Big Little Recipes

Salt & Vinegar Mashed Potatoes Are Even Better Than Potato Chips

November 12, 2019

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. Psst—we don't count water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (specifically, 1/2 cup or less of olive oil, vegetable oil, and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Today, we’re off-roading classic mashed potatoes.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

When potato chips started being commercially produced in the early 20th century, plain was a given. They were “just thin slices of potato, fried and salted,” Janis Thiessen writes in Snacks: a Canadian Food History. It wasn’t until the mid-1900s that flavors, like barbecue and salt-and-vinegar, started springing up.

In the decades since, such varieties have flooded the market. Lays famously hosted “Do Us a Flavor” contests, encouraging consumers to pitch their best ideas—think wasabi ginger, New York reuben, cappuccino—for a $1 million grand prize.

But despite all this hoopla, according to Statista, plain is still America’s favorite flavor (anti-flavor?), with runners-up in the following order: barbecue, sour cream–and-onion, and salt-and-vinegar.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

There’s good reason salt-and-vinegar was one of the original potato chip flavors and still hasn’t lost its swagger. It’s a prime example of Samin Nosrat’s Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, aka the four components you need to ace any dish:

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Put in a stick of butter & a big tablespoon, more like 1/4-1/2 cup sour cream, a PKG of dry ranch dressing, Velveeta or shredded cheese of your choosing. Mash with a manual masher, being careful not to mash too much because they'll turn into glue. Taste & salt until you're happy.”
— Vickie

Generous salting amplifies potato-iness and encourages finger-licking. Fry oil is fatty and enriching, not to mention what turns a wiggly potato slice into a crunchy-munchy cracker (thanks to cooking super hot fry oil). And the vinegar interrupts all this starchy richness, so your palette doesn’t get worn out.

Pretty smart, right?

Mashed potatoes could learn a thing or three from this template. At its most basic, this Thanksgiving staple involves just-boiled potatoes (Russets yield a fluffy cloud while Yukon Golds are yellower and more flavorful—opt for either or a mix), warm whole milk and/or heavy cream, and butter (usually lots).

Optimizing the salt and introducing an acidic ingredient changes everything.

Let’s start with the salt: Many cooks season their mashed potatoes one time, along with the liquid-of-choice and butter. You and I are going to season them three times:

  1. Generously season the water in which you’re boiling the potatoes. Like pasta, this ensures the spuds are salted throughout.
  2. Salt again while mashing. Now is the time to taste and adjust, repeatedly, until you get it right.
  3. Sprinkle more salt (flaky is great if you’ve got it) on top just before serving.

Picture each step as a confidence-booster for the potatoes, helping them be less soft-spoken and more sure of themselves.

Onto the acid: A teeny-tiny splash of vinegar transforms the mash. Think of it like squeezing a lemon cheek over fried rice or jumping in the ocean on a hot summer day. I love malt vinegar, which reminds me of tangy English chips (aka “steak fries” in America). You could also use white, apple cider, or rice, but something like sherry or balsamic would be distracting.

And, after all, the point here is subtlety. Like salt-and-vinegar potato chips, these mashed potatoes look utterly plain from a distance. But also like salt-and-vinegar potato chips, once you take a bite, you won’t be able to stop.

This post contains products that are independently selected by our editors and writers, and as an Amazon Associate, Food52 would earn from qualifying purchases. How do you make mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving? Share your tricks in the comments!
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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Erica M. January 4, 2020
Boiling of potatoes and other vegetables is a dinosaur that needs to go extinct in this world of increasing natural resources shortage. Steaming, either in the microwave or on the stove, is faster and uses less energy and water. Not to mention that flavor and nutrients aren't poured down the drain!
Channon C. March 4, 2022
I personally use the microwave but my daughter does not. She said s the microwave is dangerous and also changes the nutrional vale’s and taste. She much prefers the slower method of the gas stove top. It sounds eccentric but while using my own recipes she has coaxed much more pleasurable flavor than I. Therefore I have to believe there is something strong in her methodology.
Rochelle November 14, 2019
Whenever I make a nicoise-ish salad I sprinkle just drained potatoes with pickling liquid from my quick pickles, olive oil and S&P. They sop up the vinegary oil and are so delicious just as they are they need no additional dressing, so vinegar in mashed potatoes should be equally as delicious!
A.S. November 13, 2019
Hmmm, I've been adding vinegar to mashed potatoes for the better part of ten years, and I'm not even that old. Not because it seemed cute or related to another food stuff, but just because it seemed like it would taste good- and indeed it does!
Channon C. March 4, 2022
I don’t understand your use of cute. What do you mean? I thought this was a nice variant that I will use that I haven’t heard of before. That’s why I read and buy Food 52 products and read their fun mail. It’s fun because fresh and new to me by and large.
Jeffrey A. November 13, 2019
Boil red potato's, skin on, mash with cream cheese and butter, season heavily with garlic pepper, onion powder, celerysalt and course black pepper, then whip in milk or half and half.
Redneck November 12, 2019
Malt vinegar, like Long John Silvers, might be nice.
Robert November 12, 2019
Misting white or champagne vinegar onto steamed potatoes works wonders, along with salt, whit e pepper and a bit of oil like butter or olive oil. Any herbs that you find atrractive
Beth N. November 12, 2019
I detest the taste and stink of vinegar and won't have it in my kitchen. I certainly don't want it added to mashed potatoes -- why ruin a perfectly wonderful food by adding that nastiness to it? If you want to do that, please don't make me sit at the table with it!
Ed P. November 16, 2019
Thank heavens! Hate awkward moments when eating. I removed you from my dinner invite list.
paseo November 18, 2019
TMI about your personal predilections in a totally unnecessary comment.

