Potatoes and garlic. What’s not to like?

by Terry B on October 10, 2007

Garlic is the star, but it doesn’t overpower these creamy mashed potatoes. Recipe below.

When I opened Blue Kitchen almost a year ago, I intended to have a recurring feature called A Little Something on the Side. It was supposed to be “all about the dishes that play the supporting role to the star of the plate—and on occasion, steal the scene.” I said as much in my first something-on-the-side post, Marion’s kasha, which she makes every Thanksgiving and as many other times a year as we remember how wonderful it is when we’re planning dinner.

I’ve posted a few sides since then, but somehow, main course ideas keep taking over. They just seem more postworthy, I guess. But you need something to go with them to make a meal, don’t you? So I’m rededicating myself to posting the occasional side on a more regular basis. Sometimes fancy or at least a little exotic, sometimes humble and hardworking, like today’s.

To up their postworthiness [in my eyes, at least], I’ve enlisted my friend Matt’s help in creating a special graphic for A Little Something on the Side. Maybe that will encourage me to do more of these. Thanks, Matt!

The potato—still #1. For all the low-carb, no-carb hysteria still occasionally gripping the media, potatoes are the most popular vegetable in America. Regarding the whole carbohydrates issue, without launching into a dietary diatribe, you need carbohydrates to live. Period. According to the Dietary Reference Intakes Report issued by the Institute of Medicine in 2002, “the minimum amount of carbohydrate that children and adults need for proper brain function is 130 grams a day.” So wise up. Have some mashed potatoes.

And since you’re having them, make them Yukon Gold. Yukon Gold potatoes are a relatively recent phenomenon in North America, but yellow-fleshed potatoes are common in Europe and South America. They’re the norm, in fact. The Yukon Golds we know and love [enough to pay more for] are the result of years of work by a Canadian research team. They’re a cross between a North American white potato and a wild South American yellow-fleshed variety [we all know that potatoes originated in South America, right?].

The result is an all-purpose potato with a naturally buttery flavor. In texture, it falls between the Idaho or russet [a potato with high starch content, great for baking, frying or mashing] and waxy or red potatoes [low starch, high moisture potatoes that stay firm when boiled and stay moist when roasted]. So while Yukon Golds don’t bake as well as russets do, they do just about everything else just fine.

Including making fluffy, delicious mashed potatoes. Buttery, rich and golden. I make them a lot of different ways, but my favorite is with plenty of garlic. There are probably as many ways to make garlic mashed potatoes as there are cooks. A quick search on epicurious.com turned up 198 recipes. Some called for roasting entire heads of garlic before adding them to the potatoes; some called for sautéing garlic in oil, then adding it to the cooked potatoes. And with some, like mine, you add raw garlic to the water while the potatoes are cooking, letting it impart its oils and flavors to the potatoes—and its wonderful fragrance to the kitchen.

Garlic amounts called for varied wildly too. One recipe called for sautéing a single sliced clove of garlic in oil, then discarding the garlic and adding only the flavored oil to two pounds of cooked potatoes. That one fell firmly into the “why bother” camp for me. At the opposite end of the spectrum, our friend Joan advocates three large cloves of garlic per potato. I haven’t had the nerve to try that one yet.

So without further ado, let me throw one more garlic mashed potatoes recipe on the heap.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Serves 4

2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes—or whatever potato you prefer [see Kitchen Notes]
4 large cloves garlic
salt, to taste
1/4 to 1/3 cup buttermilk + more if needed [see Kitchen Notes]
3 tablespoons butter [or more or less, according to taste]

Peel potatoes and cut into chunks and put them in a large saucepan. Cover with cold water by about an inch and salt generously. Heat over high flame. While potatoes are coming to a boil, peel and roughly chop garlic. Salting garlic lightly will help keep it from sticking to the knife. Add to water and partially cover with a lid. Bring to a boil, uncover and reduce heat to medium.

At this point, stir a fork around in the pot. Feel how hard the potatoes feel as you do this? Remember that. Cook until potatoes are becoming tender, about 10 minutes—more, depending on size of chunks. At 10 minutes, stir again with the fork. If the potatoes still feel hard as the fork clunks against them, continue to cook and check again in a few minutes. If they don’t feel so hard, that’s your sign they’re nearing doneness. Poke one with the fork and see if it breaks apart easily. If so, they’re done.

