When it comes to making mashed potatoes, not all spuds are created equal. While some, like the humble-but-sturdy Russet, are perfect for making the kind of fluffy, picture-perfect mashed potatoes destined to be carved by rivers of butter, others, such as the waxy and golden Yukon, are better for making supple pools of creamy, decadent purée. And when you’re standing in front of a mountain of potatoes at the supermarket it’s not always obvious which you’ll need for the kind of potatoes you’re hoping to prepare. Well wonder no longer, because we’ve got answers.
The Best Potato For Fluffy Mashed Potatoes: Russets
For fluffy mashed potatoes, we recommend using high-starch, low-moisture potatoes like russets. Mashed taters are made by crushing cooked potatoes into fine particles, and then coating those particles in fat and water (usually in the form of butter and milk or cream). Fluffy, light mashed potatoes are achieved by minimizing the amount of starch that gets incorporated into this mixture, and the more you work to break down potatoes, the more starch they release.
Therefore, you want to use potatoes that readily break down with minimal effort. It may seem counterintuitive to use a high-starch potato for a preparation where starch is the enemy, but due to their mealy composition, russet potatoes fall apart easily, and the starch they do release can be easily rinsed off before mixing the potatoes with dairy.
Russets also absorb that dairy more readily than waxy potatoes, which again means less manipulation is required to form the finished product, for a lighter, fluffier mash.
The Best Potato For Rich and Creamy Mashed Potatoes: Yukon Golds
Fluffiness isn’t the only acceptable texture for mashed potatoes, and when you’re in the mood for a more rich and creamy product, like French-style pommes purées, then a different type of spud is required. This indulgent, silky smooth potato purée, popularized by French chef Joël Robuchon, famously has a 2:1 potato-to-butter ratio by weight. With such a high proportion of fat, this is a far less stable emulsion that requires the binding properties of potato starch to keep the butter from separating out.
Waxy potatoes, like Yukon golds, are the best option for this style, because they require more work to break down and release more gelated starch in the process. Once cooked, you can pass the potatoes through a food mill or ricer, and then whip them together with melted butter and heavy cream, either by hand or in a stand mixer. For a super-smooth final product, you can then pass the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer.
How to Make Mashed Potatoes
Both fluffy and creamy mashed potatoes require breaking down cooked potatoes without completely puréeing them in the process. Even for recipes that take advantage of the vegetable’s natural starch content, blitzing potatoes in a blender or food processor is a bad idea, releasing way too much of it, turning the potatoes into an unpalatable gluey paste. You are better off using a ricer or food mill, both non-motorized tools that break down cooked potatoes quickly with minimal shearing action.
A potato ricer is one of the few unitasker kitchen tools that we actually recommend; it performs its job efficiently, and doesn’t take up a ton of space when it’s not in use. If you make mashed potatoes on a somewhat regular basis, it’s worth having a potato ricer.
Food mills have a much larger footprint than potato ricers, but they’re also more versatile. In the summer, I use my food mill for making large batches of tomato passata and fresh sauce. Being larger, they can process potatoes at a faster clip than a ricer, which can only hold a few large pieces of potato at a time in its hopper. That said, they’re also more of a pain to clean and assemble. Choose the tool that fits best in the space that you have.
Unless you’re a big fan of chunky smashed potatoes, we don’t recommend manual potato mashers that require a lot of force to break down potatoes, and don’t yield a consistent texture (though they can be handy for breaking up ground meat).
This guide was originally published in October 2019 as part of a different guide about mashed potatoes, and is being republished here for increased ease of use. The guide’s short introduction was written by Jacob Dean, while the technique portions were written by Sasha Marx.