While the English make their mashed potatoes from floury potatoes, the French use waxy potatoes, which give a thick, smooth, silky, flowing puree. Waxy potatoes have firmer cells and less starch than floury potatoes and therefore can cope with more handling during the mashing process.
We have three different mashed potato recipes for you:
Water and Salt: There is some debate about whether it is best to cook any potatoes by placing them in cold water and bringing them to the boil, or boiling the water and adding the potatoes. I usually do the latter as the water can boil whilst the potatoes are being peeled. It is important that the water is salted. Keep in mind that we usually over salt vegetable water and under salt pasta water, so be judicious with the salt.
Skins: It is often said that it is best to cook potatoes in their skins, then peel and mash. Certainly this retains more of the nutrient content of the potato. It is easier to peel larger amounts of potatoes before cooking than peel hot potatoes afterwards, but for smaller amounts I like cooking potatoes in their skins. Of course, peeling and good rinsing is imperative if the potatoes are dirt-covered or have not been well washed.
Waxy Potatoes Waxy potatoes are those that are low in starch and tend to hold their shape when cooked. Waxy varieties require more effort to make them take up liquid, but can absorb lavish quantities of butter, making the kind of decadently rich classic French mashed potatoes. This is because the cells in waxy varieties stick together when cooked, helping them to remain in firm, intact pieces. It is important not to overcook waxy potatoes – if they’re overcooked, they leak starch, turning the mash into a sticky, gluey mass.
Unfortunately it is difficult to tell which potato is which – different sources will list a potato as floury in one and as an all-rounder in another. Additionally, potatoes will change their characteristics over time , being more waxy early in the season, and losing starch over time. One way of telling is to mix one part salt to 11 parts water in a measuring jug and add the potato. A floury one will almost always sink to the bottom of the jug, while a waxy one will float.
Perfect French Mashed Potatoes
size while cooking
To prevent water absorption by the potato, cook in larger pieces in just enough boiling, salted water or steam the potatoes.
You can use a potato ricer or sieve to mash the potatoes with excellent results when you use waxy potatoes.
Boil or steam your potatoes, and drain them well. Peel them if required. Place the potatoes back into the warm saucepan and shake around gently for 2 minutes to let the potatoes dry off. Mash with the cold butter and add the heated milk slowly whilst stirring. Use about 75g cold butter and 0.75 cups milk for 500g of potatoes. Add sea salt and black pepper to taste. Top with a little extra butter or olive oil when serving.
recipe notes and alternatives
Mashed potatoes accommodate various additions for added flavour:
- Add shopped parsley and stir through the mashed potatoes
- Use up that last bit of cheese by grating or chopping finely and adding to the potatoes with the butter and milk
- Replace some of the milk with cream
Variation: Celeriac and Potato Puree
Peel the celeriac and chop into large chunks, keeping in acidulated water until ready to cook.
Boil the celeriac in salted water at a steady simmer until cooked. You will need to do this separately from the potatoes as the cooking rate is different.
Add the cooked celeriac to the cooked potatoes when they are ready to be mashed. Continue with the mashing as described above.
Feel free to browse recipes from our Retro Recipes series, our vegetarian recipes from our first blog from 1995 – 2005.