I learnt an interesting lesson last week: I am scared of the simple things. Ask me to make caviar using molecular spherification and I'll see it as an adventure. One evening last week whilst working at the restaurant, however, I was asked to do something that stressed me out considerably for the best part of the next hour.
"Sarah, could you make me about half a litre of mash?"
So incongruous a request, so casually asked. So fraught with complication. So not the done thing to ask for extensive instructions.
Most people I know will have made mashed potato at some point in their lives, and hopefully enjoyed it. Heck, I've been wooed with Parmesan-infused mash in my day, and it wasn't even intended for me (should have taken note at the time, probably). It's comforting, satisfying and can be downright sexy in my opinion. But here I was being casually asked the heavily loaded request to make it for paying customers.
This was a tense situation for many reasons. Be warned, this blog may contain neuroses. Or be nuts.
1. Choice of potato.
Potatoes don't just come in different shapes and sizes, there are many different types. Should I go for a floury type such as a Maris Piper or those in that bag marked for chipping? For chips should be fluffy inside, yes? Like mash? But mash should be buttery at the same time, unlike chips.
Peelers and I have not seen eye to eye since New Year's Eve 2007 when I managed to dispense with part of the tip of a little finger. Whilst peeling spuds, incidentally. I could write a thesis on Things That Mark You As A Novice In A Professional Kitchen and the speed at which you peel vegetables would definitely feature. Thus, I am losing on two counts here.
I remain sure that I read something somewhere sometime by St Jamie about there being no benefit in bringing vegetables to the boil in water, and that this in fact destroys a lot of their nutrients quicker. So, while I slowly and tentatively peeled, a pot of water was heating on the hob. "What's that pot of water doing on the stove?" asked Head Chef. "Potatoes should be put into cold water and brought to the boil."
That answers that question for future reference then.
That sorted, there still remains issues over the size of the chunks put into the water - some of those potatoes started off pretty small as it was - and the issue of water saltiness. And once all of that's been worked out, how long do you cook them for? I've had potatoes boil to mush under my watchful eye before... Should I time it? But it's just potatoes!! Surely I should just know? Should I skim the starchy scum off the top as it boils or should I have rinsed this off before cooking anyway?
4. Mashing apparatus.
Which brings me onto the issue of additions. Butter, obviously. Lunch at Dinner (read the post here) involved divine mash that was basically 50:50 potato to butter. Good mash should be decadent. But cream as well as butter? Or milk? And how much? Having got this far, asking for guidance seemed acceptable, under the guise of "knowing how I like my mash but not knowing how it is expected to be sold in this particular establishment". I was advised that, for that amount of potato, about 200ml of double cream should be used and reduced by about half, half a pack of butter added and this added to the puréed potato. With salt to taste.
So there we go. I blundered through it ok, in spite of all the questions in my head, and felt a proud wave of satisfaction once the panic had subsided. Whether or not it was deemed fit for service I do not know, but it doesn't matter.
I made mash!