Food: For mash get mechanised

Mashed potato is back in fashion, both at home and in restaurants. Nikki Spencer investigates.

As the Winter nights draw in more of us are seeking comfort in warm white fluffy stuff.

Mashed potato is now the most popular way of eating potato in the home, it increasingly features on restaurant menus and the supermarkets are getting in on the act too.

Sainsbury's has recently launched a range of ready prepared mashed potato for those who want the comfort food without the hard work. Not that making your own mashed potato has to mean lots of elbow grease.

The must-have gadget that has been popping up all over the place this autumn is the potato ricer - for the uninitiated it's a bit like a giant garlic press..

The presenter and writer Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall has been enthusing about his in the latest issue of Good Food magazine and those daytime TV chefs have been whipping theirs out at every opportunity.

Hugh bought his circa 1920 ricer from a stall in Portobello Road but new ones are now available through cookware shops such as Divertimenti who say that our current consuming passion for mashed potato means they have been inundated with inquiries for the energy-saving gadget.

You just put your cooked spuds in, press down the handle and hey presto out come lots of tiny bits of beautifully smooth potato. At a stretch of the imagination it could be said to look like rice, hence the name.

Alternatively, a kitchen fork and bit of muscle power works wonders too.

THREE STEPS TO PERFECT MASHED POTATO

1 First choose the right variety of potato. Floury potato mashes best. Try King Edward, Portland Squire or Maris Piper.

2 Cook the potatoes (about 2lbs) in lightly salted boiling water for 20 minutes or until tender, drain well and return to the pan. Some chefs say you get the best possible mash if you cook potatoes in their skins but peeling them can be a real fag, unless you have a minion to do it for you.

3 Add between 1/4 and 1/2 pint of hot milk and a large knob of butter and mash until smooth. Season and serve immediately just as it is or with horse-radish, garlic, chopped fresh herbs, caramelised onions or whatever takes your fancy.

THREE THINGS YOU MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT POTATOES

1 Elvis ate mashed potato every night for the last year of his life.

2 In the Second World War people were encouraged to eat mashed potato sandwiches.

3 In 1829, The Times pronounced potatoes acceptable for the well-to- do, but prophesied that if the working classes ate too many Britain would become a "nation of miserable turbulent drunkards".

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