After last week's Food Fight, in which fans/minions of Jeannine's Bistro cluttered the comments section with with querulous protestations and propaganda, we've decided to take a brief break from pitting one restaurant against another. And inspired by John Gray's inaugural Shameless Chef entry (which had its own fair share of detractors), this week's Food Fight will see two versions of mashed potatoes battle to the death.
In his entry, Gray advocated the use of store-bought and pre-made mashed potatoes in his [very loose] Shepherd's Pie recipe. We very nearly balked at this, as homemade mashed potatoes are not only one of our favorite things to eat, but also one of the simplest things anyone can make. To that end, we visited our local grocery store and picked up a carton of pre-made mashed potatoes and two Russet potatoes, then headed home to prepare them for battle.
Did the homemade mashed potatoes win over the pre-fabricated carton? The results may surprise you.
Homemade Mashed Potatoes
Two Russet potatoes cost roughly $2. Along with the cream and butter that should already be in a reasonably well-stocked fridge, and the salt that even the laziest asshole has laying around, this makes for a pretty inexpensive side dish. Caveat: We prefer using red potatoes or even Fingerling when we're feeling fancy (read: rich), but wanted to stick with the same type of potatoes in the pre-made pack.
The entire process of making homemade mash takes around 20 minutes, most of which is consumed by boiling the potatoes, thereby freeing you up for other tasks, like watching Glee or -- more responsibly -- preparing the rest of your dinner. It's quite simple really: chop each potato into large chunks, boil them in well-salted water until tender, drain, add cream and butter (to your personal taste/consistency preferences), mash, add salt (again, to taste) and eat. Don't bother with peeling them unless you have an aversion to the skins or plan on using a ricer; the skins add a nice texture in addition to nutrients.
As for the taste? They taste like home, pure and simple. Four ingredients. Minimal effort. They're velvety and buttery, yet earthy. What's not to love?
Kroger Sides For You! Mashed Potatoes
We couldn't bring ourselves to purchase a large, dreary beige tub of Country Crock mashed potatoes, but were pleasantly surprised to see a carton of Kroger-brand mash instead (and at only $3.49, it was priced fairly too). Unlike the mainstream version, Kroger's potatoes claim to be -- as the package indicates -- "homestyle," meaning that they contain roughly the same ingredients as you'd use to create your own at home. Yes, that ingredient also includes margarine and some preservatives, but you could be far worse off.
At this point, we hit a stumbling block. Getting the potatoes home, we discovered that they can only be microwaved and we, being neo-Luddite (read: poor), don't own a microwave. After traipsing over to a friend's house with our stout little rectangle of potatoes, we got down to business. The contraption in which the potatoes were housed was similar to a frozen dinner, but with a worrying amount of excess liquid. We plowed ahead, though, and nuked them for six minutes.
It turns out the liquid was very necessary -- without mixing that now-boiling liquid into the mass of potatoes, they would have been very hard and probably rather unappetizing. After mixing, the potatoes came to possess an almost homemade-looking fluffy and slightly yellow appearance. The taste wasn't too far off, either, passing both our palates and our friend's with nearly flying colors. The only off-putting thing was the odd, gelatinous, gummy texture, as if someone had liberally doused the potatoes with cornstarch. These definitely didn't feel like homemade potatoes in the mouth, but a very close approximation. We imagine this is what replicator food tastes like in the Star Trek universe.
It's easy to say the homemade potatoes won, hands down. We never expected anything else. But the pre-fabricated potatoes thoroughly surprised us. Would we "cook" and serve them at home? Never. Would we grab a carton if we were in a hurry to a dinner party and had been instructed to bring the potatoes? Probably, but with the appropriate amount of shame. Would we happily eat these at a non-cooking friend's house? Definitely.
With as close as Kroger has come here, one can only imagine the extent of mashed potato technology in the future. It's a brave new world...
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.