Potato soup is good stuff. However, when you meant to make mashed potatoes, getting a runny pile of glop is just gross. The proportions for mashed potatoes can be tricky. Not enough moisture, and it’s dryly starchy. Luckily adding milk or water is easy. What about too much liquid? Is there a way to thicken them up? I’ve been making perfect mashed potatoes for years, and I’ll share all my secrets on getting them just right.
Steps for Thicker Mashed Potatoes
These are the steps for my perfect-every-time mashed potatoes from scratch. I will include more on re-thickening potatoes and instant potatoes later in the article.
- Boil your potatoes (with or without skin).
- Drain your potatoes, and dry the outsides.
- Most people peel their spuds, but removing the skin after they’re boiled is just as easy. Cool them down before peeling boiled potatoes, or you’ll burn your hands.
- You can make skin-on mashed potatoes if you like. Use a blender or food processor to keep the skin. A hand masher will leave large sections of potato-skin intact and ruin the texture.
- Using a blender, food processor, or hand masher, squash the potatoes. I suggest adding only a tablespoon each of butter and milk at this point. You can always add more. In a pinch, water will do, but the flavor won’t be as creamy.
- Add one tablespoon of milk at a time while mixing. Blend for ten seconds, food processor twenty seconds, or about thirty seconds for hand mashing. Always fully integrate the liquid before adding more.
- Stop before you get the right consistency. Butter will change the texture too.
- Add butter to taste one tablespoon at a time. Melted or margarine is easiest to stir into potatoes.
- Add salt, pepper, and spices only after your texture is right. Salt will keep the spuds from absorbing liquids.
A little patience will get you perfect potatoes every time. However, if your hand should slip, there are ways to fix runny mashed potatoes as well.
Heat Mashed Potatoes to Reduce Liquid
When you’re not in a rush, heat can thicken your mashed potatoes. Evaporation is a strange and wondrous thing. Instead of adding anything to the mix, you’ll be taking water away from them.
First, place your mashed potatoes in a cooking pot. Next, use the low heat setting on your range top to avoid burning your food. Finally, stir occasionally as the heat does its job. The process should take a few minutes but will take longer for large batches.
Be careful not to over stir. Have you ever had gluey, sticky mashed potatoes? This is a result of the starch inside and too much mixing. When you stir too long, that starch expresses itself more fully, and viola, glue-potato-surprise. Try to mix as little as possible at each stage to do the job.
Always pick a high-quality nonstick pan like the Cuisinart 644-24 Chef’s Classic from Amazon. Hopefully, you won’t burn your potatoes, but you don’t want them stuck either way. You’ll appreciate having a good cookpot from a trusted brand like Cuisinart. You can read the reviews for the Chefs Classic right here.
When you need to thicken your potatoes a little faster, you can always add instead of subtracting. There are quite a few options in the average kitchen to help you change the viscosity of foods and liquids.
For example, unflavored gelatin will do the trick, but I don’t recommend it. Sticky glue potatoes are much better than jello potatoes. Luckily you don’t have to eat either one.
- Instant Potato Flakes
Any thickener or thickening method here will also work on instant potato flakes. However, simply adding a teaspoon or two of those insta-flakes can change your from-scratch potato mess into a fluffy pile of goodness.
Keep in mind; instant potato is even more prone to go gluey on you. Add the flakes and give a quick stir. Then, put the lid back on right away and leave it for about three minutes. The flakes will plump on their own.
A teaspoon of flour can help fix runny mashed potatoes. However, the flour will dilute the flavor of your potato, leaving it more bland than usual. You can easily compensate by adding more spice and salt. For this fix, you need to mix and heat the flour and potato slowly. Use low heat.
Unlike flour, cornstarch has less flavor effect. Fortunately, you can treat it exactly like flour and slow heat it while stirring slightly.
- Xanthan Gum
Best known for giving the proper texture to gluten-free loaves of bread, xanthan gum will also help make potatoes thicker. Be extra cautious about over stirring this thickener.
- Arrowroot Powder
Too many people have this unique spice in their cabinet and no clue about its use. As thickeners go, arrowroot is often used in cookie baking for organic and gf cookies.
You can find Bob’s Red Mill Arrowroot Starch on Amazon. If you’re not already familiar with this company, I trust Bob’s for everything from my bread machine mixes to ground flax. I’ve been happy with every product I ever picked up from them, which is unusual for any company. To find out more about Bob’s Red Mill Arrowroot Starch, click here.
