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PortWatch

November 13, 2013

Do-ahead mashed potatoes save time, sanity

One of the most stressful parts of hosting a large dinner party is figuring out how to time everything so all the food arrives at the table piping-hot and at its prime.

This is especially true of Thanksgiving — the dinner party to end all dinner parties! Getting everything timed right is a crazy juggling act, even if you make good use of the turkey resting time (that 30-minute period between when the turkey comes out of the oven and when it is ready to be carved) to finish prepping the other dishes.

Traditional mashed potatoes pose a special problem. You can try making them ahead of time, then reheating them at the last minute, but then they tend to taste stale. Theoretically, you can make them from scratch as the clock ticks down, but good luck pulling that rabbit out of a hat while you’re simultaneously whipping up a pan gravy and finishing off your sides in a kitchen full of hovering relatives.

Here’s my solution — cook and mash the potatoes without any seasonings or dairy the day before, then pop them in the refrigerator. When you’re ready to serve them, nuke them and add the dairy at the last minute.

Why does this work? Because it’s the reheated butter and milk or cream that causes the off flavors. Leave those out until the potatoes are already reheated, and you’re good to go.

Which potato to use when making mashed potatoes? Once upon a time, there was only one answer: the russet, widely known as the “baking potato,” the most famous of which is the Idaho. It is high in starch and gets fluffy when cooked. In recent years, though, some folks have begun to swear by the Yukon gold, a medium-starch spud with a buttery hue.

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