Kitchen Hacks

A Genius Trick for More Buttery-Tasting Mashed Potatoes

May 11, 2016

A few years back, I assumed The One True Genius Mashed Potato Recipe was going to be the Jeffery Steingarten method of heating, then cooling, then heating the potatoes again, so that the starches have a chance to firm up and settle (or retrograde) in between, becoming impervious to gluey-ness. Everyone was talking about it.

Until I made them. And I knew that I would never make them again.

I never wanted to wait to boil potatoes twice for mashed potatoes. It's not that I resist work in the kitchen. It's because so many other kinds of mashed potatoes—riced, crushed with any number of silly looking tools, whipped with your grandma's vintage hand-mixer—are already great. Any improvements to the mashed potato experience were lost on me after the temperature-monitoring and pot-shuffling of this too-smart-for-its-own-good technique.

So when Diane Morgan, Beard Award-winning author of Roots and the forthcoming Salmon, among other cookbooks, wrote to me about a much simpler, much more under-the-radar mash trick of hers, inspired by a conversation with food scientist Shirley Corriher, my genius antennae perked up:

When making mashed potatoes, it is typical to see a recipe suggesting that the milk and butter be heated together, simmering the milk and at the same time melting the butter. That mixture gets added to the just-mashed, cooked potatoes. Easy enough, right? However, using the same quantity of milk and butter, but heating them separately and adding the melted butter first to the mashed potatoes, you end up with a butterier tasting potato dish. The fat absorbs into the cells of the potato, which have swelled and pulled apart from one another. Then, the milk loosens and flavors the potatoes.

So I tried a side-by-side test, adding the butter, then the milk vs. milk and butter in one pot, to see if I could detect a difference—and I could! The butter-first mash did taste more buttery and rich, despite identical ingredient lists.

I tried to justify this by wading through my food science manuals and phoning a friend, but couldn't find much other than admonitions about putting potatoes in food processors, which forces swollen starch granules to spill out of their cell walls and turn the mash to glue. (Has anyone of you ever actually done this? Everyone seems to think we're at extreme risk of succumbing to the temptation.)

But, aside from dirtying one more vessel (either a small pot or microwaveable anything), this falls under the banner of "why wouldn't you do it?" Unlike marching potatoes from boiling water to dry pot to boiling water, this requires virtually nothing of you to get a better result, and you get to feel that you have hacked the very molecules of the potato. And that's where you find the real genius.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

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Photos by Bobbi Lin

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I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Gloriebee October 12, 2022
Since you asked about turning mashed potatoes into glue? My mother insisted on "whipping" hers with a hand-held blender and thought that she was giving us exceptional restaurant quality spuds. My Dad didn't care-give him meat and potatoes of any sort and he was a happy man. The kids of the family? We all ate it only because we had no choice!
Jiyoung K. November 1, 2018
Boil potatoes in the cream, butter and herbs . Strain the liquid, then add enough liquid back while mashing. It's the best!
prettyPeas December 1, 2017
Good to know this is actually a thing, but disappointed as it is the way I've always made mashed potatoes this way and therefore can't make mine magically more buttery.
It has always seemed like the logical way to do things. I don't want to waste butter, and potatoes are a variable product that might need more or less liquid to achieve the right consistency.
jodyrah October 31, 2017
I dry the potatoes in the pot, add butter and 2 heads of roasted garlic (immersion blend with enough heavy cream to make a thick paste). Once blended, correct flavor and consistency with more cream, butter and salt.
JoAnna P. October 27, 2017
Now that I read this article it makes so much sense. Thank you for sharing.
schusterkc2 August 29, 2017
My Grandmother use to add cream of tartar to her mashed potatoes... they were always super fluffy and white! I make mine with red potatoes, leaving the skin on, and of course adding the butter first then the cream! Yummy!!
Contester June 7, 2017
Just the opposite of potato salad, where you want to add the flavorful liquids to the warm potatoes, followed later by the fattier dressing components.
kimmiebeck April 22, 2017
I add a smashed clove of garlic along with the potatoes and boil until tender. Then mash the drained potatoes with buttermilk, salt, and pepper. That's all. Add butter when serving, if desired. Delicious!
LD M. June 15, 2016
You send me e-mails that someone has commented on one of my entries but, I can't find what they commented, just curious, I'd like to know if they agreed or disagreed. Inquiring minds like mine want to know! L.D
suzanne June 5, 2016
This is the method my mom and grandma used and the way I learned. They didn't even bother to melt the butter -just threw in knobs of soft butter that they had left out next to the stove.
Michael L. May 25, 2016
My great grandfather was from Naples and he was the great cook in the family (when I was 8 years old I had 7 living grandparents- 2 grandmothers, 2 grandfathers, 2 great grandmothers, and a great grandfather). His method of making mashed potatoes called for mashing the potatoes with butter, milk, salt and pepper, and then re-heating them (or keeping them hot) by placing them in a pot on top of a double - boiler, i.e. just placing the pot of mashed potatoes covered with a lid, in a slightly larger pot of simmering water. It makes the mashed potatoes super fluffy and light and perfect. It works even if you add too much milk, or the potatoes get gluey from being overworked. Something about the double boiler makes the potatoes light and fluffy and super delicious.

