TED HABIGER | Room 39
By JILL WENDHOLT SILVA
The Kansas City Star
Were you bummed out to get the mashed potato assignment? No, I was challenged. The simplest things can sometimes be the most difficult, and so I waivered for two weeks, saying: Do I do the best mashed potatoes youve ever had and call it that? But every cook in my kitchen thinks they make the best mashed potatoes. Or do I make it super fussy? Is it about the sauce, or is it all about whats inside the mashed potatoes? What should I focus on? As I started to think about it, I also started bringing seasonality to it.
Whats your favorite holiday? Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday, for many reasons. I love food, so anything revolving around food is very important. I love having the football game on. I love the fact that it is kind of a secular holiday of sorts, where you dont have the pressures of any religion going on, which can be distracting when it comes to the purpose of just giving thanks.
How to avoid a bout of exploding chestnuts: Ive been cooking for 25 years, but I didnt really learn how to do chestnuts, as simple as they are, until maybe two or three years ago, and thats because I was afraid. But no more. Score the fleshy part of the nut with a slash or an X. Roast nuts in a medium oven. When theyre cool enough to handle, sit around the TV or the dining room table and remove the shell. You can do this several days before the big meal.
Mushroom Mashed Potatoes With Chestnut Gravy
Makes 8 servings
5 medium to large russet potatoes, peeled
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 cups fresh porcini mushrooms, sliced about 1/4-inch thick (if porcini are not available, use a mixture of shiitake and cremini)
1 small shallot, peeled and minced
1 cup half-and-half
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 pounds chestnuts in the shell (look for them at farmers markets and some supermarkets)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and small diced
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup chicken or turkey stock
3 cups whole milk
Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped (optional)
For the potatoes: Cut potatoes into thirds and add to a large pot half-filled with cold water and 2 tablespoons kosher salt. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook for 35 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. While potatoes are cooking, place a large skillet on the stovetop over medium-high heat and add a good amount of vegetable oil (at least 2 tablespoons). Just before the oil starts to smoke, add the porcini mushrooms and sear until they release their juices, then stir and cook the other side. Cook until you get a golden-brown color on the mushrooms, then add the shallots and cook for another minute or two. Transfer the cooked mushrooms to a plate to let them cool slightly.
When the potatoes are cooked, dump them into a colander in the sink and let drain completely. Transfer to a potato ricer (my preference) or mash by hand in the original cooking pot. Bring half-and-half and butter together to a simmer and fold into the potatoes. Add the mushrooms and stir again and transfer to a warm serving dish.
For the gravy: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Score the base or flat side of the chestnut with a sharp knife or box cutter (this will keep them from exploding in the oven). Place the chestnuts on a cookie sheet and roast in the oven for about 30 to 45 minutes. The shells should slightly pop open, revealing the nut inside. When slightly cool, use your hands to peel off the outer layer, then slightly chop the chestnuts and set aside. (If nut meats are still al dente, toss with olive oil in a sauté pan then add a half cup of water. Steam with lid on until tender.)
In a 6- to 10-quart sauce pot over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and the diced onion. Cook until wilted but not brown. Add the chopped chestnuts, stir and add the butter. When melted, add the flour, stir and cook for just a few minutes until the mixture starts to brown slightly. Add the chicken stock and stir. It should be very thick right now. Add the milk a cup at a time, stirring the whole time so the gravy doesnt become lumpy. Reduce the heat on the stovetop to low, season with salt and pepper and cook for about 10 minutes or until the gravy thickens. If it thickens too much, thin with stock. Add chopped parsley, if desired. Serve gravy with mashed potatoes.
Per serving: 634 calories (50 percent from fat), 37 grams total fat (19 grams saturated), 86 milligrams cholesterol, 72 grams carbohydrates, 12 grams protein, 368 milligrams sodium, 10 grams dietary fiber.