Mashed potatoes are delicious as they are, with butter and sour cream adding tanginess and richness. However, the use of fresh or dried spices and herbs gives them a punchier flavor that can help tie together a plate. The type of spice or herb you choose -- dried, fresh or cooked -- will affect both the taste and flavor, as well as when they can be added
Fresh or Dried
Most fresh herbs also come dried, which makes them convenient and more economical, as fresh herbs may not be widely available. Dried seasonings, such as rosemary, garlic powder, cayenne pepper and chili powder, are fast and easy to use. When in powdered form, the seasonings can be added directly to the already mashed and otherwise seasoned potatoes. When dried whole or in flakes, as in the case of dehydrated minced onions, rosemary leaves and thyme, the seasonings are best added when the potatoes have been drained and are ready to mash. They can also be added during the boiling stage. This allows time for the seasonings to release their aromas and flavor the potatoes. Fresh herbs are best finely minced and added during mashing. The residual heat of the potatoes will cook the delicate herbs quickly. Avoid using stems of fresh herbs, such as cilantro stems, in mashed potatoes, as they can quickly turn stringy.
In some cases, the seasonings are better cooked prior to using in mashed potatoes. This is the case for garlic, where the intensity is tempered by roasting or sauteing until it is tender or caramelized. Cooking also works well for onions, which can be minced and caramelized before being added to cheesy mashed potatoes. Seed-shaped spices, such as cumin, caraway or fennel, work better after toasting. Toast the spices in a dry, hot pan for a couple of minutes before grinding into a powder or add them directly to cooked potatoes.
Use your herbs and spices judiciously -- too much spice can overwhelm the potato, hiding the natural richness of the vegetable. Classic pairings include roasted garlic with fresh rosemary and thyme. Try to balance the effect of the different seasonings. Aromatics, such as garlic and onion, add richness and depth to mashed potatoes, while pepper types, whether cayenne or black pepper, add heat. The richness of aromatics can be offset with the fresh taste of other seasonings, such as basil or lemon zest, which, if used on their own, lack depth of flavor. Umami rich seasonings and aromatics, such as truffles or powdered porcini mushrooms, add instant richness with no extra fat.
Pairing With Other Foods
While it can be tempting to let your imagination run wild, remember mashed potatoes are most often used as a side dish, so their flavors must harmonize well with other foods on the plate. If you are serving roast pork or chicken with a sweet, fruity, sharp sauce, avoid using tangy seasonings in mashed potatoes to avoid creating too sour a plate. In turn, if your meat is already garlic-heavy, such as seasoned kebabs, add a sprinkle of something sour to your mashed potatoes to cut the richness of the meat. Try za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice blend of sumac and sesame seeds.
- BBC Good Food: Herb Mashed Potatoes
- Serious Eats: 3 Ways to Make Delicious Mashed Potatoes in Advance
- New York Times Cooking: Garlic-and-Herb Mashed Potatoes
- Joy of Cooking; Irma S. Rombauer, et al.
- How to Cook Everything Vegetarian; Mark Bittman
- Photo Credit kabVisio/iStock/Getty Images