Potato

We Put 4 Potato-Mashing Techniques to the Test

November 11, 2016

On Thanksgiving, mashed potatoes are, for many, an integral part of the meal, with its craters serving as tidal pools for gravy and cranberry sauce. To mess them up is a tragedy disappointment. But making good mashed potatoes isn't only about the recipe you choose: It's also about the technique you use to execute that recipe (or, if following the method as written, knowing what type of final mash it will produce).

We put four methods to the test so that you can use the technique that's right for you—whether you're looking for potatoes that are creamy (hand-mashed), silky (food-milled), or glue stand-ins (food-processed).

Goops and smears. Photo by James Ransom

The general principles are as follows:

  1. (Get this one embroidered on a pillow.) The less you mess with the potatoes, the lighter they'll be. Repeatedly bashing the potatoes (or putting them in a food processor—refer to rule 6) will damage the potato cells so that more starch is incorporated into a final mash, giving it a gummy consistency that is, in the words of Molly Wizenberg, "gooey and weird."
  2. This obviously presents an issue because smoother potatoes need to be messed with in order to, well, get that way.
  3. Thus, the solution for airy, chunk-free mashed potatoes is a food mill or ricer, which disturbs the potatoes the least and provides lump-free results.
  4. Use a hand masher for chunkier, more textural potatoes that are still light and creamy.
  5. Use a stand mixer or electric hand mixer for densely creamy potatoes, the heavy kind you have to use your fork as forklift to transport from plate to mouth.
  6. But don't go too far once you've reached the creamy-dense-rich place, and, in general, stay away from the food processor: Dense quickly turns to sticky.
  7. Potato type matters, too: We recommend Russets, as does Kenji over on Serious Eats: Russets have cells that, as Kenji puts it, "readily fall apart from each other." That means you don't have to cook them or work them too hard to achieve a smooth consistency and, referring to rule 1, less work gives you a fluffier mash.

You can use these rules alone to anticipate the mashed potato type any given recipe will yield: The beaten Silver Palate's Thanksgiving Mashed Potatoes, blended electrically, are intended to be denser than Diane Morgan's Classic Mashed Potatoes, which she recommends you pass through a food mill, for example.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

The Test

But how does changing the technique in one recipe, while keeping all other aspects the same, alter the finished dish? We made the same recipe—we chose Derek Laughren's Pre-Seasoned Mashed Potatoes because of its simplicity (only for cream and butter (as opposed to sour cream, cream cheese, and all sorts of other complicators)—with four different techniques:

  1. Food mill (similar to potato ricer)
  2. Food processor
  3. Hand masher
  4. Stand mixer

For the first method, we milled the potatoes before folding in the cream and butter. For the other techniques, however, we crushed the potatoes as we gradually added the fats.

From left to right: milled, processed, hand-mashed, stand-mixed. Photo by James Ransom

Food Mill:

The potatoes that put through the food mill were the smoothest of the bunch, so airy that they're scooped easily with a finger, so light they dissolve in your mouth without any chewing on your part. You'll see in the photo that the milled potatoes form spoonfuls so satiny that they look more like scoops of vanilla ice cream than scoops of mashed tubers.

From left to right: fluffy; gluey; chunky & light-ish; creamy & dense. Photo by James Ransom

What's the difference between a mill and a ricer? A ricer is an extrusion tool, in which cooked potatoes are plunged through tiny holes (a giant garlic press), obliterating any chance of textural anomaly. A food mill does a similar job, but rather than force the potatoes through holes in a downward motion, it whirs them 'round and 'round, using centripetal and downward pressure to force them through the perforations. While mills are less gentle than ricers (thereby producing potatoes not quite as fluffy), they're more versatile around the kitchen.

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Our team called the milled potatoes the "lightest" but also "bland," "ricey," and "grainy," with "not so much flavor."

