As essential as potato-based side dishes are to many Thanksgiving dinners, I've historically tended to avoid them when putting together my own menu. There's just so much potential for disappointment—how many times have you been served mealy mashed potatoes, or bland, dry roasted ones? With all my attention focused on making sure the turkey doesn't overcook and the stuffing lives up to my expectations, I've never wanted to add further worry to the big day by saddling myself with a gesture of a potato dish that could so easily go wrong.
But—and it's a big but—potatoes are just so good when they're done right. And fortunately, it only takes a little technique to make potatoes that aren't just good but actually have a shot at being the star of your dinner. I'm talking about fluffy, cloudlike mashed potatoes that dissolve on your tongue; roast potatoes, browned to just this side of burnt so they're crispy on the outside and creamy inside; and the richest, warmest, most comforting gratins imaginable. Below are all the recipes you'll need this Thanksgiving to turn the lowly potato into a thing of beauty.
Rich and Creamy Mashed Potatoes
There are two basic categories of mashed potatoes: thick and fluffy, or rich and creamy. To make creamy mashed potatoes, first boil medium-waxy potatoes, like Yukon Golds, in their jackets until a paring knife pierces them easily. Rice them into a stand mixer, then whisk in plenty of butter and cream. To make them extra savory, add a little chicken stock.
Ultra-Fluffy Mashed Potatoes
If you like your mashed potatoes fluffy and light, on the other hand, you'll want to eliminate as much starch as possible to keep them from getting sticky. We do it by dicing the potatoes and rinsing them both before and after cooking. A generous amount of milk and butter added at the end provides all the soothing, rich flavor you need.
Caramelized Vidalia Onion Mashed Potatoes
Slowly caramelized Vidalia onions lend a bit of interest and a subtle sweetness to mashed potatoes. This version is extra creamy, made with butter, milk, sour cream, and a little cream cheese for good measure.
Aligot (Mashed Potatoes With Melted Cheese)
A traditional French dish for creamy-mash lovers, aligot is made by whipping potatoes with melted cheese until they're impossibly rich and gooey, almost like a potato fondue. Cantal or Tomme cheese is typical, but raclette is easier to find and just as delicious.
Roasted, Fried, and More
Colombian-Style Salt-Crusted New Potatoes
You've got to be a big salt fan for this one—but who doesn't love salty potatoes? This recipe calls for simmering small new potatoes in heavily salted water, yielding a beautifully crispy crust and an interior bursting with buttery flavor. Serve them with ají on the side for a proper Colombian treatment.
Extra-Crispy Herb-Roasted New Potatoes
If you're not going the Colombian route, cooking potatoes in salty water still has the benefit of making them super dense and creamy, so it's a good first step even for simple roasted potatoes. The skin will crisp and wrinkle up marvelously in the oven. For an even more satisfyingly flavorful crust, toss the simmered potatoes first in butter flavored with herbs and alliums.
Ultra-Crispy New Potatoes With Garlic, Herbs, and Lemon
When you're roasting potatoes, the interiors tend to cook well without much trouble. It's the skins that are tricky—all too often, they end up either papery and soft or leathery and tough. To combat the papery effect, parboil the potatoes in acidic water before roasting; to prevent them from turning leathery, use plenty of oil (or duck fat, or turkey fat) during roasting, which will absorb into the crust and keep it light.
Crispy Smashed Potatoes
Smashing unpeeled, parboiled potatoes—that is, flattening them with the bottom of a heavy skillet—creates lots of nooks and crannies that crisp up wonderfully when pan-fried. These take some time to make, as getting that crispness requires patiently frying them in small batches; luckily, you can cook them ahead of time and simply re-crisp them in a hot oven come Thanksgiving morning.
Crispy Potatoes With Garlic-Parmesan Butter
Once you've mastered the technique for cooking extra-crispy potatoes, you can experiment with adding different flavor combinations. For this variation, we cook the potatoes in duck fat, which immediately cranks the tastiness level to 11, then coat them in garlic- and Parmesan-infused butter.
Skillet Potatoes With Cajun Blackening Spices and Buttermilk-Herb Sauce
These smoky, spicy potatoes are almost too exciting to be relegated to a side dish. A Cajun-style blackening rub is added at the very end of cooking, seasoning the outsides of the potatoes while their interiors remain velvety and soft. A creamy buttermilk-herb sauce, served on top or on the side, makes them feel downright luxurious.
Casseroles and Gratins
Hasselback Potato Gratin
This recipe improves on the popular conception of Hasselback potatoes (which experienced their day in the internet sun a few years back) by turning them into what is essentially a sideways gratin. To make it, stand thin potato slices on their sides in a casserole dish and cover them mostly—but not completely—with a mixture of heavy cream and cheese: The submerged portion gets moist and creamy in the oven, while the top crisps up nicely.
Cheesy Onion, Bacon, and New Potato Gratin
Though a gratin is typically made with sliced potatoes, it's actually easier to use whole small new potatoes. For this dish, combine the potatoes with whole pearl onions, lardons of bacon, cream, and cheese—we've chosen Comté, but you can use any aged Swiss alpine-style cheese. The most important thing is that the cheese is nutty and melts well.
Crispy Mashed Potato Casserole With Bacon, Cheese, and Scallions
If you're like me, your kitchen gets pretty crazy on Thanksgiving Day, and every bit of prep that you can do ahead of time helps. Mashed potatoes, as a general rule, don't reheat well, but mixing sour cream into your mashed potatoes and spreading them into a baking dish keeps them moist for days. That helpful fact led to this dish, which is basically a loaded baked potato taking the form of an incredible casserole. Prepare the dish earlier in the week, then take it out of the fridge just before dinner, toss on a topping of panko, bacon, scallions, and cheddar, and bake until it's warmed through and nicely browned.
Polish Cabbage, Potato, and Bacon Casserole
This dish combines the simple, down-to-earth elements of cabbage, onions, potatoes, and bacon into a browned, bubbling, aromatic casserole that's perfect for Thanksgiving or any chilly day. We use bacon fat to cook down the cabbage and onion, then mix them with par-cooked potatoes and bake it all under a cheesy crust.