Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanksgiving: The (Heretical) Mashed Potatoes

Come Thanksgiving, there are, at the average table, enough starches to make Dr. Atkins spin like a lathe in his grave. Biscuits, corn, cornbread, sweet potatoes (and/or yams) and rolls are just a partial list of the starched attendees. But here is my starch of choice.

WARNING: CULINARY HERESIES FOLLOW

Whipped Yukon Gold Potatoes

4 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes, UNpeeled
1 cup buttermilk
½ cup sour cream or sour half-and-half (sometimes sold as "Light Sour Cream")
8 Tbs. (1 stick) unsalted butter
1½ - 2 cups cream (you can use evaporated skim milk, it will still be pretty good)
¼ tsp. baking powder
1-2 scallions or 8-10 chives (green parts only, sliced t-h-i-n-l-y on the diagonal)
Salt and freshly ground (ideally white) pepper, to taste

Bring a large pot two-thirds full of water to a boil over high heat. Add the potatoes and cook until tender, about 30 minutes. (You can pre-zap 'em in the microwave) Drain the potatoes in a colander and let them steam dry about 5 minutes.

Normally, the pedestrian step at this point is to cut them in equatorial halves and pass the potatoes through a potato ricer into the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Put we are going to do something VERY heretical. You have to take me on faith at this point, so if you're the tiniest bit cowardly, bail out NOW. OK, let the potatoes cool a bit and then peel and cut*.

Throw the potatoes (you may have to do this in batches, so watch your proportions!!) into a food processor. EVERY cookbook on God's green earth will tell you this way lies madness. They will tell you this is heretical and they will tell you you will wind up with spackle. Ignore them. Add the sour cream, butter**, baking powder, salt and white pepper, and process the potatoes until smooth. This will be VERY dense and exactly what you do not wish to serve. Here comes the master stroke, ready?

With the processor running, slowly dribble in the cream (fine, the evaporated milk) and then the buttermilk*** until you get the consistency you like. The potatoes will have miraculously turned into the fluffiest damned things you have ever seen...you'd think it was a soufflé or a mousse of some sort. Taste and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper, garnish with scallion or chive bits. Serve immediately. If you will keep these warm for a bit in, say, an oven, you may want them a TEENY bit runnier than you'd like, since the warming process will dry and firm them to your desired standards.

-J.

P.S. The reasons why the food processor turns potatoes to spackle are twofold: a) The blades action shears open a great many starch cells (which tend to bind when they cool) and b) most people use russet/Idaho potatoes which are extra-starchy to begin with. The idea for this is a riff on Joel Robuchon -- who has more Michelin stars than anyone, and HE ought to know -- who used to do this same thing, only his dairy component was straight butter, cut into bits (it eventually worked out to something like 1 lb. butter for every 2 lb. of potato). Yes, caloric.

* If you cut the potatoes before cooking, the water will gelatinize the starch in the potatoes and you WILL wind up with spackle.
** The fat in these dairy ingredients will help isolate a number of starch cells in the potatoes, to minimize the spackle effect.
*** The buttermilk's acid will react with the baking powder to provide "fluff".

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