Photo by James Ransom

Food Processor:

The potatoes blended in the food processor were far and away the stickiest, glue-iest, and glom-iest—it was difficult to even spread the scoop into an even swatch.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I made mashed potatoes using one, and they came out dense and creamy rather than fluffy. This would be because all blenders have blades which cuts through, instead of incorporating air like a whisk would do. How does the hand blender compare to the 4 methods outlined here? Would it be more like a food processor since there is a blade? ”
— Jewel
Comment

While some Food52 tasters called the food processed potatoes "gluey" and "sticky," others said they were "rich and buttery," "custardy even," and "not bad" (though "not the best"). So while most mashed potato-meisters would admonish you to stay away from the food processor, if you do like a forkful that sticks to the top of your mouth, peanut butter-style, go for it.

Hand Masher:

The potatoes mashed by hand had creamy lumps and were rich but not overwhelmingly dense. Food52 tasters said they were the "saltiest, just like they should be" (though no additional salt was added) and many remarked on the "delicious butter flavor" (though, again, no additional butter was added).

While some hand mashers have a squiggly S palm, many experts prefer the tools that look, actually, like primitive ricers: "The best mashers, available from Oxo, Rosle and others," writes Julia Moskin in the New York Times, "are those with a flat face, a grid pattern and crisp edges where the potato meets the masher. These mashers mimic the extrusion effect of a ricer, work just as well and are easier to manage, producing fluffy mountains with a minimum of lumps, butter and physical exertion."

This type of masher greatly resembles a ricer but requires more physical strength. Photo by Bobbi Lin

Stand Mixer:

As you work the potatoes with machine force, they go from light-fluffy to dense-creamy. "If you like your mashed potatoes extra-creamy," declares Good Housekeeping, "use your hand or stand mixer instead [of a ricer]. Just watch carefully and stop when the potatoes are silky-textured—before they become gluey."

Electrically-mixed potatoes combine the smoothness of milled potatoes with the denseness of the often-lumpy hand-mashed, but our tasters also called them "bland," "blah," and "meh," with "one vote for the worst." This could be a product of the mixing itself: When more of the starch molecules are left intact, the butter and dairy can coat each individual particle, making the potatoes creamy, and, it seems, allowing a more pronounced butter flavor to come through.

From left to right: would eat; would not eat; would eat; would eat. Photo by James Ransom

So Which Path Should You Pick?

  • If you want silky-smoothness, use a food mill or a ricer.
  • If you want lumpy and light-but-creamy, mash by hand (a ricer-like masher will produce the lightest, least chunky results).
  • If you want gummy (...are those of you out there?), go with the food processor.
  • If you want dense, hefty, and uniform, break out an electric mixer.

Do you swear by your food mill for perfect mashed potatoes? Or do you use the back of a wooden spoon? Tell us in the comments!

28 Comments

[email protected] December 1, 2018
I am not a fan of having a ton of tools in my kitchen, especially those that take up a lot of room. So I use an electric mixer for mashed potatoes and have for years. With no complaints. As with everything, it's all about knowing how long to mix and when to add the butter and warm milk so you don't end up with glue.
 
Ally S. November 4, 2018
The way I was taught was: add a touch of butter and seasoning, mash a little with the mixer beaters, then turn on and whip and then add the milk and mix that in gently. Perfect whipped, light potatoes.<br /><br />All that said I do enjoy potatoes mashed with a masher, especially if you're doing a skin on mash
 
Ally S. November 4, 2018
By mixer I mean hand mixer
 
Teresa November 3, 2018
My fave holiday potatoes are Suzanne Goins with folded in whipped cream, melted butter then short bake; always riced or if doubled, food mill. Otherwise years and years of russets and hand mixer. Never had any complaints..just accolades.
 
nancy E. November 3, 2018
How can I close that annoying bar across the top of the page telling me what I am reading? I know what I am reading, I am reading it. For now anyway. It covers most of the article<br />
 
Marijane S. July 21, 2018
DEEDEE is right about the annoying advertising!!!!
 
DEEDEE June 26, 2018
I think you need to re-think your advertising on this page, because the page refreshes itself every minute while you're reading it, throwing you BACK up to the top of the middle of the website page, forcing you to have to find your place about 20 TIMES DURING THE READING OF IT.
 
