Times. Currently she is a culinary consultant and recipe developer for a variety of clients. Follow her on Twitter at @noellecarter or check out her website at www.noellecarterfood.com

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