In many ways, I’m not sure I could ever completely trust anyone who didn’t take comfort from eating mashed potatoes. The warm, sleepy fug that descends upon the body and brain after eating a generous portion seems to me one of the universal pleasures in life, and I’m frequently made uneasy by evangelical carb-avoiders (these people don’t eat bread, for crying out loud. Bread!) reeling off reasons why we don’t ‘need’ to eat potatoes, as though the act of eating were nothing more than a means of sustenance; an implication that seems to rather fly in the face of the entire history of cooking. Ho hum.
In some ways, this is a slightly controversial addition to Real Fast Food in that, like rice, scrambled eggs and bolognese sauce (two of which are also included in the book), it’s something most people think is such a no-brainer that to explain how to prepare it would be the height of condescension. This would be all well and good, were there not a wealth of very bad mashed potato (and rice, and scrambled eggs, and bolognese sauce) to be found in the world. I put this down to two main factors: using the wrong type of potato, and not knowing how to avoid lumpy mash; something I’m told some people actually enjoy, which I find a touch upsetting, frankly.
As for the former, a floury variety of potato is absolutely required for mashing (I used King Edwards today). If all you have in the house are waxy potatoes, make something else, cause it won’t work. I’ve tried. Regarding the latter, I think many people boil their potatoes whole, and then rely upon brute force in an attempt to achieve a smooth mash. The trouble with this approach is that your potatoes will be cooked more on the outside than the inside; a quality which is perfectly enjoyable when tucking into a new potato, but not conducive to smooth, uniform, perfect mash. This issue is easily worked around by taking the time to dice your potatoes before boiling them which, I promise you, is five minutes very well spent.
The product of this recipe is mash in, as Nigel describes it, ‘The French Manner’; smooth, creamy almost puréed stuff that sits very happily beneath a stew or sauce.
First, I peeled 450g of potatoes (I followed the recipe very closely here, on the basis that there are many ways to do this, and I’d just end up doing as I always do otherwise) and diced them into pretty much evenly sized pieces, something like half an inch in diameter. I tipped them into a pan of salted water which I bought to a simmer, and left alone for 20 minutes, til the cubes were cooked right the way through to the middle. Whilst these boiled, I gently warmed 4 tablespoons of double cream in a pan. Once cooked, I drained the potatoes, then set about mashing them. Nigel advises against the use of a food processor (“…you will end up with glue.”) and so a traditional masher it was. I’m not sure how to describe it, but you know when you’re there with the mashing; A little like with the preparation of mayonnaise, a defining change in quality overtakes the mixture, and it just becomes as it should. Very pleasing. I added the warmed cream, along with two tablespoons of olive oil, and beat the lot together, adding a little salt and pepper to taste.
Even as a fairly swift and confident cook, I’d say this recipe only just qualifies for the half hour criteria (though not to the extent of risotto), but if you get your peeling and dicing done good and quickly, and work up a fierce heat beneath the boiling pan, you shouldn’t be far off.
We ate our mash alongside a beef brisket and mushroom stew, which had been sitting in a slow oven since the morning. Whilst it felt almost excessively wintery on a warm spring day, I enjoyed every mouthful, and slipped into the anticipated mash-coma shortly afterwards.
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