Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes

By Ann Fulton

Classically light, fluffy, creamy, and buttery, this recipe is everything good mashed potatoes should be--and so simple.
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Classically light, fluffy, creamy, and buttery, this recipe is everything good mashed potatoes should be–and so simple. Recipe pairings and lots of great leftover ideas are included. 

 

Easy comfort food at its best, these dreamy potatoes are quick enough for casual weekday meals (especially when utilizing the included tips) yet special enough for holiday tables.

I serve them alongside a wide range of proteins, from holiday turkeys and tenderloins to easy meatloaves, whole roasted chickens, and pot roasts–and on shepherd’s pie. And speaking of shepherds pie, there is still no recipe on the blog for this satisfying meal. I love the dish but always seem to wing it, so perhaps an official recipe is something to work on in 2022. (In the meantime, if anyone has a tried-and-true recipe, I am more than happy to try it. Simply send me an email. It’s fun to share!)

The texture of these classic mashed potatoes is light yet creamy and the flavor is buttery with a whisper of tang. Additionally, my precise method of seasoning the cooking water means the potatoes absorb flavor while cooking and less salt is needed later to achieve flavorful potatoes. 

What is the best potato for mashed potatoes? 

I like to use half russets and half Yukon golds for the best combination of lightness, creaminess, and flavor. This approach merges the best of a dry, starchy potato (the russet) with a waxy potato, which is higher in moisture and lower in starch (the Yukon gold). 

If you were to use just one variety for these classic mashed potatoes, I’d choose the russets for their light and fluffy appeal. Conversely, opt for Yukon golds for a more rustic, skin-on smashed potato. 

Can I peel the potatoes in advance?

Yes! Simply cover them with cold water. The chopped and peeled potatoes may be held at room temperature for up to two hours or so before cooking. When ready to cook, drain and rinse well, and then proceed with the precise amount of water mentioned in the recipe. 

What’s the best way to mash the potatoes? I don’t use any fancy equipment–ricer, food mill, or otherwise. A standard, handheld masher does the trick. Plus it’s easy and there’s less to wash!

Helpful hint if you expect leftovers or wish make the potatoes in advance: Save some of the cooking water to thin any leftovers. It will bring the mashed potatoes back to their light and fluffy glory after they’ve firmed up in the fridge. I store the starchy, seasoned water in a jar and use as needed, heating the amount of potatoes needed in a bowl big enough to allow for stirring in the water.

Prefer a dairy-free mashed potato recipe?

This recipe for Olive Oil Smashed Potatoes offers an equally delicious alternative, and garlic lovers may enjoy incorporating that element of the recipe into the following buttermilk mashed potatoes. The more rustic “smashed” potato recipe is also ideal for those who prefer not to peel potatoes. 

Classically light, fluffy, creamy, and buttery, this recipe is everything good mashed potatoes should be--and so simple.

Conveniently, the potatoes may be peeled and chopped in advance. Soaking them in cold water will prevent browning. Drain, rinse, and add fresh water before cooking.

Classically light, fluffy, creamy, and buttery, this recipe is everything good mashed potatoes should be--and so simple.

For the best mashed potatoes, note my tip for adding the butter before the milk. I like to melt the butter in a mug and then follow with the buttermilk.

Classically light, fluffy, creamy, and buttery, this recipe is everything good mashed potatoes should be--and so simple.

Don’t be alarmed if you see what looks like curdled milk, which can happen if the buttermilk becomes too hot. The lumps will disappear as you mash. (See next photo.)

Classically light, fluffy, creamy, and buttery, this recipe is everything good mashed potatoes should be--and so simple.

The buttermilk doesn’t make the recipe overly tangy, but it does adds a little something special. In a pinch, sour cream thinned with a little cooking water would work and would retain an element of tang. Alternatively, you could use cream, half and half, or milk in place of buttermilk.

Classically light, fluffy, creamy, and buttery, this recipe is everything good mashed potatoes should be--and so simple.

Snipped chives, a pat of butter, and cracked pepper are lovely on top, but not required.

What main dishes pair well with mashed potatoes?

Did I miss any? Comment below if I did! 

How can I use leftover mashed potatoes?

