What’s fried chicken without mashed potatoes, eh? The crispy texture of the chicken has to be complemented by something soft and creamy, and very few side dishes satisfy those requirements. For me, the number one choice is mashed potatoes.
Gravy is a nice addition although I don’t consider it a must.
When I say “mashed potatoes”, do I mean potato flakes from a box? Well, you can go that route but there’s nothing like real mashed potatoes. And it’s a fried chicken side dish that’s so easy to make.
Know your potatoes
There are thousands of potato varieties but they can all be categorized under two basic groups based on their characteristics — waxy and starchy. Some know-it-all reader once remarked rhetorically that all potatoes are starchy and I knew that it wasn’t worth giving her the time of day.
“Waxy” and “starchy” refer to the texture of potatoes. Waxy potatoes are great for making salads because they retain their shape even after boiling. Starchy potatoes are best for making fried and mashed potatoes because they are airier and crumblier.
Retail names of potatoes vary from country to country. You’ll have to acquaint yourself with what is available in your area and identify which are waxy and which are starchy. Once you know the difference, get some good starchy potatoes and make mashed potatoes at home.
Is a potato ricer really necessary?
What is a potato ricer? It’s like a large garlic press. Place the potato in the basket with holes at the bottom, position the cover attached to a handle, press and out comes the mashed potato through the holes at the bottom of the basket.
Is it really a must for making mashed potatoes? No, but it is convenient. If small solid bits of potatoes in your mash bothers you, get a potato ricer. Otherwise, a sturdy fork will do.
Good mashed potato is light and airy, not pasty
One time, I was a judge at a cooking contest in a culinary school. One of the contestants was making mashed potatoes and I watched as she vigorously mixed the mashed potatoes long after the melted butter had been absorbed. Huge mistake, I thought, but I said nothing. I was there to grade the food, not give tips to the contestants.
Once you’ve mashed the potatoes, add small cubes of butter and stir lightly. If adding milk or cream, do the same. NEVER BEAT and never overmix. Prolonged mixing does something to the starch and the mixture turns pasty.
Is milk or cream essential for good mashed potatoes?
It is for me. But there are cooks that use a different formula — equal amounts of potatoes and butter, and no milk nor cream. I haven’t tried the potatoes-and-butter-only formula because I am quite happy with my mashed potatoes recipe.
The Ultimate Mashed Potatoes
- 600 to 700 starchy potatoes peeled and diced
- 125 grams butter cut into small cubes
- 125 grams milk or cream (you may need more depending on the absorption capacity of the potatoes
- chopped herbs (optional)
- Place the diced potatoes in a pan. Cover with water. Bring to the boil, lower the heat and simmer until very tender (as in, when pierced with a fork, the potato will break apart).
- Drain the potatoes and transfer to a bowl. Whether using a fork or a potato ricer, do the mashing while the potatoes are hot.
- Add the butter to the mashed potatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stir lightly until the butter has melted and has been absorbed by the mashed potatoes.
- Pour in the milk or cream (and herbs, if using). Again, stir lightly just until the mixture acquires a uniform consistency. Taste, add more salt and pepper, as needed. Stir to blend.
- Scroll down for the gravy recipe.
Velvety Onion Gravy
- Heat 1/4 cup of butter in a pan. Add the chopped onion and garlic. Cook over medium-low heat until caramelized.
- Scoop out the caramelized onion with a sieve and press to allow the butter to drip back into the pan. Transfer the cooked onion to the blender. Pour in a cup of broth. Process until the onion bits are liquefied.
- Reheat the remaining butter in the pan. Add the flour all at once. Mix until there are no lumps. Cook over medium heat to make a brown roux.
- Pour in the broth with the pureed caramelized onion. Pour in a thin stream, stirring with the other hand as you pour. Let the mixture simmer until thickened. If the gravy is too thick, add the rest of the broth little by little until you get the consistency that you like.
- Off the heat, season with salt and pepper. Stir in the remaining two tablespoonfuls of butter until melted.