Mashed potatoes have been my favorite side dish since I was a wee child. “Smashed potatoes,” as I referred to them then, because I watched my mom smash them as part of her particular method, are a soft warm reminder of the simplicities of youth. Once I was tall enough to reach the stove and wield a knife, my mother finally blessed me with her recipe for mashed potatoes, which to this day I cannot make as good as she does. But this recipe, which I have carried into adulthood, is also a curse. Not only do most people not make mashed potatoes in this way, when I told people about her recipe, they mocked me relentlessly.
It’s not that I put anything strange or untoward in the potatoes. It’s just that people are so damn sensitive about how a thing should be made that they cannot accept innovation. The innovation in question is mayonnaise—the controversial biding ingredient in my mashed potatoes. In my quest for understanding, I started asking close and trusted friends how they made their potatoes. Most people I spoke to went with the traditional butter and salt which sounds very dull and too salty for my taste. The most interesting recipe I ever heard involved a lot of créme fraîche and some garlic cloves. Too many frills for the humble potato.
But the thing about mashed potatoes is that they are merely a vessel for other flavors and ingredients. Think of the best potato dishes: Loaded potato skins, baked potato soup, disco fries. Potato is their common denominator but they’re only good because of the guest stars like cheese, chives, or some sort of gravy. So what does it matter what any of us put in our mashed potatoes so long as the end result tastes good?