Mashed potatoes are an essential part of many holiday meals as well as popular side dish all-year round, yet I have been reluctant to try a mashed potato comparison, after all, it is very hard to imagine improving on the real thing. Also, the only comparison I could think of to use was boxed, dry potato flakes and I know that I dislike those. They are grainy, mushy and soapy tasting with very little real potato flavor. However, lately at the grocery store, I have started seeing containers of Country Crock side dishes, including mashed potatoes. These side dishes come in the signature, gray plastic Country Crock container and can usually be found near the deli section. Could these heat-and-serve potatoes finally be a tasty alternative to the peeling, chopping and mashing needed for homemade potatoes? Before I answer that question, I’ll post my favorite method for making homemade mashed potatoes. I’m sure that most of you already have a favorite mashed potato recipe (many of them much tastier than mine) but here is the method I used for this comparison:
Basic Mashed Potatoes
Makes 4 servings
2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt, plust extra to taste
4 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup warm milk
freshly ground black pepper or white pepper (if you prefer perfectly white potatoes with no dark flecks)
1. Place the chopped potatoes in a large pan and cover with cold water; add the 1/2 tablespoon of kosher salt. Bring water to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to a simmer and continue to continue to cook until potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork, 20 to 30 minutes.
2. Drain the cooked potatoes and return to the pan over low heat. Stir the potatoes over low heat until all the water has evaporated and potatoes dry out slightly, about 1 minute. Remove pan from heat. Add the butter, 2/3 cup of the milk and pinch of salt and pepper. Using a potato masher, mash up the potatoes, adding extra milk as needed, until they are the desired consistency. I won’t go into detail here because some people prefer their potatoes completely smooth while others like a rougher texture; just mash until they look good to you! Serve immediately in a warmed bowl with an extra pat of butter on top, if desired.
Homemade mashed potatoes are really not very complicated to prepare, but they can be rather time consuming with all the time needed for peeling, chopping and boiling the potatoes. The store bought potatoes, on the other hand, heat in the microwave in only 5 minutes with no effort required, beyond a little stirring. The two types of potatoes looked fairly similar, although the store bought potatoes were denser in texture. However, their appearance is where the similarities ended. The store bought potatoes had an unpleasant, bitter, chemical smell and the flavor was similarly unpleasant. It seems that these potatoes may have taken on some of the flavor of the plastic container that they came in, or maybe they just tasted like the last 5 ingredients on the container, none of which were recognizable as real food. The texture of the store bought potatoes was better than I had expected, but it was still stiffer than I like and did not have the light, fluffiness of homemade potatoes.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the homemade potatoes were also much cheaper than buying the pre-made variety. While the Country Crock potatoes cost $3.95 for a 1.5 pound container, the same amount of homemade potatoes only cost $1.50, a significant savings. It is so satisfying when the economical option is also the tastiest!
Bottom Line: While homemade mashed potatoes do require some effort and time to prepare, they are worth every minute! They tasted far better than the heat-and-serve option, have a lovely, light texture and cost only 1/4 the price of the store bought version.