Make perfect light & fluffy mashed potatoes every time with these simple tips. This recipe is my go-to side dish for weeknight meals and holiday dinners. It’s always a crowd favorite!
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One of the shining stars at the dinner table is a bowl of creamy mashed potatoes. The ingredients are simple and the method is right in the recipe name. However, it’s how you incorporate them together that determines if it’s been done right.
The starchy root vegetable needs to be prepared in a particular sequence to prevent gummy and thick texture. I share my easy yet essential techniques to nail the sought-out light and smooth consistency. To get started, it’s important to select the right variety, in this case, Russet potatoes are the top choice.
There are different types of potatoes to choose from, but Russets are best for a light whipped texture. They are known as mealy potatoes, due to their high starch level that readily absorbs moisture and yields a natural creaminess.
Yukon Gold potatoes are also famous for their buttery and creamy taste. However, the result tends to be denser because they have a higher level of moisture and sugars. Alternatively, I make mashed red potatoes with their skin-on for a rustic appearance and use a potato masher for a chunkier texture.
Peel, cut, and wash
The key to fluffy texture is controlling the amount of starch. Potato starch molecules swell, thicken, and become sticky in the presence of hot liquids. To regulate the starch level released and cooked, I remove the skin and cut the potatoes into 1-inch cubes.
I find that this size allows enough surface area to efficiently cook the spuds and soften the pectin in the cell walls. After dicing, rinse the raw pieces with cold water to remove any excess starch that comes to the surface. You’ll see the water run cloudy, then clear as you rinse and drain several times.
A Guide to Popular Types of Potatoes
Boil the potatoes
Peeled and diced potatoes cook much quicker than whole ones, about 15 minutes until fork tender. I use a large stockpot, so there’s plenty of room for movement and bubbling. I recommend salting the water, which disperses and seasons as they cook. After boiling, drain the pot and rinse the potatoes again briefly with hot water. This process removes any last bits of starch and ensures maximum fluffiness.
I don’t use a traditional potato masher to crush the cooked spuds. Instead, press the pieces through a fine-meshed strainer or food mill. It’s a more gentle process and reduces starch release compared to pounding down with a masher. The small individual holes in the strainer separate the potato particles, preventing them from being dense and heavy.
To ensure the potato mixture stays light and airy, I fold in room temperature butter before adding the milk. This process allows the fat to coat and directly bind with the starch granules, creating a silky texture. If you add the milk or even broth first, the liquid will make the starches stickier and, ultimately, the potatoes denser.
Following this step reduces the need to add more butter in order to create a luxurious texture. After numerous taste tests, I was able to find a sweet spot to minimize the amount of fat for just the right consistency. I use two tablespoons per 2-pounds of potatoes, not bad! Of course, you can melt more butter on top to your liking.
It’s crucial to fold in the warm milk slowly, so don’t rush. Gradually incorporating the milk in multiple instances allows the starches to have time to absorb the liquid. This process avoids a dense result. I like to add ½ cup of whole milk in three additions.
Good news, you can make this fluffy mashed potato recipe without butter and milk. Olive oil, plant-based butter, or even margarine are good substitutes. And creamy oat milk, almond milk, or cashew milk can replace regular milk.
Feel free to add sour cream, creme fraiche, or even cream cheese to add a slight tanginess. Start with a tablespoon and increase from there, and fold them in after adding the milk. You can use heavy cream for a more decadent texture. Roasted garlic adds a sweet and savory taste for an easy gourmet variation.
Storing and reheating
Make sure to completely cool the mashed potatoes before placing them in the refrigerator or freezer. They should last for up to 3 days in an airtight container. Reheat on the stovetop over medium-low heat until warmed through, or cover and microwave in 30-second increments on high power.
When freezing, I like to place the batch in a large resealable plastic bag or portion them out in multiple packs. Defrost them overnight in the refrigerator, then reheat, or reheat from frozen on the stovetop over medium-low heat. You can defrost them in the microwave until softened and then reheat, although it will take longer due to the solid ice crystals.
