Mmmm...mashed potatoes! So simple, so delicious. But what is the ideal utensil to achieve excellent mashed potatoes? The culinary experts who brought you The Joy of Cooking and Cook's Illustrated agree that the kind of potato masher your mom probably used - a metal grate at the end of long handle - is not the tool of choice for this job. An electric beater or even food processor is used by some, but these finicky chefs feel they yield a product with a texture that is too aerated and whipped. Nope, when it comes to mashed potatoes, they recommend using a potato ricer.

When I became convinced, after reading the glowing reviews of the tool by these, my culinary gurus, that I had to have one, I went a-searching for a potato ricer, and I was astounded to discover that there are a wide variety of shapes and size]s available. What they have in common is a perforated bowl (sometimes called a hopper) for holding the cooked potatoes and a plunger that fits into the bowl, plus two long handles that, when squeezed together, force the plunger down into the hopper and thus the potatoes through the holes in the hopper. It's kind of like a giant garlic press. Some have round bowls, some square, some triangular; some have removable disks with different sized holes that fit in the hopper. I picked one that looked like the one in the drawing in The Joy of Cooking (1997 revised edition, page 408); it has a round hopper.

Now these culinary fuss-budgets swear that nothing gives a better, lighter, fluffier texture to your mashed potatoes than a potato ricer, and damned if they weren't right! It's a pain to clean, but the potatoes - fluffy, light, delicious! Oh yeah. You've got to try one of these babies if you're at all fond of kitchen gadgets.

FYI: it works best if you peel the potatoes first.

Heh. Always one to jump in with a military reference, I feel compelled to note that this term was also World War II-era slang (I'm not sure in which armies). It referred to the German standard-issue thrown grenade, which consisted of a ring-shaped charge with a short stick through the middle, the charge resting at one end of the stick. This design allowed soldiers to either lob the armed grenade, stick and all, or for greater range, they could 'whip' the stick forward, causing the charge to slide off the end and continue forward. The extension of the soldier's throwing arm, by the length of the stick, caused the grenade to move more quickly and hence fly farther.

Having read the above w/u, I surmise that the notion of a mortar-like stick embedded in a bowl-like grenade led to the comparison.

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