I’m not ashamed to say Thanksgiving is my very favorite holiday. Sure, there’s no fun costumes like Halloween or even presents like Christmas, but an entire day centered around eating the most delicious food with your loved ones? Yeah, that’s something I’m 100 percent here for. As someone who also has an almost spiritual appreciation for any recipe involving potatoes, I'm already dreaming about my starchy side dish this year.
For me, there’s no question that Thanksgiving potatoes should be mashed. Don’t get me wrong, I love a crispy potato as much as the next person, but the holiday just isn’t the same without a pile of mashed potatoes covered in gravy. As we all know, the first step to whipping up a batch of mashed potato goodness is grabbing a big pot, filling it with water, and plopping your spuds in to boil. But according to the experts at Bon Appétit — who just released a collection of recipes for the “Absolutely, Positively Perfect Thanksgiving Menu" — roasting is the superior way to prep your taters for mashing on Turkey Day. I know, it sounded wild to me, too. So with a few weeks before the big day, I decided to test it out myself.
(Note: This isn’t for your ordinary weeknight dinner side dish, the roasting process alone takes 80 to 90 minutes!)
After my potatoes (Bon Appétit says Yukon gold and German butterball are the best) had been in the oven for about an hour and a half, I used a butter knife to poke a few and make sure they were indeed nice and tender. Then I followed the recipe’s instructions to remove the peels. This part was tricky even with a clean kitchen towel protecting my hand from getting burned by the still-hot spuds, but after awhile I got into a rhythm using a veggie peeler.
Obviously, mashed potatoes need more than, well, potatoes to taste best. The recipe calls for four cups (or a full quart) of whole milk, a full head of garlic, five sprigs of thyme, two and a half sticks of butter (yup, you read that right), a couple tablespoons of cracked pepper, and letting it all simmer in the same pot together. Let me tell you, this combination smells amazing as it heats up. After it comes to a boil, you set it aside with a lid on for about 30 minutes while you use a hand masher (like me), ricer, or food mill on your peeled potatoes.
I expected it to be a little more difficult to mash the potatoes since they didn't have the moisture they usually get from boiling in water, but they broke down easily even before adding the milky mixture. I was then a little worried the whole thing would turn into soup when I added (most of) the dairy, but my fears quickly vanished again as the potatoes continued to break down and soak it all up into a perfectly smooth result. I'm no expert, but I'd guess the lack of initial hydration helped the potatoes absorb all the milk and butter better and become as velvety and creamy as something like polenta or grits.
The BA recipe calls for creating “crispity crunchities” to place on top of the mashed potatoes by heating bread, potato chips, and seasoning in the oven, but after waiting so long for all of the other steps, I was kind of worn out. Instead, I spread the potato skins that would have otherwise been discarded back out onto the same pan, then added a little olive oil, pepper, and salt, and cooked them at the same temperature for about seven minutes to get them nice and crispy. Once those cooled, I tossed them in the mixture of parsley, smoked paprika, thyme, and garlic that the recipe called for.
Even though I used a smidge less of the milk and butter mixture that the recipe called for (I prefer my mashed taters to be a little thicker), these potatoes were exceptionally creamy. I'm talking way smoother than my regular method. Although there were still a few lumps at the end (hello, hand masher), it was nowhere near as many as I get using a boiling method. It reminded me of potatoes my family makes at home with an electric hand mixture to help them smooth everything out. Trust me, it's not like I have a lot of upper arm strength to replicate that, so I definitely think the roasting process played a big part in the smooth result.
And although I used my own method for “crispity crunchities,” the added texture made the whole thing come together nicely in a way I wouldn’t have thought to try otherwise. I can imagine this being even more delicious with a little gravy and stuffing when Thanksgiving actually rolls around, but I'm not mad about having a big batch to go through (with my roommate's help) in the meantime.
If you’re afraid this sounds like a lot of work when you’re already going to be stressed prepping several other dishes on the day-of, there’s good news: You can whip these up a couple days before turkey day and they’ll be just as yummy warmed back up.
Here’s to us all feeling full, satisfied, and thankful for second helpings this Thanksgiving!