I also like to make lemon mashed potatoes by adding a little lemon zest and a splash of lemon olive oil - the best choice being Stone House Lisbon Lemon Olive Oil (Stone House is based in Berkeley California - they press the olives with whole lemons making the oil deliciously lemony). The lemon olive oil and zest add a subtle lemon accent to the mashed potatoes, which is great served with grilled meat or poultry.
Stephanie May 17, 2016
I have always added butter first (never melt it but I do chop it up into small pieces), then I add milked warmed up in the microwave.
maggie June 15, 2016
Marie F. May 17, 2016
I am amazed that the gluey concoction could be rescued! Who knew?
jock B. May 17, 2016
Part 2
Following the directions and with the Pate a Choux ready she instructed me to mix equal parts of the Gluey Potatoes with the Pate a Choux, in other words 50/50, and I did.
Once mixed I was instructed to heat vegetable oil to 375 degrees, handed two tablespoons and shown how to scoop and drop dollops of the mixed “batter” into the hot [375 degrees] oil. The croquette shaped (oval) dollops bobbed in the oil, puffed up and very quickly turned golden brown. Once removed from the oil and laid upon a cut open brown paper bag they were salted and allowed to cool to the touch.
Our instructor’s French training truly saved the night as the gobs of ghostly white glue turned out to be my most memorable lesson of seeing a pro keep her cool and turn a potential disaster into the most sought after dish of the evening. None remained when we finished dinner that night.
Kat December 5, 2017
Love this story! Thanks for sharing
jock B. May 17, 2016
Part 1
A local Cordon Bleu trained chef offered a French cooking class in her home years ago and I enrolled to check my understanding of what I’d self-taught myself from Julia Child’s books.
During the first night’s class a recently retired, newbie to cooking, male gentleman was given the task of preparing mashed potatoes. He peeled them, cut them to size, cooked them to softness, drain them, let them cool just a bit and then, becuz he’d seen his wife use her food processor at his home, filled the teacher’s processor to the brim. Lid on, unit on, and ever-so-quickly he successfully (sic) produced a container of glue.
When he proudly shows his handy work to our teacher she burst out in laughter and announced to the class “We’ve No Mash Potatoes tonight Class, Instead We’ll be having Potatoes Dauphine…”, and with that she handed me a cookbook and asked me to prepare a recipe of Pate a Choux.
phyllis May 17, 2016
I mash the potatoes, and then add cold butter and mix with a spatula into the butter melts into the potatoes. Next I add the milk or cream, salt and pepper and mix again. I use Yukon golds and find I can usually get away with less butter. So good.
maggie May 16, 2016
My genius tip for the butteriest mashed potato? No milk. Just butter, salt and pepper. I never add anything else.
daisybrain May 16, 2016
As an eager tween in the mid 70's my mother bought a Cuisinart that I still use today. "Wouldn't it be easy to put the spuds in there," I thought. NEVER AGAIN DID I MAKE THAT MISTAKE. Ewwwww.
lacerise May 16, 2016
I always add cold butter w/salt & pepper to the hot potatoes. When those are absorbed, I pour in milk straight from the fridge. My potatoes are still nice and warm. And no extra pots to wash. As far as I'm concerned, I still make the best mashed potatoes I've had and there are no tricks to it.
MsJoanie October 12, 2022
LD M. May 16, 2016
I've read that some chefs save the boiled potato water and add that back in, I don't know if they omitted the milk or made half potato water and half milk, I guess you could experiment. Melting the butter sounds like a good idea though, I'll have to try it......L.D. Yom Tov!
Contester June 7, 2017
My mom used the potato water, powdered milk, and butter.