Essential Tools

Why You Need a Potato Ricer

by:
April 22, 2015

As home cooks, we rely on our instincts, our knowledge, and our curiosities—but we also have to rely on our tools. Some we couldn't cook without (knives, pots, pans). Others we don't necessarily need, but sure are glad we have around. Here, we talk about those trusty, albeit inessential, tools.

Today: The right tool for one job—making mashed potatoes.

I am a white foods aficionado. Bland, starchy, plain, pale-colored foods with a shmear of fat and a hefty sprinkling of salt are my eating-alone, fallback dinners. I love them all: pasta with butter, bread and olive oil, polenta made with chicken stock and cream. But above all, mashed potatoes are my go-to food. They are amazing on their own and they foil well with just about anything savory: fried eggs, chicken of all sorts, sautéed greens. When I was little, my mother’s friend Judy once told me that, for Thanksgiving, she budgeted one half of a pound of potatoes per person, but she knew that I needed a whole pound to myself. I am not ashamed. 

There are plenty of ways to mash potatoes. A friend of mine who works in restaurant kitchens uses her stand mixer (she lovingly refers to it as her “mashed potato machine”). My mother, a minimalist in no other arena, uses a fork to make smashed potatoes. (Personally, I don't think this is sufficient. Cue her rolling her eyes at me.) My husband and I inherited a vintage potato masher (read: sad plastic) from his grandmother, which worked until it didn’t—and by that I mean that I broke it. The masher is a decent option (as long as it's not made of 1950s plastic), but you need elbow grease and persistence to get all the lumps out.

More: Curious about the science of mashed potatoes? Read on.

But I will tell you right now that I am slavishly devoted to my potato ricer. There is no tool that works more effectively at fluffing perfectly cooked potatoes (preferably russets). If I have been diligent and drained my potatoes just a smidge, they slide right through the smallest setting, resulting in a gloriously creamy, aerated purée. I love watching the potatoes flake and fall into tender crumbs, and then mixing in a decent amount of butter, salt, and cream. 

Here’s the thing: There is nothing redeeming about a potato ricer. Potato flecks get all over the place and you have to manually put your potato pieces into the little barrel to get smushed. It is a largeish piece of kitchen equipment that takes up a decent amount of space. It only has one job. I am generally of the mind that tools should have more than one purpose and if they don't, I do not allow them to take up precious real estate in my tiny kitchen. My potato ricer also gets used little more than a few times per year, making it a doubly greedy piece of equipment. Sometimes I use it for other mashable vegetables, too (carrots and sweet potatoes), but only to help justify keeping the ricer around.

The thing is, what it does it does well—more than well. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it is the right tool for the job. And when the job is to make perfect mashed potatoes, that’s all that matters.

Photos by James Ransom

18 Comments

kim April 23, 2015
I love these ideas. Use for root vegetables in your CSA box such as parsnips, celeriac or kohlrabi, pumpkin & butternut squash (cooked of course). I haven't tried but can probably have good results using to separate those pesky cooked grains like cous cous, bulghar wheat or quinoa. Pass heavier fillings for pasta, peirogies or gnocchi dough to make fluffy pillows of goodness.
 
Linda H. April 23, 2015
Dang y'all have me so many ideas on how to use my potato ricer. ..other then the most D E L I O U S mashed potatoes ever. ..I also make them with garlic<--OMG...awesomeness people
 
witloof April 22, 2015
Ha! I've been doing my post Kondo decluttering and put the ricer on the slush pile. Maybe I'll put it back...
 
Bec April 22, 2015
Interesting! I don't eat much white potato, but this could be good for sweet potato mash<br /><br />www.cultivatebeauty.com.au
 
Linda April 22, 2015
A potato ricer is wonderful at fluffing and aerating polenta. Makes the flavor come alive.
 
meet Y. April 22, 2015
Fabulous for spaetzle noodles and lefse!
 
Author Comment
Mei C. April 22, 2015
What a great idea!<br />
 
Marji K. April 22, 2015
The Germans use it to make Spaghettieis. <br />http://germanfood.about.com/od/desserts/r/spaghettieis.htm
 
Author Comment
Mei C. April 22, 2015
So cute!
 
Miachel B. November 21, 2015
That is hilarious.
 
CandiceHope April 22, 2015
i inherited my great grandma's big heavy potato ricer and will not make mashed potatoes any other way. But we have always called it a "nifflie press". You squeeze a spaetzle-like dough into boiling water then toss them with brown butter. So good!
 
Author Comment
Mei C. April 22, 2015
That sounds AMAZING! I am totally going to do that.
 
at Y. April 22, 2015
Have my grandmothers stainless steel ricer... It is a beautiful thing
 
Pegeen April 22, 2015
You can also use your ricer to squeeze water out of cooked spinach and other soft greens. Yay - another purpose!
 
Pegeen April 22, 2015
... and to squeeze cooked fruit for puree
 
Joe April 22, 2015
I just got a potato ricer about 2 months ago. I don't know how I lived without it. Oh, I made potatoes in the stand mixer, or with a hand mixer, or even with the masher a few times. But they are not the same. The ricer makes perfect potatoes every time. I wonder if a food mill compares. I don't own one, and have thus never made mashed potatoes with one. It would be interesting to compare the results of both.
 
jessica402 April 22, 2015
Yes, a food mill does compare and you can use for other things too (though it's admittedly less good at squeezing water from cooked spinach. (Try making a tomato sauce with a ricer.)
 
Joe April 23, 2015
Well, I guess I need to invest in a food mill now. It was inevitable since I was planning on taking up canning this year.