Mashed potatoes are a staple at the Thanksgiving dinner table. But that doesn’t mean they have to be the same year after year (not that anyone has ever complained about a perfectly creamy mashed potato). If you start with a great base recipe—here’s our favorite—you can turn a simple mashed potato into something truly spectacular. No special recipes needed!
Most mashed potatoes include a combination of milk and/or cream, and an easy way to flavor your mashed potatoes is by infusing aromatic ingredients into the liquids before adding them to the cooked potatoes. Infusing milk is simple: heat in a heavy-bottomed pot until the milk just begins to bubble. Add your ingredient, cover, and let steep for 15 minutes before straining.
What can you use to infuse your cream? Virtually anything you can imagine, but here are some of our go-tos:
- Fresh herbs, like rosemary, thyme, and sage. You’ll want at least a few sprigs, and you can add them whole—stems and all.
- Garlic can add a subtle savoriness or big flavor depending on how you like it. Toss a few raw cloves for just a hint of background flavor or a whole head cut in half. Skip this step for roasted garlic, which we prefer to purée that until smooth and add it at the end. Instead of (or alongside) garlic, you can also steep some sliced shallots.
- Spices aren’t common in American-style mashed potatoes, but we think they’re the perfect blank slate for any of your favorite flavors. Add lots of cracked black peppercorns, chiles or chile powder, a pinch of cumin, or earthy fennel seeds.
Adding cheese to mashed potatoes is almost unfair, it’s so easy. Shredded melty cheeses like Cheddar, Gruyère, and young gouda are great options, but we also love soft cheeses like brie, chevre, and even simple cream cheese. Don’t forget flavored cheeses, like truffled varieties from Italy or herb-flavored spreadable cheeses, like Boursin.
Add the cheese when the potatoes are still nice and hot, that way it melts into the dish for a smooth, creamy texture. There is no perfect ratio, but a little bit goes a long way. Taste as you add to avoid potatoes that are stringy, salty, or simply too rich to enjoy alongside your other sides.
Cultured dairy products, like crème fraîche, sour cream, buttermilk, and even cultured European-style butter, add flavor and texture to simple mashed potatoes. Cultured dairy has been lacto-fermented, giving it a tangy finish, and in mashed potatoes, that translates as just a little something special that you maybe can’t even identify. If you’re adding a dairy product on top of milk, cream, and/or butter, adjust your normal recipe to account for added richness and liquid.
We would be remiss if we talked about dairy and didn’t mention browned butter. Even the most basic, inexpensive butter can be special if you take the extra step to brown it. Gently sizzled in a skillet for just a few minutes, the butter solids will deepen to golden brown, and you’ll know its ready when it smells a-maz-ing. Add a few cloves of garlic or sprigs of sage to the pan as the butter browns to infuse it with flavor. We love to save a little to drizzle on top before serving to really make peoples’ mouths water.
Across the U.S. and the world, there are regional variations of mashed potatoes that add mashed or purèed vegetables for enhanced flavor, texture, and nutrients. Whether you add them boiled or roasted (our vote, usually!), ingredients like carrots, fennel, celeriac, and cauliflower can add a new dimension to the classic dish. We also love the inspiration from an Irish Colcannon, which adds flavorful greens, usually cabbage or kale.
Best Potato Flavor-Partners
Think about your favorite foods to eat alongside potatoes for inspiration! Stir in low-and-slow caramelized onions, Dijon mustard, crispy bacon or pancetta, or spicy horseradish cream. Top your potatoes with bright fresh herbs, like dill, chives, or scallions, or serve alongside a mouth-tinging chile crisp.
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