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Perfect restaurant mash, oh how I used to marvel thee! For years I visited many a restaurant and almost got annoyed at how good and silky and smooth their mash was, knowing my efforts would be entirely futile when for the next few days as I tried and failed to replicate it. This was the type of mash you wouldn’t sniff at coughing up a fiver for as an extra side dish. The extortion of the price forgotten in an instant as the velvet passes along your lips.

love a good mash, me. But this comes with a qualifier – it HAS to be good mash. Bad mash isn’t just naff and a disappointment, it can be entirely inedible, sticking to everything else on the plate and ruining any good work done on the rest of the ingredients. I went to a friend’s wedding a few years back and we had bad mash at the wedding breakfast. VERY bad mash. The rest of the food was sort of ok-ish, but the mash was probably the worst I’ve ever eaten. When we talk about that friend’s wedding, we talk about the mash. It didn’t just affect the dinner – it affected the entire wedding! Tarnished the whole day with it’s gloopy, lumpy, pasty brush! As simple as mash might be, it is SO easy to get wrong. Using the wrong potatoes is probably the biggest error you can make, as even the best chefs can’t make a salad potato mash well. But adding too much milk, not mashing it properly, using the wrong tools, undercooking or over-boiling the potatoes… They all can spoil the experience. And let’s be honest – bad, lumpy mash just makes you look like an amateur.

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However, during my short time training to be a professional chef (I’m not a professional chef, let me add), I learnt how utterly simple it is to make consistently perfect mash. With just a few chef secrets, perfect restaurant mash is easily achievable for everyone! Easily! Every single time! The three main keys to success are the choice of potato, baking the potatoes, and passing them through a ricer at least twice. There’s other tips in the mix to improve the end product as well, and as always – we analyse what’s going on, work out if and how it’s adding to the process, then making changes to suit our preferences.

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Chef Secrets for Perfect Restaurant Mash

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 45 minutes

Ingredients

  • 750 g potatoes (Desiree Maris Piper, or King Edward), about 3 medium-large spuds
  • Butter – unsalted few good knobs
  • 1 tbsp Single cream/milk – heated until warm
  • Salt

Instructions

  1. Get your butter out the fridge. This needs to be at room temperature by the time we're ready to use it.
  2. Heat the oven to 400/200/gas 6, and place the potatoes on the top shelf. If you have many smaller potatoes rather than 2-3 big potatoes, you will need more than 750g as you'll have more skin, meaning less potato.
  3. Bake the potatoes for 1 1/2 hours, turning every 30-45 mins, until the skin is very crispy and they're totally soft inside. If they appear done much before the time has elapsed, feel free to test them with a knife and continue onwards if they're good.
  4. Cut the potatoes in half while still hot. Scoop the potato out into a potato ricer set over a bowl that has been heated (fill a metal or glass bowl with hot water for 30 seconds, then empty and dry thoroughly).
  5. Run all of the potato through the potato ricer. If your ricer has multiple settings, use the smallest hole. You will probably need to fill the ricer 2-3 times before all the potato has been riced.
  6. Once done, run all the potato back through the ricer for a second time into a second warmed bowl.
  7. The potato should now be very light and soft – give it a taste and season with salt to your preference.
  8. Add a knob of butter and about 1tbsp of the heated cream or milk. Beat these into the potato with the silicone spatula until well combined.
  9. Taste the potato and add either butter, cream/milk, and/or salt as necessary. Butter will make the mash silkier and richer, cream/milk will make it thinner, and add salt if it’s tasting a bit bland/starchy/like it’s missing ‘something’. I usually don't add any more cream, but add as much butter as I can get in there before it overpowers the flavour.
  10. Keep beating and tasting until you have your perfect mash! Just remember that you can always add more, but can’t take away. So be very conservative with the salt and cream/milk, and keep tasting frequently.

