One of my responsibilities while working at Le Cirque was to make the purée de pommes de terre, or mashed potatoes. After the potatoes were peeled, cooked, drained, and dried, I had to use a rubber spatula to push them through a tamie, a wood-framed screen that sits over a mixing bowl. This was an arduous task. Although the potatoes turned out silky smooth and delicious, I vowed to serve lumpy yet equally delicious “smashers” at my own restaurant. After all, whose mother didn’t serve lumpy potatoes? I choose to leave the skin on not only because I like the added flavor but also because I don’t want to have to peel 25 pounds of potatoes every night!
8 whole large red potatoes (about 3 ½ pounds)
1 ¼ cups (2 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ½ cups half-and-half, plus more if necessary
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Scrub the potatoes clean with a vegetable brush under cold running water.
Place the whole potatoes in a large (8-to 10-quart) stockpot or Dutch oven and cover with cold water by about 1 inch. Place the pot over high heat and bring to a boil (put the lid on the pot to make it come to a boil faster – just make sure you remove it when the water begins to boil or it could boil over). Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the potatoes are fork-tender (a fork should be able to slide in and out very easily), about 30 minutes (better to slightly overcook than slightly undercook).
When the potatoes are tender, drain in a colander set in the sink. Put the potatoes in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet (use tongs – they’re hot!). Transfer to the oven and bake for about 8 minutes (to dry out excess moisture), but do not allow them to brown.
While the potatoes are drying out, place the butter in a warm spot to soften and the half-and-half in a small saucepan over low heat (adding warm cream to the potatoes will help keep them piping hot).
Return the potatoes to the cooking pot and smash them with a heavy-duty wire whisk or a potato masher (don’t worry if they’re lumpy – that’s what makes them smashers). Add the butter and warm half-and-half. Add additional half-and-half if necessary, to achieve a creamy consistency. Season with the salt and pepper and serve.