There are at least a few legitimate ways to adulterate mashed potatoes beyond the requisite butter and milk. You can stir in chopped fresh herbs for herbed mashed potatoes, or incorporate another root vegetable (like sweet potatoes or parsnips) for a hybrid purée. You can add cream (or sour cream, or crème fraîche) for insanely rich mashed potatoes, or grated cheese for cheesy mashed potatoes.
But Thanksgiving is not the time for any of these variations. On a day when it’s hard to find enough room on your plate for everything you want to eat, it’s wise not to screw around with distracting—or worse, overly rich—mashed-potato additions. The only appropriate supplement for Thanksgiving mashed potatoes is garlic, for two reasons: one, there aren’t usually other garlicky dishes on the holiday table (an egregious gap that needs filling); and two, garlic melds with mashed potatoes in the most wonderful way.
Everyone rightly loves roasted garlic, but not everyone realizes that boiling garlic yields something just as meltingly tender. Throwing a few heads’ worth of garlic in the pot with your potatoes is practically a no-brainer. It sounds like a lot of garlic because it is a lot of garlic, but it’s virtually impossible to go overboard, since cooking takes away its bite, leaving behind only a pleasantly mellow garlic essence. And think of the health benefits: Garlic keeps vampires and also possibly cancer and heart disease at bay. (Granted, it will probably keep potential lovers at bay, too, but your chances of seducing anyone on Thanksgiving night were low to begin with.)
Concerned about peeling that much garlic? Don’t be! You won’t have to pick the skin off a single clove, because you’ll be using a potato ricer to mash your potatoes. The potato ricer—which resembles, incidentally, a giant garlic press—is hands down the best tool for making mashed potatoes. It results in a lump-free, perfectly smooth purée every time, and it peels your potatoes (and garlic) in the process. Even if you make mashed potatoes only once or twice a year, a ricer is a worthwhile investment. (If you insist on a little roughness—the culinary equivalent of that little edge in Adele’s voice—you can set aside some of the potato skins after ricing, chop them up, and stir them into the mash.)
A few final tips: All-purpose potatoes, like Yukon Golds, are ideal for mashing—small enough to cook through quickly, unlike enormous starchy baking potatoes—but any variety that’s not too waxy is fine. Boil them until you can pierce them easily all the way through with a sharp knife. (You may be tempted to poke at them with a fork to test their doneness, but this is a mistake—tines will break apart an undercooked potato, making it more likely to get waterlogged.) Finally, to ensure maximum creaminess and minimum gumminess, make sure your milk and butter are good and hot before you combine them with the potatoes, and stir the riced potatoes and dairy together just until the mixture is uniform.
Garlicky Mashed Potatoes
Yield: 8 to 12 servings
Time: About 1 hour, partially unattended
4 pounds Yukon Gold or other all-purpose potatoes
3 small heads of garlic, separated into cloves (but not peeled)
2 cups whole milk
10 tablespoons (1¼ sticks) butter
1. Put the potatoes and garlic cloves in a large pot with a few pinches of salt and add enough water to cover the potatoes by about 2 inches. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until the potatoes are fully tender, about 30 to 40 minutes. Drain thoroughly.
2. Return the now-empty pot to the heat for a few seconds to dry it out, then reduce the heat to low. Put the milk and butter in the pot and season generously with salt and pepper. Cook until the butter melts, about 5 minutes.
3. Put the potatoes and garlic through a potato ricer into the pot. Stir gently to combine with the milk mixture. Taste and adjust the seasoning, and serve hot.