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Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes
serves 4

This is my favorite mashed potato recipe, which I use as a base for the more sophisticated embellishments that follow. These mashed potatoes taste as if they contain a great deal more fat than they do. I use buttermilk to mash the potatoes because it has a natural creaminess yet is far lower in fat than milk or cream, and I add a small amount of butter at the end, only after the potatoes have absorbed the liquid. The butter stays on the surface of the potatoes, its flavor readily discernible, imparting a truly rich finish.

Be sure to use fine–textured, thin–skinned potatoes like Yellow Finns or Yukon Golds, which become extremely creamy when mashed. If made with baking potatoes, the result will be grainy and watery.

1  1/4 pounds thin–skinned potatoes, such as Yellow Finns or
Yukon Golds, peeled and cut into 2–inch chunks if large

1  1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 cup buttermilk, warmed (not hot)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Freshly ground black pepper

Place the potatoes and 1 teaspoon of the salt in a medium saucepan, add enough water to cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to moderate and simmer until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water.

Return the potatoes to the pan and set over low heat, uncovered, for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, to let the potatoes dry out a little (too much moisture will dilute their flavor). For the smoothest potatoes, pass them through a food mill. For a slightly coarser puree, mash them with a potato masher or fork or use a hand mixer. Beat the buttermilk into the potatoes with a wooden spoon until thoroughly incorporated. If you prefer even creamier potatoes, add a little of the reserved cooking liquid. Beat in the butter, the remaining ½ teaspoon salt, and plenty of pepper. Serve at once, or keep the potatoes warm, covered, in a double boiler over hot water for up to 1 hour.

in advance: You can make the potatoes up to 3 hours ahead. About 20 minutes before serving, warm them in a double boiler, stirring frequently, until hot.

improvisation: Mashed Potatoes Seasoned with Fragrant Oil

You can use other fats instead of butter to flavor the potatoes. Fruity extra–virgin olive oil or Flavored Oil (pages 588–597), such as Rosemary or White Truffle Oil, would be delicious. In the Southwest of France, fine roasted walnut oil is often stirred into mashed potatoes at the very last minute for a surprising effect. Use 4 teaspoons oil, blending half into the potatoes and drizzling the rest on top.

NOTE: See 9 more improvisations in A New Way to Cook.