For better mashed potatoes, take a cue from potato chips. Salt-and-vinegar is one of the most popular flavors for good reason: These ingredients balance all the richness and heaviness. The same idea can be applied here. Traditional mashed potatoes are all richness and heaviness—butter! milk! potatoes!—but by bumping up the salt and adding a whisper of vinegar, the recipe feels new again. I like malted vinegar (probably from all the times I’ve shaken it over French fries), but white, apple cider, and rice work too. This recipe is inspired by Diane Morgan’s Genius Mashed Potatoes, which taught me to add the butter, then the milk, so the butteriness gets to the shine. Serve with a pat of butter on top if you want to gild the lily—I always do. About the type of potato: Most people prefer starchy Russets, because they yield extra-fluffy mashed potatoes. I oscillate between those and Yukon Golds, which have a golden color and an especially potato-y flavor. Pick your favorite (or, if you’re feeling rebellious, do a mix). —Emma Laperruque
Chop each potato into sixths or eighths, trying to keep the pieces about equal in size. Add these to a pot, along with the water and 2 teaspoons salt. Set on the stove over medium-high heat to come to a boil. Cook the potatoes for 10 to 15 minutes, until you can easily break apart a piece with a fork.
When the potatoes are cooked, drain them, then add them back to the hot pot on the stove, but with the heat off. Mash the potatoes with a masher (or, if you don’t have one, a big fork), until they’re as broken down as possible. Add the melted butter and stir until smooth-ish. Add the milk and stir again. Now add the vinegar and remaining ½ teaspoon salt. Stir, then taste. More salt, vinegar, or butter? More milk to thin out? Adjust accordingly.
Serve immediately with a pat of butter and flaky salt on top. You can also keep these warm on top of a double boiler, or reheat them (adding more milk as needed) just before serving.
Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.