Mashed potatoes: the ultimate comfort food. Hot, rich, creamy, fattening...they're simply everything food should be. Plus, they're easy to make, requiring just enough actual cooking to make you feel as though you've accomplished something but not so much that you wind up washing every damn pot in the house.

The only problem is that they can be a bit, well, insipid.

When I was working in an excruciatingly upscale restaurant a few years ago, the chef decided that garlic mashed potatoes were passé. Since he'd recently overhauled the menu to appeal to trendy foodies, many newer items had a pan-Asian flair. The ginger-soy tuna steak, for example, just didn't taste right sitting on a bed of garlic mashed potatoes. Though his cherry-glazed roasted duck over creamy mashed potatoes was a winning combination, the recently introduced mandarin orange, lime, and hoisin marinated duck needed something more punchy on which to perch.

So Chef David put his skills to work on a recipe that harnessed the power of wasabi. I was immediately addicted to his subsequent creation. I mean, I wanted to mainline these potatoes. Alas, the talented Chef David was also a dick who never shared his recipes, so my husband and I messed around in our own tiny kitchen until we came up with a fairly sublime approximation of the restaurant's delicious wasabi mashed potatoes. Our exhaustive internet research tuned up endless variations of this recipe, but the one we settled on includes a handful of fresh blanched spinach that imparts a lovely green color the wasabi paste alone (which is all Chef David used) doesn't deliver. We also throw in a little roasted garlic, which adds a nice nutty flavor but doesn't scream GARLIC! Take that, Mr. Bigshot Chefboy.

This recipe serves four people comfortably, or two happy piglets like me and my husband.


Wasabi Mashed Potatoes

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound (peeled and quartered) russet or Yukon Gold potatoes (NOTE: you can substitute red-skinned potatoes, but it'll detract from the pristine green loveliness. Russets act as a blank canvas. Besides, red potatoes are waxy and I find that they don't absorb all that butter and cream as well as thirsty, starchy russets do. Yukon Golds are my personal favorite - they make a creamy, never-mealy mash.)
  • big ol' pot o' salted water. Don't skimp on the salt.
  • 1 medium-sized head garlic
  • olive oil
  • butter, and lots of it. 4 to 6 tablespoons, to be exactish.
  • 1/4 cup whipping cream, warmed (NOTE: you may go as low as whole milk here, but the fat is non-negotiable. Skim milk just will not cut it. For extra decadence, substitute 1/4 cup of crème fraîche. ***)
  • 1/2 pound fresh spinach (or the equivalent measure of frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry) rinsed and drained with stems removed
  • 1 to 3 teaspoons wasabi powder, mixed with enough water to form a thick paste (NOTE: Sam and I got all creative one night and tried grated fresh wasabi. The potatoes turned out bitter and nasty. I don't recommend it at all.)
  • wasabi oil (optional - you can find it in specialty stores and Asian markets. It adds a little punch when drizzled on top of the potatoes, but you can get just as much good radish-y flavor by tinkering with the amount of wasabi paste you add to the potatoes.)
  • 1 small onion (optional, Vidalia if you can get it)
  • four strips bacon (optional unless you reside in the American South)
  • scallions, chopped (optional, for garnish)
  • salt and cracked pepper to taste (white pepper makes it prettier - no dark flecks in the final product)

Begin by roasting the garlic. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Remove the papery outer skin from the garlic bulb. Slice the top quarter inch or so off the garlic bulb to expose the cloves and place it in a shallow roasting pan or pie plate. Drizzle that baby with some olive oil and sprinkle with a bit of salt. Pop it in for about one hour and salivate - nothing smells better than roasting garlic.

Except, of course, sizzling bacon. If you decide to add bacon and/or onions, now is the time to fry 'em up. Fry bacon until crisp and quickly sautee the onion in a bit of the reserved fat. (I prefer to keep the onion crunchy, but Sam likes the sweetness of caramelized onions. It's a matter of taste, and remember that both the onions and bacon are optional.)

As the garlic roasts and the (optional) bacon and onions fry, bring a large pot of water to a good rolling boil. Potatoes, like pasta, cook best in a lot of water. Add salt to taste once the water comes to a boil and add the peeled and quartered taters. Bring the water down to a steady simmer and cook until fork-tender (about ten minutes per pound).

In another pot, blanch the spinach (if you're using fresh spinach) in boiling, lightly salted water for 10 to 20 seconds. Remove and shock the spinach in a bowl of ice water to set its vibrant green color. (If you're using frozen spinach, you can skip this step - just use the thawed, drained spinach directly from the package. No need to cook it at all.) Drain the spinach and place it in a blender or food processor. While your machine of choice is running, add the wasabi paste and a drizzle of olive or wasabi oil (about a tablespoon). You want the consistency of the spinach and wasabi to be a very smooth purée.

Allow the garlic to cool slightly so that you don't burn your fingertips. Squeeze the contents of three cloves (no more than a tablespoon's worth; you want the wasabi to be in the foreground - the garlic should enhance the wasabi flavor rather than overwhelm it) into a small bowl and set the delicious, fragrant paste aside.

Drain the potatoes and run them through a ricer while they're still hot. (If you don't have a ricer or a food mill, an old fashioned potato masher will do fine, as long as you put some sweat into the job. You want these babies as smooth as they can be. You can even use a mixer on a low speed to fluff them up a bit, but be very gentle; smooth is good, gluey is bad. And for the love of all that is holy DO NOT under any circumstances use a food processor!!! Overmixing will cause the potato cells to release way too much starch, which will result in something very much like the paste that weird kid in your second grade class used to eat.)

Warm the cream or crème fraîche in a small saucepan (or in a coffee cup in the microwave, if you prefer). Heating the cream will allow the potatoes to absorb it more readily. (Thank you, Alton Brown!)

While the potatoes are still piping hot, stir in your butter, heated cream (or crème fraîche), roasted garlic, spinach and wasabi purée, optional bacon and onions, and add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with a sprinkle of chopped scallions.

*** Vegans, you may want to check out novasoy's very good-looking recipe for vegan mashed potatoes under the E2 mashed potatoes node. Just add the spinach and wasabi purée to novasoy's recipe - I bet it would be scrumptious.


Voila! Delicious, decidedly NOT boring mashed potatoes, gorgeously green, that go perfectly with any number of dishes. The green color makes it easier to pretend they're healthy, too. Sam and I make a meal out of them when we add bacon, but we use them more often (sans bacon and onion) as an accent to whatever meat we're serving, especially a good tuna steak. They pair well with meat of any kind, and we tailor the amount of wasabi to the kind of meat we're grilling. A delicate fish (like a tamari-glazed mahi-mahi) needs less wasabi, while an aggressively marinated steak stands up quite well to a good wallop of wasabi. It's a fun addition to takeout (or, for the really adventurous, homemade) sushi. Try it out - it's a good break from plain or garlic mashed potatoes.

And don't be a dick like Chef David - share your recipe!

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