Mashed Potatoes: A Memoir

Secrets to the Perfect Mashed Potatoes and Gravy


                                                                                               Photo by @mollyjean4

Thanksgiving 2020. What a year. Are we feeling grateful yet?!  As I write this, I am 33-weeks pregnant. I will likely deliver early, bringing a delicate preemie into the midst of a global pandemic.  COVID numbers are at an all time high across the country and in Europe, and we are two weeks out from a holiday that is all about gathering together. So you are probably asking yourself, is this lady really trying to preach about mashed potatoes and gravy right now? The answer is yes.  

Mashed potatoes are the embodiment of comfort.  They require just a handful of ingredients, can be made in a giant batch, or on a smaller scale, and take very little skill to get right.  Plus, they are incredibly forgivable; if they end up lumpy just add a little (read: a lot) extra butter and sour cream and you are good to go. 

My intent of this little treatise is to make a case for making mashed potatoes, no matter your holiday plans.  I am no public health expert, but personally, we will be spending this holiday alone. With a delivery date looming, we can’t take the risk of gathering with family during these “unprecedented times”. (There, I said it, it wouldn’t be 2020 without calling out the old ‘UT’ as we have lovingly dubbed this dumpster fire of a year in my household.) That being said, will there be mashed potatoes on my dinner table on Thanksgiving? Heck, yes. Turkey I can probably take or leave, but buttery spuds are happening. 

During ‘normal’ years, I spend the holiday cooking with one of my three sisters, Susan.  We rile each other up, bringing our menu and kitchen task list to new heights each year. The number of side dishes we prepare is insane. Truly. And we, of course, cook not one, but two turkeys. There are usually 3-4 pies, and most likely a homemade ice cream or two. It is one of my most favorite days of the year. To spend the day surrounded by family, cooking for no other reason than to nourish them with food made with love and celebrate how lucky we are to have one another brings me a tremendous amount of joy.

This year, in September, we lost a pillar of our family, my brother-in-law Teddy, Susan’s husband. Teddy made feeling grateful easy. He loved his family fiercely, he celebrated his blessings on a daily basis and he relished the joy of the everyday. In many ways, Teddy may have been my biggest fan when it came to food.  He appreciated good food, good IPAs and good times together. And he loved my mashed potatoes.  His holiday plate was always somewhat of a spectacle; the family once-a-year china (why are fancy plates so small?) would be piled so high with food, you’d think there was no way he’d ever finish it all until you saw him go back for seconds. He’d be sure to take an extra long run the morning of Thanksgiving so he was prepared to enjoy just enough of everything. He had this thing called life figured out. 

Although I can’t celebrate with him, or my family this year, I am making mashed potatoes in his memory.  I am making them because they are much more than just a side dish, they are holiday nostalgia, they are solace, they are a little taste of ‘normal’ in a very abnormal year. So without further ado, here is my tried and true recipe for Mashed Potatoes and Gravy. 

-Molly Adams, Senior Food Editor


3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, quartered
Kosher salt, as needed
1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
1 shallot, peeled and halved
Handful fresh sage
1/2 cup sour cream
Black peppercorns, freshly ground, to taste

1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour (gluten free if needed)
1 cup pan drippings, (can be turkey, chicken, or beef)
2-3 cups stock (chicken or turkey)
Kosher salt
Black peppercorns, freshly ground, to taste
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Our Top Mashed Potato & Gravy Tips:
  • Caramelized Veggies Are Your Friend. If you want flavorful gravy, you need to start with flavorful pan-drippings. Make sure to roast your turkey with lots of aromatics and veggies like onions, garlic, carrots and celery for drippings full of flavor. 
  • Mise en Place. Gravy is super easy, but it comes together quickly. Make sure you have all the ingredients and tools needed to make gravy within reach before you begin cooking. 
  • Rice is Nice! I'm not big on single use kitchen-gadgets (who has the room?) but I do think a ricer is essential for the best mashed potatoes. It keeps your spuds super silky and smooth. 
  • Keep it Cool. Start cooking your potatoes in cold water, it ensures the potatoes will cook evenly. Starting with warm water makes the outside of the potatoes cook quicker than the inside which will cause dreaded lumps!
  • Salt Like You Mean It. You want the water you cook your potatoes in to be aggressively seasoned. Salting the potatoes after they are cooked will just make them taste salty, while cooking them in properly seasoned water will highlight all of the other flavors you add to them. 

Want to learn all of the secrets to perfect mashed potatoes and gravy? Watch our tutorial here!
Want more Holiday Potato recipes? Check out two of our favorites below!
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