Serve this with
Choosing the right potato
Russet potatoes have a high starch content and mealy texture, which are perfect for that whipped texture. Once cooked, the starches readily absorb the milk and create a smooth puree, but just make sure to add the liquid in slowly.
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Homemade Mashed Potatoes
- 8 cups water
- 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, divided
- 2 pounds russet potatoes
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 2 slices, room temperature
- ½ cup whole milk
- black pepper, as needed for seasoning
- 1 tablespoon chopped chives
- In a large pot add 8 cups of water and heat over high heat until warm. Add 1 teaspoon salt, stir to dissolve, then bring to a boil. Meanwhile, prepare the potatoes.
- Peel the potatoes and cut into 1-inch pieces. Add to a colander and rinse under cool water to remove excess starches, until the water runs clear, about 1 minute.
- Drain and add to the boiling water. Cook until the potatoes are fork-tender, about 15-minutes.
- Drain the potatoes in a colander and rinse with hot water to remove any residual starches, about 30-seconds.
- Set a food mill, ricer, or fine-mesh strainer over the pot used to cook the potatoes. This helps to keep them warm. Working in batches, press the potatoes through into the pot. If using a strainer, use the back of a spoon.
- Add butter and gently fold into the potatoes.
- Microwave the milk for 30 to 45 seconds until warmed to about 120ºF (49ºC). Add ½ teaspoon of salt to the milk, whisk to dissolve.
- Gradually fold the milk into the potatoes in three additions, allowing the milk to absorb before adding more. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- If needed rewarm the potatoes over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Garnish the mashed potatoes with black pepper and chives.
- Make it DAIRY-FREE: Substitute butter for olive oil, dairy-free butter, or margarine. Use non-dairy milk like cashew, almond, or oat milk. The flavor will differ slightly and may not be as creamy.
- Storing: Cool the potatoes completely, then transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days. The potatoes can be frozen in a resealable plastic bag for about one month.
- Reheating: Warm on the stovetop over medium-low heat. Cover and reheat in the microwave on high power in 30-second intervals, stirring in between, until warmed through. Frozen potatoes can be defrosted overnight then reheated, or rewarmed when still frozen.
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30 Comments Leave a comment or review
I’ve got a recipe that I’ve used for years from Cook’s Illustrated and they test their recipes usually about 40 times with special taste testers. Here’s what they do. Yes, they use Russets. Yes, they use butter, but they melt it and they NEVER use milk as it makes them gummy. They use half-and-half, slightly heated. They don’t rinse the potatoes more than once after peeling them and cutting them into small chunks like your recipe. They use either a potato masher or a ricer. Salt is all they add and they don’t say to use unsalted butter in every recipe like you bloggers do. They definitely do not use sour cream or cream cheese in their mashed potatoes. My potatoes are light and fluffy with only the potatoes salted in the cooking water and never overcooked, a little melted butter, half-and-half and finish with a hand mixer. Serve immediately.
Jessica Gavin says
Thanks for sharing your mashed potato recipe, sounds delicious!
Brandie Shanor says
These potatoes turned out amazing! It was actually my first time making potatoes this way and even though it’s a little bit more time-consuming it’s definitely worth it! My husband said they were the best I’ve ever made. So light and fluffy with just the right amount of seasonings ?
Jessica Gavin says
Great job, Brandie! So happy to hear that the extra expect yielded excellent mashed potato results for you.
Samantha Walker says
Try it with 1 1/2- 2 Tbsps. Dukes Mayonnaise…. Give Mashed potatoes a GREAT flavor!
Jessica Gavin says
Thanks for the tip! I will give the mayo a try!
Could I use a ricer to put the potatoes through instead of a food mill or strainer? I have a nice ricer with 3 disc with different size holes. If Ok, would it be better with small holes or larger holes. Thanks so much. Love your site!
Jessica Gavin says
Yes! Use the smaller holes on the ricer.
I was very happy that I went with your recipe to make the mashed potatoes for my shepherds pie! Very nice texture. I will use this recipe all the time from now on, thank you!
Jessica Gavin says
Yay! You’re welcome, Lisa.
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