Every year, I’m tasked with a single job at my in-laws’ Thanksgiving; make the mashed potatoes. It is neither a glamorous nor a respected job. They did not even serve mashed potatoes until I came along and insisted that I be a part of the day, so now I am begrudgingly given a corner of the kitchen in which to peel, boil, and smush, while much bigger, much more important things happen around me.
My mother-in-law’s turkey, for example, is basted dozens of times over many hours with a gravy recipe that came from the old country, and is served with two types of stuffing whose every ingredient was bought at a separate store across the state of New Jersey. She is building a particle collider. I am smashing rocks against other rocks.
I maintain that simple, no-frills mashed potatoes can be the best part of a Thanksgiving plate, but I also suspect that many potato mashers, like myself, are deeply insecure about being put in the culinary equivalent of right field.
So here are some ways to jazz up your mashed potatoes and earn, at long last, a place of some esteem in your family’s pantheon of chefs.
Focus on the presentation
One of the easiest ways to show off is by making Duchess potatoes, a classic French dish which mixes your standard finely mashed potatoes with egg yolks and a dash of nutmeg, squeezes the pureed mixture through a piping bag, and then browns them in the oven. They are still mashed potatoes, but they look like adorable French pastries.
Another cool presentation method is to sprinkle regular mashed potatoes with chives, bacon, and cheese, and cook them with a waffle iron.
Change the basics
You do not need to make the preparation more complicated to add a little extra flavor: just tweak the main ingredients. Instead of going with regular milk, use buttermilk, mayonnaise, sour cream, or cream cheese. You can also brown your butter, or throw a little bit of truffle butter in there for extra flavor. Changing the potatoes will make the least difference in terms of flavor, but red potatoes with the skins left on looks cool, and Yukon Gold potatoes make the dish a nice buttery yellow.
There are recipes out there that will suggest substituting the potatoes with butternut squash or sweet potatoes, but I wouldn’t suggest promising mashed potatoes and bringing such a bastardization unless you’re one of those people who likes to watch the world burn.
Add a crowd-pleaser
Don’t go overboard – a Thanksgiving dish is a member of an ensemble, not a leading role. But it never hurts to add an extra savory element. The safest bets are garlic, crispy bacon, rosemary, scallions, or cheddar cheese. If you want to go a step further, throw in some shallots, a smoky gouda, cooked leeks, or pancetta. If you’ve got a crowd that likes spice, try adding horseradish, wasabi, curry, chorizo, Italian sausage or jalapeño.
Get weird with the leftovers
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You don’t have to show off the day of: offer to make breakfast on Black Friday and use your leftover potatoes to cook up Bubble and Squeak. It’s perfect for Thanksgiving because it allows you to incorporate pretty much all of your leftovers. It’s like an omelette, but with potatoes as a base instead of the eggs. If you’re wondering, “Is there any dish that’s more delightfully named than ‘bubble and squeak’?” the answer is yes: The Scottish version is called Rumbledethumps.