I’ve been hosting Thanksgiving for the past six years. It started out small, with just my brother, our friend, and me. Several years ago my parents started joining us. Then they invited a friend, and a couple more friends, and more of my friends started coming too. This year, there will be twelve of us, which is the most people I’ve ever squeezed into my little apartment for feasting purposes. It’s the largest group I’ve ever hosted by far, so I’m slightly nervous, but I think I’ve got enough experience at this point to bring my A-game. And one thing that I felt like I finally perfected last year was the mashed potatoes. My mom agreed, stating that they were the best she’d ever had. She asked me for the recipe a couple times, and all I could tell her was “uhhhh it’s potatoes plus lots of butter and crème fraîche, some buttermilk, and then salt, pepper, and garlic powder until it tastes good.” This year, I decided to actually figure it out.
This recipe still has a bit of “use your best judgment” guidance when it comes to spices and such, but what I really want to share are the things I consider key for some all-star mashed potatoes.
1. Yukon Golds. You’ll find many people that swear by high-starch russets, and I just don’t agree. Sure, they’ve definitely got the fluffy thing going on. But I find the yukon golds to be creamier and richer in flavor.
2. Boil them whole and unpeeled, in salted water. This way, you keep the starches intact and seal in all the yummy flavors.
3. Use a ricer. For smooth, creamy potatoes, it’s the way to go.
4. Bring all of you chilled ingredients up to room temp.
5. Work quickly and efficiently. (Ask for assistance. Don’t be a hero.) Let’s be real here, ricing is slow and friggin’ messy. There’s nothing quite like trying to rice a butt-ton of scalding hot potatoes after you’ve been working in the kitchen like a crazy person all day, and nearly having a nervous breakdown as you watch strings of potato shoot everywhere as your arms that are already tired from wrangling a giant turkey and various other dishes decide they just can’t take it anymore. Once the potatoes are done cooking and just cool enough to handle, peel them all, then cut them up one at a time as they go into the ricer. I usually ask my brother to man the ricer as I cut up the next potato.
6. Rice into the vessel you cooked the potatoes in. (A dutch oven is ideal for this since it will hold onto its heat.) It’s already nice and warm, and it will therefore keep those potato bits nice and warm.
7. Once you’ve got all your ingredients mixed in and your potatoes are tasting absolutely perfect, transfer them to a crockpot to keep them warm. Now, if you can time it just right and make the potatoes at the last minute, that’s great. But this had been a source of extreme stress for me every year up until the last one. I’d be frantically stirring and tasting and seasoning while also trying to monitor all of the other last minute things going on around me. And the potatoes would never be quite warm by the time I’d gotten all the food organized and mobilized everyone to begin eating. But last year, I happened upon the idea of making the potatoes a little bit earlier in the day, and then keeping them warm in a crockpot. It changed my life.
And now, let’s talk about these potatoes specifically. Let me start of by saying that if you’re looking for a lighter, healthy-ish mashed potato recipe, you should probably skip this one. Cultured butter and crème fraîche play star roles in this recipe, and they make these potatoes creamy, tangy, and everything that mashed potatoes should be.
This recipe should be considered a framework for you to build on depending on your tastes. The basic potato-butter-crème fraîche ratio I use is approximately 5:1:1.25. So if you’re working with 5 lbs of potatoes, you’ll be adding 1 lb of butter and 20 oz. of crème fraîche. From there, I’ll add buttermilk if the potatoes still seem a bit thick, and then once I have the ideal consistency I add salt, garlic powder, and freshly ground black pepper to taste. (Side note: high-quality garlic powder is an essential in my kitchen, but it’s particularly important here. Spice Islands or Frontier are good options.)
This is a very basic recipe, so feel free to branch out with other added flavors. Mixing in some herbs is always a good choice. I’ve also been wanting to experiment with using miso in place of some of the salt, to get a more complex salty flavor. And this year I think I’m going to try Derek Laughren’s pre-seasoning technique where you cook the potatoes in seasoned water. Just remember to taste as you go when you’re mixing everything up, and you’re guaranteed to have great results.
Also, I’ll be sneaking in another Thanksgiving recipe tomorrow! It’s last minute, but so necessary because it is AWESOME, and also vegetarian! So keep an eye out for that.
Crème Fraîche Mashed Potatoes
serves: 10–12 people
5 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, washed (but still whole and unpeeled)
1 lb Vermont Creamery Cultured Butter, room temperature
20 oz. Vermont Creamery Crème Fraîche, room temperature
1/2 cup buttermilk, room temperature
kosher or large flake salt (Maldon smoked sea salt is really great)
high-quality garlic powder
freshly ground black pepper
Bring a large heavy pot or dutch oven of salted water to a boil. Add potatoes, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until they are tender enough to be easily pierced with a fork or paring knife.
Drain potatoes, then peel as soon as they are just cool enough to handle (the skins should slip off easily). Once all of the potatoes are peeled, cut them into smaller chunks and press them through a ricer into the pot that you cooked them in. Stir in pats of butter until completely incorporated, then stir in the crème fraîche. Gradually incorporate the buttermilk until you’ve achieved an ideal consistency (you may not need to use all of it). Season with salt, garlic powder, and black pepper to taste.
If you won’t be serving the potatoes immediately, transfer them to a crockpot and set to “warm.” When you’re ready, give them a stir and a taste. Add more buttermilk if them seem a little bit dry, then transfer them to your serving dish.