(Oct. 15) Rejoice! Mashed potatoes are fashionable again. In fact, the classic dish that many a young diner sculpted into mountains, canyons, rivers and lakes has never gone out of style. It’s just grown up a bit.

Creamy, fluffy goodness topped with a dollop of butter, mashed potatoes are one of the most popular comfort foods. In a survey of 1,005 consumers, 74% of those older than age 55 listed mashed potatoes as a preferred comfort food, according to American Demographics magazine.
In family restaurants that offer two vegetable side dishes with an entrée, mashed potatoes is the most popular choice, says Don Odiorne, vice president of foodservice for the Idaho Potato Commission, Boise.

“I think every menu has mashed potatoes, but now people are doing different things with them, … infusing oils or adding pesto or wasabi,” says Brian Johnson, executive chef of Bistro Toujours, Park City, Utah.

MASHED POTATO TRENDS

Perhaps the most notable mashed potato trend is its reclassification on the menu. Rather than coming only with the entrée, they often are listed as an appetizer or side dish, Odiorne says.

That can lead to higher profits. “If mashed potatoes are priced a la carte and prepared with unusual ingredients such as lobster or enoki mushrooms, chefs can charge for those items and raise their check average,” Odiorne says.

At Tin Fish, Chicago, chef/partner Colin Turner lists specialty mashed potatoes, such as blue cheese mashed potatoes, as a side dish on the menu. “People will upgrade to a specialty mashed potato dish for $1.25 more,” he says.

Other chefs add fresh herbs, vegetables and oils rather than butter for added flavor. Some even add pureed beets to enhance the color and the flavor. Others have quit pairing fish with rice in favor of mashed potatoes, Odiorne says.

USE YOUR IMAGINATION

Adorning a simple dish like mashed potatoes calls for intriguing fresh ingredients. Creative mashed potato dishes abound and often elevate the potato to new levels of style. Consider the following ideas to add to or improve your mashed potato selection:

Mashed Potato Almondine

Odiorne suggests forming mashed potatoes into logs and rolling them in bread crumbs or rice flour. Sprinkle or roll the logs in sliced almonds before baking or deep frying.

Ginger Mashed Potatoes

Add freshly shredded ginger to your mashed potatoes for a unique side dish with salmon.

Black Truffle Mashed Potatoes

Rick Tramonoto, executive chef/partner at Tru in Chicago, uses a blend of fingerling and russet potatoes to make black truffle mashed potatoes. First, he bakes the potatoes, then peels and mashes with heavy cream. He then adds white truffle oil, fresh black truffles, orange rind and butter and serves the dish in a martini glass as an appetizer called roasted lobster and black truffle potato martini. As a side dish, he pairs it with rack of lamb, Swiss chard reduced in red wine and broccoflower puree.

Coriander Mashed Potatoes
Tramonto adds a combination of crushed coriander seed and salt to mashed potatoes and serves it with roasted sweet breads.

Cheesy Mashed Potatoes

Add cheese to your mashed potatoes for a flavor twist. At Erling Jenson The Restaurant, Memphis, Tenn., sous chef Jimmy Gentry prepares large amounts of plain mashed potatoes and then uses those to make customized blends like one made with blue cheese and another made with gorgonzola cheese. He pairs both dishes with rib eye steak topped with cracked pepper

Carol Key, chef/owner at Angelika Café, Dallas, sometimes features goat cheese mashed potatoes on her menu. She uses 12 ounces of goat cheese to 5 pounds of potatoes, 1 pound of butter and 1 tablespoon of salt. She serves the dish with sea bass covered with sun-dried tomato and thyme sauce.

Foie Gras Mashed Potatoes

Gentry serves foie gras mashed potatoes with quail. He dices the foie gras, sears it and cooks it until crisp. He combines the foie gras and the fat that remains in the pan with the mashed potatoes. “It gives you a super-rich mashed potato dish,” he says.

Lobster Mashed Potatoes

Stir lobster pieces into mashed potatoes for rich flavor. Gentry serves this dish with veal tenderloin and a balsamic vinegar demi-glace.

Wasabi Mashed Potatoes

Gentry takes a pinch of prepared wasabi or wasabi powder and slowly folds it into mashed potatoes. He does the same with horseradish for a sharp flavor.

Artichoke Mashed Potatoes

Tin Fish’s Turner sautees artichokes in olive oil, purees half of the artichokes and adds them to the mashed potatoes. He cuts the remaining artichokes into chunks and stirs them into the mix.

POTATO TASTES

Experiment with different potato varieties to find the one best for your tastes.

Odiorne of the Idaho Potato Commission says russet burbank and russet norkotah potatoes are the most popular choice for mashing potatoes. He thinks russet burbanks have an earthier flavor and a more crumbly texture that yields a dry, fluffy mash. Both varieties are high in starches with low moisture. “They can be overmixed and still hold their shape without becoming gummy,” he says.

Red potatoes are high in moisture, low in starches and tend to be waxy, Odiorne says. “They are not as well suited to mashed potatoes, but some chains do use them or use them in combination with other varieties,” he says.

“Red potatoes are too dense. They don’t have enough moisture, and that makes the potatoes gummy,” says Key with Angelika Café. She prefers a 70-count russet potato for fluffiness and sometimes uses yukon golds, although they often are expensive, she says.

Yukon golds have a strong following, however. Johnson with Bistro Toujours uses the variety because of its yellow flesh and rich flavor. His simple crème fraiche mashed potatoes is a constant side dish on the menu and is made by adding salt, pepper and butter to the mash before finishing with crème fraiche.

Because of the rich flavor, Tramonoto with Tru combines yukon golds with other more common varieties. “You can mash any potato, but I have really great success with fingerling and Idaho red-skin potatoes,” he says.