Generally speaking we eat “healthy” low fat meals during the week and throw caution to the wind in a butter-animal-vegetable fat smorgasbord kind of way on the weekends. That said, I am a firm believer that cooks resort far too often to the addition of extraneous fats to carry their flavor(less) meal compositions into the winner’s circle. I believe this is taking the easy way out and find it more rewarding to develop and enhance the flavors of what I am cooking rather than mask the food with tons of butter and animal fat.
All that said, potato mashes are one of the most overly fat-adulterated side dishes known to both home and commercial kitchens alike. Surely the addition of cream, butter, sour cream, bacon, and cheese (note to self: that sounds promising, make a cream, butter, sour cream and bacon dip sometime in the near future) will wow your dinner guests, but it is more than possible to accomplish a similar feat without passively adding your friends and family to the quadruple bypass waiting list. You may say, “but clearly in the picture above you used bacon and sour cream,” and you are correct, I did in moderation, but only as a garnish not as means to make up for improperly seasoned mash potatoes.
The problem found when not assaulting mashed potatoes with fat is that potatoes are inherently bland. Delicious, yes, but also bland. Take for example a French fry or even your best small production, handmade peanut-oil-fried chips; properly prepared and poorly salted they are no more satisfying than deep fried cardboard. Add a little salt and one may find true bliss. The same rings true for mashed potatoes. Proper seasoning = fantastic, less than = well you know. I like to spice mine up a bit with some chives and garlic, but they are more of an afterthought than a staple in the dish. Good mashed potatoes require the following only:
Baked potatoes (sure, you can boil them, but the results won’t be as good)
Milk to adjust consistency
This was a weekend dish so I included some cheese and some bacon as well. A whopping 2 TBL of each, sue me for being a (kind of) hypocrite. Start by baking your potatoes 90% of the way through. Pre-heat the oven to 400 F, dock the top of the spuds with a fork to prevent the moisture from bursting them like Scorsese’s “Best Director” Oscar hopes in 1980 (Raging Bull). For medium to large potatoes this should take about 40 minutes, but I don’t know your oven or potatoes, so use your best judgment. They are done when a fork encounters little to no resistance when inserted through the top.
Here is my mis en place for the mashed potatoes. The cheese and bacon aren’t necessary, but they are delicious. I am not against using fat to flavor a dish, I am against using a ridiculously unnecessary amount of fat to flavor a dish. I added a moderate amount of cheese, bacon, and reduced fat sour cream to extend a little extra body to the flavor of the dish instead of a bunch of straight salt. These are the ingredients for 4 large potatoes:
4 large potatoes
2 TBL bacon bits
2 TBL parm.
3 cloves garlic finely minced
1 cup non-fat milk (more or less depending on the size of your spuds)
reduced fat sour cream to garnish
4 TBL fresh chives finely minced
salt and pepper to taste
These twice baked potatoes could just as easily be served, with proper salt and pepper seasoning, without any cheese, bacon or sour cream.
Once the potatoes are removed from the oven, cut off the tops (wearing gloves as they are about a million degrees) and then carefully remove the majority of their mass, purposely leaving about a 1/4 inch on all sides. I used a soup spoon but most anything with a rounded edge will work.
Here is a mixing bowl with the baked potato, cheese, chopped garlic, salt, chives, pepper, and 1/2 the bacon added.
Mash the potatoes by hand and add milk, a little at a time, until the desired consistency is reached. I prefer mine to be completely smooth, but Sara and Geoff prefer a few chunks. I aim to stop at middle ground.
Refill the shells with the mashed mixture and re-bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes prior to serving. For results as the photo above, bake at 300 F for around 15 minutes or till a firm “skin” forms on the top. Remove from the oven and garnish with chopped chives, the remaining bacon, and a dollop of sour cream – or don’t and have a weeknight version that is ALMOST as good.