Drain potatoes with a fine mesh strainer or colander—you don’t want to lose the little bits of cooked garlic. Return potatoes to pot and set back on the burner for a moment. Even with the flame off, there is probably enough residual heat to steam off some moisture. If not, warm potatoes over a low flame for a minute or two, stirring, to get rid of excess moisture.

Add 1/4 cup buttermilk, 2 tablespoons of butter cut into slices and a few shakes of salt. Mash with a hand masher. Add more buttermilk if needed, but only a little at a time—potatoes can quickly turn to mush with too much milk. Taste and add more butter and salt as needed. Keep tasting as you do. You can always put more stuff in, but you can’t take it out.

Mashed potatoes can be made ahead up to this point and kept covered on the stove as the rest of the meal comes together. Reheat over a very low flame, stirring occasionally to keep them from sticking or burning, then serve.

Kitchen Notes

Potatoes, peeled or not? Yes, I know, the skin has much of the nutrients found in potatoes. If I “mash” my potatoes in the food processor, I often leave the skins on. But for hand mashed, I prefer the creamy appearance and texture without the skins. It’s up to you.

Buttermilk. Okay, I heard some of you out there going, “Ewwwww!” Seriously, buy the smallest container you can find and use it. It doesn’t add a buttermilk flavor—it just adds a wonderful tang and depth to the flavor. When I cooked the batch for this post, I suddenly realized we were out of buttermilk [or more accurately, remembered that Marion had told me we were out of it]. To compensate, I had to add more butter and more salt than I usually do, and they were still only almost as good. Trust me on this. I don’t drink the stuff either. Ever. But it makes a huge difference in these potatoes.

Other Notes

Garlic—not just good, but good for the heart. If you’ve read this far in this post, I’m assuming you like garlic just for its garlicky goodness. You’ve probably also heard that raw garlic is good for your heart, possibly helping to lower blood pressure and break up potentially harmful clusters of platelets in the bloodstream. Turns out most cooked garlic works too. After reading this post, my friend Carolyn sent along this interesting article from ScienceDaily. Thanks, Carolyn!

Also this week in Blue Kitchen

The written word, hardboiled and well done. Exploring the spare eloquence of the English language through the work of a Los Angeles bookkeeper turned mystery writer, at WTF? Random food for thought.

Rock ‘n roll as the ultimate father and son project. On the road with the Spanic Boys, at What’s on the kitchen boombox?


{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennifer Hess October 10, 2007 at 2:51 am

I’ve never met a potato recipe I didn’t like, and I adore buttermilk, particularly in mashed potatoes! I only recently tried the method you use of boiling the garlic cloves with the potatoes, and I agree it gives great results. This recipe looks terrific, and it’s always nice to see people shifting focus from main dishes to sides from time to time.

Curt October 10, 2007 at 2:22 pm

I use a modification of Alton Brown’s garlic mashed potatoes, not that off from your recipe, but I use red and russet potatoes, and mix buttermilk with cream. I agree that the buttermilk really adds something, though I’d never want to drink it on its own (my grandmother used to, yuck!)

Claire October 10, 2007 at 3:22 pm

I love my garlic mashed potatoes with garlic Boursin cheese mixed in – they become oh-so-creamy….but for plain mashed, buttermilk is always the way to go. I hope it gets cooler soon, so I can be tempted by making some!

Katiez October 10, 2007 at 7:29 pm

As I can rarely get buttermilk I’ve gotten in the habit of adding a spoonful or two of plain or Greek yogurt – same effect, nothing pronounced but something ‘there’. I use more garlic – but, damn, you have made me hungry for some garlic mashed…or any mashed, potatoes!

Melinda October 10, 2007 at 9:58 pm

I look forward to more wonderful posts from on the side. Garlic mashed potatoes sound so good! I have no problem with buttermilk…love it.

Lydia October 10, 2007 at 10:12 pm

I love garlic mashed potatoes! Have you tried using powdered buttermilk in these? I know it sounds like heresy, but you can make just as much as you need, without having to buy an entire quart of buttermilk.