Flavor While Thickening
Hands down, one of the best and tastiest ways to make thicker mashed potatoes is by adding character. Broth won’t do the trick. You can substitute bone-broth for milk instead of plain water, but it won’t help the consistency. If anything, it will make your dish thinner. Instead, try some of these yummy options.
- White or Pepper Gravy Mix
Skip the milk or water, and don’t bother to simmer. You can add a sprinkle of gravy mix right into hot, overly wet, thin mashed potatoes. Not only will you save on dishes, but the taste is outstanding.
- Cheese Powder
Have you ever overboiled your mac and cheese? Sometimes we save odd things like the dried cheese packet. Though I do not recommend doubling down on powdered cheese in a batch of macaroni, it will add some zest to your spuds.
More importantly, the powder will soak up some of the extra water to rehydrate. You get instant cheesy potatoes instead of runny yuck-sauce.
- Dry Cheeses
Parmesan or other very dry cheeses that flake well will also absorb water and thicken your potatoes. The taste is even better than powdered cheese.
Instead of that nasty stuff in a jar, get some real parmesan. Mondo Market Parmigiano Reggiano comes in rind free pieces, so you don’t pay for anything inedible. The difference will stun you, and you may never go back to those green-lidded plastic jars again. You can have Amazon deliver yours by clicking here.
- Freeze-Dried Food
As odd as it sounds, freeze-dried broccoli, chicken, and other foods make excellent absorbers. Better still, they produce powder at the bottom of the bag or container. The fine powder doesn’t make much of a meal, but it will add flavor and thickness to potatoes that have gotten too thin.
Keeping some freeze-dried vegetables and meats around for an emergency is always a smart move. To make them stretch even further, using the powder for a clever trick like delicious mashed potatoes is perfect. You don’t need a crisis to eat that good, but it’s a useful trick to know in a pinch.
Tips to Make Better Mashed Potatoes
Avoiding gluey texture and how to thicken your potatoes aren’t the only two concerns when it comes to making an ideal meal. Learning to fix a mistake like thin, runny spuds is great, but we can do better. It’s time to upgrade your cooking game with more tips for perfect mashed potatoes.
Choosing the right spuds, to begin with, is vital. Low starch potatoes (yes, such a thing exists) are not great for creamy mash. Avoid those varieties that are firmer when cooked. Fingerling and red potatoes don’t smooth out well.
You can use low-starch options for a chunkier mashed potato. However, you want to go with the high-starch veggies like Yukon Gold and Russett for a fluffy, creamy delightful dish. Cooking is always about the right ingredients.
Warm Dairy Not Water
Not only will potatoes absorb melted butter better, but the same goes for milk. You want all your dairy at least room temperature, if not warmer. You want good flavor and texture, so you need permeable potatoes.
Unlike pasta, however, you do not want to preheat the water. Cooking your spuds unevenly, starting with a long heat time on the outside, isn’t the best. When you heat the starch slowly along with the water, it’s cooking inside the result is better all around, pun intended.
Beyond Basic Water
For anyone who isn’t worried about the extra salt, tossing a teaspoon into your boiling pot will help give the potatoes flavor. You can also throw in a sprig of fresh rosemary and a few cloves of garlic. The boiled garlic mashes up with the potatoes, and the oils from the rosemary help add to the overall savory taste.
If you want really garlicky potatoes, crush some cloves with the flat edge of your knife before removing the peel and mince them up. The skin will come off easily, and you can lightly sautee your garlic in a splash of olive oil, with more fresh rosemary. Add this at the end and fold it gently into your mashed potatoes along with a teaspoon of freshly cracked pepper for superb spice.
Just when you thought your mashed potatoes were ruined, it turns out you can make them better than ever. Follow these tips to make the best, fluffiest, and creamiest side dish you ever tasted. No matter what you have on hand, there’s always an excellent kitchen solution.
Try combining methods, like the powdered gravy in low starch potatoes. You never know what you’ll come up with. It might be your new favorite food.
Every kitchen fail is a lesson in how to make something unexpected. Remember, worst-case scenario, you still have a great soup base to start with next time, but you won’t need to resort to that if you follow one of these thickening tips.