Wars have been started over less furiously debated topics than how to make the perfect potato mash, and chefs have lost face over substandard lumpen salty mashes. Under-work the potato and you will end up with lumps (a trait some people relish, mind you). Over-work the potato mash and too many of the starch cells will break open and form a gluey, unpalatable paste. There is also the issue of whether or not to use milk, cream, butter, or all three in your mash recipe.
Then there is the all important temperature. Starch in the potato becomes water soluble at 60°C, when the ‘semi-crystalline’ structure of the molecules swell and break. This causes the starch molecules to take up water, swell and increase in viscosity. If the potato cools in temperature, the starch molecules begin to slightly crystallize once again which will cause the starch to squeeze out water. End result: dry mash. Fat from cream or butter will somewhat moisten a dry mash, but a tightly controlled temperature is the obsession of every cook or chef who is trying to achieve the ‘perfect’ mash.
Potato variety, did I mention this yet? No? Well the variety of potato is the centre of heated debate. Tradition stipulates that high starch or flowery varieties are a must. This is because higher starch potatoes will leach more starch as they are heated which will make the potatoes more fluffy and therefore give you far more room for error. But then there are top chiefs like Heston Blumenthal who swear by the use of waxy or lower starch varieties. This is because they have far better flavour.
Me, I can’t be bothered with the rigmarole. Potato mash is, after all, a comforting dish. A meal that should be made with little fuss. Hearty fare that is cheap to make and absolutely delicious to consume. It is, in other words, a food of the people. And we the people want to take back the mashed potato from chefs and place it firmly back into the hands of the everyday man. However, we most certainly don’t want to lose the deliciousness that those obsessed chefs have managed to conjure onto our plates hidden under a medium rare steak and a fine jus over the years.
So can we have our mash and eat it too? Is it possible to make a simple mash with little fuss and maximum flavour and consistency? The answer is of course, yes. The secret is to add cauliflower. It may be unbelievable to think that such an underwhelming ingredient could have such overwhelming results. But it is true!
Along with a bit of butter, the cauliflower will protect the precious starch in the potato from drying or turning gloopy because it does not have such high starch content, and in fact has a higher water content – which will make your mash creamy even if you do over-work it a bit. The cauliflower will also add a surprisingly subtle, sophisticated and absolutely delicious flavour to the mash. And I say this as someone who is not particularly enamoured with the flavour of cauliflower. But cauliflower mash is a scrumptious subversion of a classic recipe when served with some sizzling bangers.
Ingredients (serves one):
2 medium potatoes (preferably of the high starch variety but of course use the waxy if you are feeling brave)
2 fist sized cauliflower florets (i.e. the same amount as the potato)
30-100ml milk (add to achieve the consistency you wish – start small)
30g butter (add more if you wish to make it even tastier)
1 pinch of salt
1 pinch of black pepper
2-4 sausages (any variety)
1 bulb garlic
3 silverbeet or chard leaves
Cut the bottom off the garlic bulb and put into a baking dish along with the sausages. Sprinkle a dash of cooking oil over the garlic and put the baking dish into a preheated oven of 250°C for about 20 minutes.
Slice potatoes into quarters and put into a pot with cold water and a generous amount of salt (this will add flavour and sweetness to your veg but won’t make them overly salty once cooked). Put onto a high heat on the stove top and bring to the boil. Cut the cauliflower florets into similar size as the potato pieces and add them to the pot as well after the potatoes have been on the heat for about 3-5 minutes. Bring the potatoes and cauliflower to the boil and then simmer on a low heat until they are soft and cooked.
Drain the potato and cauliflower in a colander and then put back into the pot. Add butter and milk and mash until smooth. The best way to do this is to use a rice mincer which will gently mash the potato giving it maximum smoothness and fluffiness. But, remember this is a simple recipe and that we have the magic ingredient of cauliflower. Your mash will not overly suffer from blending in a food processor. This is the method I prefer for ease and speed. Season to taste and add more milk or butter if necessary.
Slice the silverbeet or chard and steam for 5 minutes. Once the sausages and garlic is cooked get them out of the oven and squeeze the now caramelized garlic into a pan with some of the cooking juices. Add a little water and heat. Squash the garlic so it turns into a paste and then add a knob of butter to the sauce. Once you have a nice paste add in the silverbeet or chard and pour over the mashed potatoes once they are done.