Terry B October 10, 2007 at 10:14 pm

Jennifer—I’m with you on potatoes. We’ll go for a while without making any and then when we do, we always wonder why we waited so long. I’ll try to spread them out, but I know at least a couple future A Little Something on the Side posts will be other takes on mashed potatoes.

Curt, Claire and Katiez—See, right here are three variations on the theme. No wonder there were so many recipes for garlic mashed potatoes on epicurious.com. Think I’ll have to try all of these. Katiez, yours particularly intrigues me because I’ll occasionally use yogurt to add richness or zing to something without adding extra fat.

Melinda—Marion absolutely loves buttermilk, which is why we routinely have it on hand. Me, I like it in stuff, but never straight.

Lydia—Wow, I actually hadn’t heard of powdered buttermilk! But as you can see from my comment to Melinda above, having buttermilk in the house isn’t the problem here—with my bride loving it so, the problem is keeping it in the house.

ann October 11, 2007 at 3:54 pm

I love drinking straight buttermilk! Weird, right? I like putting peas in my mashed potatoes. Turns the whole thing a ridiculous color of lime green. Nice recipe Terry!

Terry B October 11, 2007 at 4:01 pm

Ann—The buttermilk straight is fine, just not to my taste. But peas in mashed potatoes? Now, that’s weird. I have to admit, though, until Marion introduced me to eating fresh peas right out of the pod, I was not much of a fan of peas in general. Well, I’m still not, unless they’re raw and right out of the pod.

Nicole October 11, 2007 at 7:20 pm


I don’t know how I’ve made it this far in life without thinking to add buttermilk to mashed potatoes. Milk? Yes. Half and half? Yes. Heavy cream? Yes. Sour cream? Yes. Cream cheese? Yes. Yogurt? Yes. So why on earth have I never tried buttermilk!? I put buttermilk in pretty much everything else! In fact, I just baked a couple loaves of bread today and used buttermilk for the liquid. I think it’s the best sandwich bread I’ve ever made. But getting back to the potatoes…I’m trying this soon! Maybe tomorrow to go with our leftover horseradish meatloaf :-)

Sorry I haven’t been around for a while, my google reader has made me lazy :-) I always enjoy your posts!

Patricia Scarpin October 11, 2007 at 7:41 pm


What a wonderful recipe. Really – I’m a huge fan of potatoes and mashed potatoes as well. And I have never tried it with garlic. I sometimes add a handful of chopped parsley and a generous amount of grated parmesan to it when it’s ready, just before spooning it into the plates. It is delicious.

Gotta try this recipe of yours soon!

Terry B October 11, 2007 at 8:18 pm

Well, well—two travelers return to blogland! Patricia was just in Paris for a nice, long visit [“Oh, la!”] and Nicole was in [cue the eerie music] Transylvania! Thanks, guys! Glad you’re back.

Nicole October 12, 2007 at 5:53 am

I think I’ll have to steal the parsley idea from Patricia, too! Parsley is another thing that I put in almost everything but have never added it to my mashed potatoes. So, next time I make them, it will be buttermilk and parsley, maybe some garlic. Also, I meant to respond to Ann’s comment about the peas. My favorite combination in the world is mashed potatoes with peas and gravy. I’ve never mashed the peas and potatoes together but I bet I’d love it! For as long as I can remember, I’ve always made a little well in my pile of mashed potatoes, filled it with peas and then put gravy on top (during Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners). Soooooo good!

Toni October 12, 2007 at 6:21 am

I’m lovin’ the crowd on this blog! Yes, peas with mashed potatoes – but I’ve never mashed them together, either. And buttermilk is something I’d cook with in a heartbeat, but wouldn’t drink straight unless my life depended on it. Never thought of using it in mashed potatoes before, but now that you’ve pointed it out, it’s an obvious choice. Thanks! And thanks for the tip of boiling the garlic with the potatoes before mashing it in.

Kirsten October 12, 2007 at 7:13 am

I 100% agree re: carbs (as my pants fit tight) :)

Garlic-mashed are absolutely the BEST….EVER

The Cooking Ninja October 12, 2007 at 8:55 am

I love garlic mashed potatoes …. they are absolutely heavenly.

