Someone recently asked me me what my three favorite comfort foods were, and I had no problem rattling them off: Grandpa Lorenzo’s aglio e olio (spaghetti with olive oil and garlic), Kickie’s fried chicken, and my French-style mashed potatoes. I say “French-style” because they are velvety smooth and creamier than the American version. This is my adaption of chef Joël Robuchon’s famous pommes purée at his restaurant L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon — this isn’t for every day (it involves several extra steps and loads of butter), but if you want to impress someone, make something special for a holiday, or simply create the best mashed potatoes ever, it’s well worth the extra effort and fat. You can lighten them up a bit by cutting down the butter and using 2 percent milk, but they won’t be as luxurious.
You’ll need a couple of specialty tools, but they’re tools I recommend any home cook have. You’ll need a potato ricer — a high-quality model at Williams-Sonoma is about $40, but you can find a basic one for around $10 at restaurant supply stores. Straining the potatoes through a tamis (pronounced tam-ee) with a silicone paddle is also a must. If you don’t have a tamis and silicone paddle, a very fine mesh sieve with a dough scraper or a wooden spoon will work. I use my grandfather’s old food mill from Italy that has a hand crank with a metal paddle that helps facilitate pushing the potatoes through the fine mesh.
Because these mashed potatoes are good enough to be the star attraction, serve with a protein side — braised pork belly and pan-roasted duck breast both hold up well to the richness, but a petite filet mignon, seared salmon steak, or baked chicken breast would also work. I’ve also served these potatoes to vegetarian friends with two or three vegetable sides; they’re satisfying enough to eat without any meat at all. Try them with spinach or kale sautéed in olive oil and garlic, or some glazed baby carrots, steamed fava beans, or roasted squash. A simple green salad will also suffice.
THE BEST MASHED POTATOES EVER
- 5 five medium russet or Yukon gold potatoes (I use a mix of 3 russets and 2 Yukon gold)
- 1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), room temperature, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 to 2 cups whole or 2 percent milk (depending on how creamy you like your potatoes) brought to a boil and kept warm
- ¼ cup half and half (optional)
- Sea salt to taste
Scrub the potatoes well, put them in a large stockpot, and add cold water until potatoes are completely covered. Bring them to a boil, then lower heat and simmer until a paring knife goes through without much resistance (40 to 50 minutes).
Drain potatoes thoroughly; once they are cool enough to handle, peel them (the skins will come off easily). Push the peeled potatoes through a ricer into a tall stockpot over low heat and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon to dry them completely (3 to 5 minutes).
Add cubed butter a little at a time and stir until well incorporated. Add half the milk in a slow stream while vigorously whipping potatoes with a wooden spoon. Continue adding milk until you achieve desired consistency.
Pass the whipped potatoes through a tamis using a silicone spatula into a large bowl. By now the potatoes will be room temperature.
Rinse and dry the stockpot, add potatoes back to the pot, and set over low heat, stirring constantly until warmed through.
For extra decadence, melt 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter in ½ cup of warm whole milk or heat ¼ cup half and half. Drizzle over potatoes while stirring.
Salt to taste and serve immediately.