Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes

© Chef Michael Smith, The Best of Chef at Home, Whitecap 2009

Everybody knows how good mashed potatoes are but if you really want to impress your friends and family try ‘em with brown butter. You won’t believe how much flavour is locked into a stick of butter but you will believe these are the best-mashed spuds you’ve ever had!

Serves four

Two pounds or so of unpeeled potatoes (about four large)

A stick of salted butter (four ounces or 1/2 cup)

1/2 cup of milk

A few pinches of nutmeg

A sprinkle or two of sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Cut the potatoes into large chunks then steam, boil or microwave them until they’re tender. Drain well.

Meanwhile, toss the butter into a small saucepot and heat it until it melts over medium heat. Because butter contains as much as twenty percent water it will begin to steam and foam. Once the water has evaporated the foam will subside and the butter’s temperature will begin to rise past the boiling point of water. The milk fat solids that are one or two percent of the butter will then begin to brown. Keep a close eye on it as it foams. Swirl it gently, watching the color, until it turns golden brown and releases the aroma of toasting nuts. Immediately pour the browned butter into a bowl to lower its temperature and stop it from browning further.

Once the potatoes are tender and drained, mash in the brown butter, milk, nutmeg and seasonings. Taste, then season a bit more if needed. Then watch the bowl empty!

Freestyle variations

You can mash any potato but your best are the low-moisture, high-starch varieties that are also the best for baking. My favourite is the Yukon Gold. Its creamy texture and golden color are perfect with the brown butter. You can peel the potatoes if you prefer but you’ll lose some rustic flavour and some nutrients if you do. Your choice! Sliced green onions, chives and chopped parsley add both flavour and colour. French chefs always add a pinch of elegant nutmeg to their potato purees. It adds a pleasing mysterious flavour but feel free to leave it out.