Terry B October 12, 2007 at 3:36 pm

Nicole, I gotta tell you, you’re skeeving me out with this peas adoration thing. Toni, you too. Given their ubiquity in stores and cafeteria lines, I guess it’s my problem, not the world’s, but even with the lovely fresh raw ones Marion introduced me to, cooked peas are still my vegetable of last resort.

Toni, I know what you mean about the crowd here. I love when comments spark a discussion that takes on a life of its own.

Kirsten—Tight pants are a small price to pay for potatoes, I think.

Cooking Ninja—Speaking of heavenly, that Chocolate-Almond Cake you have posted looks delicious. And I love the brown eggs in the photo.

Christina October 13, 2007 at 4:45 am

I love buttermilk anywhere: to drink, in baked goods, and certainly in mashed potatoes. I’m a big fan of garlic in my mashed potatoes too, but haven’t tried boiling it with the potatoes. Instead, I’ve steeped the milk with it so that the milk that I add is good and garlicky. Your idea is an interesting approach that I’ll have to try.

Keep up your high-quality writing and experimental approach to food.

Terry B October 14, 2007 at 5:30 pm

Aw, shucks, ma’am. Thanks, Christina.

Susan from Food Blogga October 15, 2007 at 10:12 pm

Mmmm, yes! Bring on the garlic mashed potatoes or smashed potatoes as we like to call them. I’m with you on the Yukon Golds; I love their meaty, buttery insides and could eat them simply roasted plain. I like the idea of adding buttermilk and will definitely give it a try next time.

Kate October 16, 2007 at 9:24 pm

have you tried buttermilk and cumin. those two are a match made in heaven and found in almost household in India. We love buttermilk with some salt , cumin powder , sometimes chopped green chillies and corriander. better known as Salted lassi or Chash ! try making your potatoes with that !

holybasil October 17, 2007 at 2:51 am

Thanks for the tip on adding garlic to the boiling potatoes. I do the same thing when I boil my frozen peas for a quick pea soup. I like the tang of buttermilk – it’s a good substitute if you can’t find good creme fraiche.

Ron, England December 1, 2007 at 6:35 pm

Sorry, but I can’t agree about yellow-fleshed potatoes being the norm in Europe – the norm is the common old white spud. A god recipe, though – one I’ve made many times, but not with buttermilk – must try it.

What I’ve just had, by a remarkable coincidence, being in need of something quick and easy tonight, is a bowl of mashed Maris Piper, with butter and a lot of finely sliced and crumbled Caerphilly cheese stirred in, plus a sizeable splash of a garlicky sweet chili sauce. All you need to go with that is a spoon. Wonderful.

Terry B December 1, 2007 at 7:57 pm

Ron—Thanks for the comment. It made me look up my original source, found on About.com, not exactly the Encyclopedia Britannica, I realize. But here’s what they said: “Yellow-fleshed potatoes are common in Europe and South America. In fact, yellow flesh potatoes are actually considered the norm in most countries outside North America.” So first, I perhaps overstated their prevalence in Europe. But second, perhaps in some countries other than the UK, they are the norm. Hard to tell from the above quote.

And third, I’ve never heard of Caerphilly cheese, so I of course had to know more. According to Wikipedia [another less than impeccable source, but what can you do when you’re being lazy on a snowy afternoon?], it’s a “hard cheese that originates in the area around the town of Caerphilly in Wales, although now also made in England. It has a mild taste, but perhaps its most noticeable feature is its saltiness. It is rumoured that the cheese was developed over time to provide the miners with a convenient way of replenishing the salt lost through hard work underground and so was a staple of the diet of the coal-miners.”

So thanks for telling me about a new cheese, Ron! Not sure how readily available it is here in the US, but the mild and salty description suggests to me that feta might also work well and taste not unlike your Caerphilly cheese, melted into mashed potatoes.

And finally, aha! Your term Maris Piper also sent me Googling. According to the British Potato Council’s website, your Maris Piper looks very much like a Yukon Gold. The Golds aren’t all that yellow inside, and the Maris Pipers don’t look all that snowy white. They’re not the same, of course, but perhaps more similar than I led you to believe in discussing the Yukon Golds. An amazing place, the Internet.

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