  • Potato Chive Salmon Cakes
  • Leftover Mashed Potato Bake
  • Mashed Potato Cakes — For each cup of mashed potatoes, I use about ⅓ cup cheddar cheese, 1 egg, and ⅓ to ⅔ cup flour (depending on how thick the potatoes already are; the cakes should hold their shape). Add a little salt and pepper if the mashed potatoes weren’t well seasoned. You could also mix in some slivered scallions, cooked and crumbled bacon, ham, chives, cooked and chopped broccoli, etc. Once formed, sauté the cakes in olive oil over medium-high heat until golden on both sides. Serve with a dollop of sour cream, if desired.
  • Someone recently mentioned making a mashed potato quesadilla, and I can see how that would be tasty, especially if the tortilla becomes crisp and a flavorful cheese like sharp cheddar is used. A piece of crumbled bacon wouldn’t hurt either!
Instead of tossing the peels when preparing potatoes for mashing, save them. They make a fun snack that's crisp and flavorful--and nothing goes to waste!  

Don’t forget to save the peels for Crispy Potato Peels, pictured below. You can refrigerate them in water for several days if you don’t wish to roast them right away. The end result is a crispy, salty snack or pre-dinner nibble–and nothing goes to waste!

 Classically light, fluffy, creamy, and buttery, this recipe is everything good mashed potatoes should be--and so simple.

Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 6-8 servings (easy to scale up or down)
Classically light, fluffy, creamy, and buttery, this recipe is everything good mashed potatoes should be – and so simple.
  • 2 pounds potatoes (4 to 6, depending on size) peeled and cut into 1½-inch chunks*
  • 6 tablespoons (84g) butter, melted (see tip in recipe notes)
  • ½ cup (120ml) buttermilk (I like whole milk buttermilk; may use low-fat)
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt (plus 2 teaspoons salt for cooking water)
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Preparation

Prep-ahead tips: The potatoes may be peeled, chopped, placed in cold water, and held at room temperature for up to two hours or so before cooking. When ready to cook, drain, rinse well, and refill the pot with the prescribed 8 cups of cold water and 2 teaspoons salt. An added benefit of the soak is that a good bit of starch will rinse off the potatoes, adding to their light, fluffy quality later. Allowing the potatoes to soak in cold water for even 5-10 minutes, and then draining and rinsing well, will offer similar benefit, which you will see in the cloudy water.

Directions: Bring 8 cups of water, the potatoes, and 2 teaspoons salt to a boil in a large pot. Cook at a brisk simmer (but not a full rolling boiling), uncovered, until the potatoes are very tender, about 15 minutes from the time a simmer is reached. Helpful hint: potatoes should fall apart easily when pierced with a fork.

Drain the potatoes and return them to the pot in which they were cooked. (Helpful hint: reserve a cup or two of the cooking water if you expect leftovers or plan to reheat. It’s perfect for loosening the potatoes when reheating.) Mash the potatoes, and then work in the butter (I use my hand masher to sort of mash, whisk, and stir; you may put the potatoes through a ricer if preferred, although I do not) and then continue with the warmed buttermilk (see “did you know” tip, below), salt and pepper. If the potatoes are stiffer than you’d like, you may add another drizzle of buttermilk. Take care not to overwork the potatoes as they will turn gummy. Check for seasoning and serve hot.

Notes

*What’s the best potato to use? Russets create the lightest, fluffiest mashed potato, while Yukon golds are denser but creamier with a hint more flavor. For a combination of all of these qualities, I often use a 50-50 mix of Russets and Yukon golds.

A few more things…
While measuring the water in which the potatoes cook may seem unnecessary, it ensures properly salted water that flavors the potatoes while cooking. Also, when seasoning at the end, you’ll likely be able to use a good bit less salt than you typically do.

•And then reserve some of the cooking water as it’s good for loosening leftover potatoes and restoring them to their light and fluffy glory. Store the cooled cooking water in the refrigerator and use as needed.

To keep the potatoes warm, place the bowl over a pan of simmering water for up to 30 minutes. If necessary, you can add a little of the reserved cooking water to loosen and keep them creamy. Some people like to hold mashed potatoes on warm in a slow cooker. If your cooker is big enough, instead of putting the mashed potatoes directly in the cooker, you can add about 2 inches of water to the cooker and then place your serving bowl filled with the potatoes in what is essentially a water bath. As the water heats up, the steam will keep the potatoes warm and prevent them from drying out.

•Did you know that it’s better to add the butter to the potatoes before the milk? The water in milk will combine with the starch molecules in the potatoes and make them gluey. However, when the butter is added first, it coats the starch and results in silkier potatoes. Tip: I melt the butter in a mug or small Pyrex liquid measure in the microwave, and then mash that into the potatoes. Then I follow with the buttermilk, gently warming in the same mug. If the buttermilk mixes with residual butter in the mug or becomes too hot, it may curdle a little. If this happens, don’t worry. The small lumps will dissipate when stirred into the potatoes and will not affect the taste.

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