Bravo, Ed.
Gary S. November 12, 2019
Nice to change up the mashed potatoes a bit, certainly. My go to is a 3 layered scalloped potatoes casserole with 6 cheeses. I just winged this one day in a fit of inspiration. When I take them, as my contribution, there are never leftovers, and everybody asks for the recipe. So I guess I did a fairly good job with them.

Emma L. November 12, 2019
Six cheeses! Which ones?
Gary S. November 12, 2019
Blend of 4 cheddars.
Sharp New York - 2 oz.
Sharp Vermont - 2 oz.
Sharp Wisconsin - 2 oz.
Mild California - 2 oz.,
then Gruyere - 4 oz.,
abd Parmesan - 4 oz.
Grated into shreds, mixed together in one bowl and sprinkled atop each layer.
karen November 12, 2019
Gary please share your recipe
karen November 12, 2019
Please share your recipe Gary!
Gary S. November 12, 2019
Okay, but please don't blame me, you asked for it!

6 Cheeses Scalloped Potatoes with Leeks, Mushrooms, and Bacon

Hint: Really saves time if you slice all the potatoes while the leeks and mushrooms are softening.

Recipe Times: Hands-on: 30 Minutes Oven Total: 1 Hour and 50 Minutes


• 1 tablespoon kosher salt.
• 1 tablespoon of white pepper (fresh ground black pepper works, if white is not readily at hand).
• 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg.
• 3 garlic cloves, chopped/minced.
• 1/2 cup half-and-half.
• 2 1/2 cups heavy cream.
• ¼ stick of unsalted butter (plus 1 tablespoon).
• 4 cups sliced leeks (approx. 3 to 4), use white bulb, no greens, slice into 1/8-inch thick rounds).
• 6 oz. Portobello mushrooms, chopped.
• 6 oz. Shitake mushrooms (remove/discard stems) chopped.
• 1/2 lb. cooked bacon, drain and chop in one inch pieces.
• 10-12 (about 3 lbs.) medium Yukon gold potatoes, thinly sliced, about 1/8-inch thick (mandolin is helpful).
• 8 oz. Cheddar cheese blend (2 oz. ea., Sharp New York - Sharp Vermont - Sharp Wisconsin - Mild California
• 4 oz. Smoked Gouda (Gruyere also works well).
• 1 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese.
• 1 cup Panko bread crumbs (optional).


Preheat oven to 400°F.

Melt ¼ stick of butter at a low to medium heat, add sliced leeks and mushrooms. Stir well, coating all with butter, cover and sweat until soft (10-15 minutes). When done, transfer to a separate bowl. Drain and reserve liquid.

In a separate bowl, grate and mix well the Smoked Gouda and all Cheddar Cheeses.

In a blender, mix first six ingredients (kosher salt, pepper, nutmeg, garlic, ½ and ½, and heavy cream, use low speed/pulse).

Use/melt 1 tablespoon butter and coat a large casserole dish (9" x 13"), bottom and sides. May also use a 3-4 qt. ceramic Dutch Oven.

Arrange a bottom layer with sliced potatoes. Cover these with one third of the leek and mushroom mix, sprinkle with a third of the cheese blend and add half of the bacon pieces. Pour one third of the 6 blended ingredients over this layer.

Do second layer of potatoes, another third of the leeks and mushrooms, cheeses, and the last of the bacon. Pour one third of the blended ingredients over this layer. Do a third (top/final) layer of potatoes, leeks and mushrooms, cheeses, and blended ingredients. You may also now add in the reserved liquid from the leeks and mushrooms, if desired.

Cover, bake, 400° for 50 minutes

Uncover, sprinkle top with Parmesan cheese and Panko crumbs. Return to oven and continue baking until top is nicely browned and bubbly (may take an hour for this, keep an eye on it and don't let things get too brown!). Remove, let stand for 15-20 minutes before serving.

Serve, and gracefully accept the compliments!
Tracy D. November 12, 2019
Oh my gosh! This 6 cheese scalloped potato recipe sounds amazing! Thank you so much for sharing :)
Emma L. November 13, 2019
You had me at "blend of 4 cheddars."
Lisa November 13, 2019
I usually find the best ideas in the comments of articles, but this takes the prize for sure. Thank you for sharing your recipe, Gary! Can’t wait to try it.
sassygirl711 November 18, 2019
absolutely delish!
Brandi M. January 5, 2020
Gary, we made your potatoes last night. We’re vegetarian, so we left out the bacon. They were FABULOUS! We’ve added the recipe to our collection and we call them “Gary’s Potatoes”. They will forever be known as yours. Thank you!
Channon C. March 4, 2022
Yum bunny!! You are genius!! Merci mille fois. Another yum bunny. Genius number A2! I love it.
Vickie November 12, 2019
I usually use Russets. Cook until tender. It is to be assumed the water was salted! Drain potatoes, put back in pot, set on stove, burner on low to dry potatoes out some. Put in a stick of butter & a big tablespoon, more like 1/4-1/2 cup sour cream, a PKG of dry ranch dressing, Velveeta or shredded cheese of your choosing. Mash with a manual masher, being careful not to mash too much because they'll turn into glue. Taste & salt until you're happy.
Andy C. November 12, 2019
We were doing this in pie and mash shops, in the UK, 60years ago,... You think its new!!!