Best Vegan Mashed Potatoes for a Vegan Thanksgiving!

Within the Yummy Plants community, we’re really excited about ThanksLIVING, a cruelty-free holiday that focuses on gratitude and honors all living beings. And of all the delicious dishes that await my dinner table, I’m really excited about the mashed potatoes!!! So I asked my friend Brian Patton, aka The Sexy Vegan, to share which potatoes are do’s and don’t to prepare my favorite vegan Thanksgiving dish.

Brian wrote us a whole primer to discuss Starch & Water: Why Potatoes Do What They Do! from his new mircobook Sexy’s Best, Vol. 2: The Only Vegan Mashed Potato Recipe You’ll Ever Need.

Who knew the type of potatoes we use could make such a difference in the final dish?!

Brian says:
The Holy Grail of potato preparation, in my opinion, is the mashed potato. It’s not the brutish operation that it’s name would suggest. Instead, it’s a careful balance of thoughtfully selected ingredients, appropriate cooking technique, and delicate handling, that is required to achieve mashed potato mastery.
There’s probably a lot you don’t know about the science of potatoes. But if you’re going to wow your diners this Thanksgiving with the most perfect pile of mashed potatoes, you should probably learn a little bit about what goes on inside a potato when you cook it.

The two most important components making up the structure of potatoes are starch and water. The amounts of water and starch in each type of potato determine the texture, as well as the best use for that potato.

Let’s talk about what happens when you cook a potato. When you bake a potato, any potato, two things happen. First, the starch granules begin to absorb the moisture that is already within the potato. Second, that moisture turns to steam which makes the cells swell and causes the starches to separate from each other. If you have a high starch potato (like a russet), this will cause it to be fluffy when cooked. If you have a low starch potato (like a red or “waxy” potato), the texture will be more dense.

It’s not all fun and games though. The steam created by this process expands with such great force that the pressure inside can cause a potato explosion! I know “potato explosion” sounds like a fun and outrageously delicious item from an Outback Steakhouse menu, but I assure you, it is not. It’s more like an hour on your knees scrubbing the inside of your oven…which is actually something I’d rather do than eat at an Outback Steakhouse. Anyway, this is why we pierce potatoes a few times with a fork before baking. It gives the steam a safe, non-explosive escape route.

Things are slightly different when you boil a potato. The heat still causes the starch granules to absorb the moisture that’s already residing in the potato, as it does during baking, but the starch goes on to absorb the boiling water from outside of the potato as well. Depending on the type of potato you’re boiling, this can be a very bad thing, or it might not matter all that much. Or it might even be helpful. It all depends on the starch content of the potato. A high starch potato will absorb a lot of water. Too much water, in fact, making them waterlogged and causing them to break apart. A medium starch potato (like a Yukon Gold) will absorb some water, but still mostly hold its shape and not become waterlogged. And a low starch potato, will absorb very little water, and hold its shape. Low starch potatoes are great for potato salad, bad for mashed potatoes.

Then there is the mashing. When you mash a potato, the starch granules rupture and starch gets released. The more starch that gets released, the gummier your potatoes will be. So processing and handling your potatoes should be kept to a minimum. Say you are using a potato masher, and you begin mashing a big bowl of cooked potatoes. When you take a stroke through the potatoes, you mash through the top layer, and down to the bottom. Then, you move your masher slightly so that you can get to the other, un-mashed potatoes. As this process continues, you are inevitably going to be mashing the same section of potatoes more than once, as you move your masher around in the bowl. So by the time you mash the last potato in the bowl, you’ve mashed some of the other potatoes many many times, needlessly releasing a flood of starch into the mix. No bueno.

This is why you should toss your masher and get a potato ricer or food mill to process your potatoes. Ricers are easy and inexpensive. They’re kind of like a giant garlic press. You push the potato through a bunch of little holes one time, and it’s fully processed. Food mills do the same job, as well as perform other functions (like grinding tomatoes for canning), but they are expensive and take up more storage space. If you’re feeding a very large group, a food mill will certainly be more efficient, although I’ve fed mashed potatoes to 20 people with my little ricer, and it was a cinch. I say start with a ricer and see how that works for you and your needs.

Mashed potatoes are both simple, and complex at the same time, but with a little science, a little technique, and a few little tricks, you can transport yourself to mashed potato heaven. Did you even know there was a “mashed potato heaven?” Bet you didn’t. Well, it’s true. All of it.

And there you have it. Potato Primer #1 from the mouth of The Sexy Vegan himself. Happy ThanksLIVING everyone!

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