 

So let’s ask our WHYs???
Why Desiree potatoes? It doesn’t have to be Desiree specifically, but these are common in supermarkets and work well. The potato needs to be starchy/floury. This is where the science comes in. Harold McGee did the hard work here: the cells in starchy spuds break down nicely when heated, causing them to fluff up. This fluffing makes them excellent for absorbing the butter and making great mash. But this fluffiness also absorbs water very readily – hence our need to remove as much water as possible. The cells in waxy potatoes don’t break down when heated in the same way, meaning they don’t work well for mash (or at the very least, don’t work well for this kind of mash).
Why are we baking the potatoes? Boiling the potatoes adds water to them, which we really don’t want in perfect mash potato (see earlier point as to why). Baking is a dry form of cooking so isn’t adding any water. Plus in restaurants, it’s far easier to stick 20 spuds in an oven for a few hours and not think about them till dinner, than slaving over huge pots of boiling potatoes on the stove. If you don’t have time to bake the potatoes – no bother. Boil the potatoes until very tender, drain them, then put them back in the pan and the pan back on the hob. Keep the pan on the hob until there is no more steam coming from the potatoes (30 seconds – 2 minutes), rolling the potatoes around the pan as you do so. This helps to dry them out.
Another bonus is consistency – you have a LOT more leeway when baking the potatoes than if you boiled them. Desiree tend to take around 15 minutes to get tender when you boil them. But cut them up too small and that 15 minutes will obliterate them. Too big and they’re as hard as nails still. Swap them for another potato variety and you have no idea where you are. But oven baking them is easy – I’ve not come across any potato variety that isn’t cooked perfectly after an hour and a half, nor one that is burnt and ruined after that time either. Your margin for error is in the realms of 20+ minutes (or hours if you run at a lower temperature), rather than 2-3 minutes with boiling. In a restaurant this is a godsend – being consistent while being entirely flexible with timings means you can focus on the technical aspects of your dish rather than the side of mash.
Why warm butter & milk/cream? Because warmed butter melts easier, plus warmed ingredients don’t cool the potato down when you add it. My feeling is that keeping the potatoes hot means they constantly give off steam, and therefore drying out even more allowing us to incorporate our fats better. Plus, we don’t want cold mash at the end of our hard work, and adding cold ingredients cools everything down. (NB: This warm butter and milk is a tip I’ve been taught but never fully understood, so any input is welcome here!)
Why warm the bowls? Same reason as above. (Not the melting bit, naturally, but keeping everything warm bit).
Why insist on a potato ricer? Why twice? A handheld masher really doesn’t cut it. The holes are too big, so it will never get the potato as perfect as we want. It takes seconds in a potato ricer, and you can get one quite cheaply on the web. The smaller the potato is squeezed to, the smoother the end product. We run it through the ricer twice as even on the smallest setting, there are slightly big sized bits of potato in with the potato worms. Going through twice gets rid of almost all of them. Three times guarantees it. Don’t have a ricer? You can push it through a fine sieve using the back of a ladle or spoon. Be warned though! This is a very slow and painful way of doing it! However, you will be rewarded with mash crazily smooth at the end!
Why a silicone spatula? Nowhere near as important as the other tips, but can add to the experience. These are perfect for beating the mash to the right consistency. You don’t want to use a whisk as this will split the mash up, and a wooden spoon doesn’t have any give. Don’t be shy in your beating – give it a seriously good thump!
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Other Why’s I’ve not explored here include substituting the milk or cream for many other liquids: water, buttermilk, yogurt, cream cheese, sour cream, stock, or omitting it entirely and just adding fat. Can you replace the butter with other fats like oil? I’d love to experiment with this – if it works, there is a world of flavoured oils it opens up from beef dripping to rosemary infused olive oil. I’d also like to investigate exactly how much butter I can get into mash before it starts getting silly and spoiling it. I’ve heard of some chefs using crazy amounts, which sounds delicious.

 

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