Jewel June 1, 2018
Nothing was said about an immersion blender (hand blender). I made mashed potatoes using one, and they came out dense and creamy rather than fluffy. This would be because all blenders have blades which cuts through, instead of incorporating air like a whisk would do. How does the hand blender compare to the 4 methods outlined here? Would it be more like a food processor since there is a blade?
 
Vicky M. April 10, 2018
I live in Costa Rica whete we cannot get Russet potatoes. The only way to make mashed potatoes here that are not like paste is to use yellow or red potatoes and a ricer I add the butter, salt and pepper to the riced potatoes and if I want them softer, a little warm milk or cream at the end.
 
cosmiccook December 28, 2017
I use a food mil--don't have a ricer. As for spices--de rigueur--Quatre épices-a spice I use routinely.
 
hobbychef November 4, 2017
I use a combo of a hand masher and then a quick whirl with the electric mixer to incorporate the milk and butter. Definitely when i have time i warm the milk and butter and also add some cream if i have it too. Best!
 
Nora C. November 4, 2017
I love mashed potatoes. My current go to combo is to quickly mash with a hand masher, and then to put through the fine setting of the food mill. Eliminates the graininess of the food mill. Best ever.
 
David C. November 3, 2017
Ricer and then a tami.
 
kateandpat November 15, 2016
My cannot break rule is to bake, not steam or boil, the potatoes. The hot insides are spooned into a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, then butter, buttermilk, (and if you're feeling crazy) creamy roasted garlic cloves. Whip until juuuust creamy, being careful not to over beat. Perfect mashed potatoes, every time!
 
AntoniaJames November 14, 2016
Nothing compares to the ricer (not even a food mill) for putting the lightest topping with the nicest texture on a shepherd's pie, e.g., https://food52.com/recipes/33318-scrummy-shepherd-s-pie . I've had a food mill for decades, which I use for many things, but the ricer has won my heart for this purpose. I generally don't own single-purpose tools, but I make an exception in this case. ;o)
 
Anne F. November 22, 2017
A second use for a ricer is to press grated veg for using in other dishes; I use it t get rid of excess water in cucumber when I make tsatziki, to press grated raw potato for potato pancakes (not latkes, I cook them in bacon fat!), and for zucchini to go into zucchini bread.
 
Andrea N. November 14, 2016
The food mill is such an underrated kitchen tool. It's great in summer for tomatoes, in fall and winter for potatoes. And, you can pick your texture with the disc options. I bought a ricer and used it only a couple of times before pushing it into the back of the shelf, scooting the mill to the forefront.
 
amanda R. November 13, 2016
I love this experiment! I always hand-mash because I don't have a mill or ricer, but it sounds like it could be a worthwhile kitchen addition.
 
Mary D. November 13, 2016
After mashing the potatoes with the hand masher pictured above, I use a Scottish instrument called a spurtle to mix them with the liquid - works very well. This looks like a piece of dowling, about 1" across - a hand-me-down from my late Scots mother-in-law.<br />
 
[email protected] November 13, 2016
I gave up a ricer for a food mill. I the gently heat the potatos to drive out the moisture and replace it with heavy cream. Then I add the butter. I mix bakers and Yukon golds.
 
Susi November 13, 2016
The best way we've found (and get the most compliments on) is to steam peeled potatoes and then use a ricer, mix in melted butter and warm milk and adjust seasoning. And a trick my Italian mama passed down to me is to add a few gratings of fresh nutmeg, yum!!!<br />
 
AntoniaJames November 14, 2016
Nutmeg, yes. So glad you mentioned this, Susi. Nutmeg is, sadly, an overlooked friend to so many savory dishes. ;o)
 
Helen S. November 13, 2016
Which attachment was used on the stand mixer? Using the whisk on a stand mixer gives a much better result than the paddle. Much lighter and airer if that is your desired end product.
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. November 13, 2016
We used a paddle. But wow to the whisk! Do you have to break the potatoes down a little with the paddle first, or can you start start with the whisk right away?
 
Helen S. November 13, 2016
Just steam (my preferred method and the one we used at our take out shop), put them in the mixer fitted with the whisk and you are good to go. Paddles can leave lumps but the whisk doesn't. We whisked them and then added salt, pepper and milk.