Earlier this month my culinary adventure, along with a family vacation, took me to Texas. I was excited by the prospect of tasting the Lone Star State's famed smoked meats, barbecue and chili. So imagine my surprise when the highlight of the trip turned out to be mashed potatoes.
Those memorable mashers came from Judith, my husband's aunt who lives outside Austin. Judith spent most of her childhood in the Chicago area and had extended family in southern Illinois where she attended family gatherings that always included mashed potatoes. Turns out that traditional family recipe had a secret ingredient: hard boiled eggs.
When she was 16 she sneaked into the kitchen to discover it was actually her uncle who made the creamy, flavorful family favorite, a recipe she believes he perfected while serving in the U.S. Navy.
I was surprised not only by how much I enjoyed the unusual potatoes, but also that I hadn't heard of this combination before. Curious, I decided to do a bit of research and found similar ingredient combinations in several Hungarian recipes. Some recipes sliced potatoes and layered them with hard boiled eggs while others included smoked sausage and sour cream.
There were a number of references to the mashed potato and egg combination being a Lenten meal since it contains no meat. One of the most interesting is a Welsh recipe called Anglesey Eggs described as "not the prettiest dish on the block, but with the best flavors featuring soft mashed potatoes with hard boiled eggs all smothered in a thick creamy leek and cheese sauce."
While Judith's potatoes did not contain sausage or cheese sauce, they were delicious and worthy of a closer look.
There are obviously many things you can do to customize mashed potatoes, but for now I am focused on perfecting Judith's potatoes. She starts with peeled and cubed russets, because of their starch content, and because this is the type of potato her uncle always used. Do not rinse the potatoes, simply add them to a pot of salted water and heat on the stove until boiling, cooking until tender.
After draining off the cooking water, use a potato masher -- Judith never uses a mixer -- to mash the potatoes until they are the size of crushed ice. Add butter and continue to mash until the butter is melted, followed by a bit of milk. Now add the sliced hard-boiled eggs and stir/mash until the egg yolks have become absorbed by the potatoes and have made the mixture creamy, but studded with small pieces of egg whites. Make sure you taste and adjust the salt and pepper as potatoes and eggs both like to be well salted. The result is a creamy flavorful dish that tastes like a cross between rich mashed potatoes and warm potato salad with deviled eggs.
Today Judith makes this treasured family recipe for guests, like my husband and I, and often serves the potatoes as an accompaniment to steak with a side of homestyle green beans. This is one of her most frequently requested recipes, but most of her friends would prefer she bring the prepared dish to their next dinner party instead of making it themselves. I wish Judith lived closer and would bring her special potatoes to my house, but since Texas is a two-day car trip, I am especially thankful she gave me her cherished recipe, and without hesitation agreed to allow me to share it with all of you. Thanks Judith!
• Penny Kazmier, a wife and mother of four who lives in South Barrington, won the 2011 Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge.