The ebb and flow of fashions applies to cooking every bit as much as clothing. Once trendy items, including fondue pots and home deep-fryers, regularly enrich the nation's thrift stores, and last year's kitchen gadget is often incomprehensible to this year's garage sale bargain-hunter. One kitchen gadget that remains useful is a potato ricer, an item commonly used a few decades ago.
About Potato Ricers
A potato ricer is a simple piece of equipment. It consists of a shallow cylindrical basket that has small perforated holes and is set into a handle. A second handle, connected to the first by a hinge, has a corresponding plunger. To use the ricer, fill the basket with hot, freshly-boiled potatoes and squeeze the handles together. The plunger forces the potatoes through the holes, creating long strands of potato that look like a mound of rice to some long-ago inventor, hence the name.
Ricing cooked potatoes gives them a lightness and evenness of texture that's difficult to achieve any other way. Mashing works well, but even the most diligent cooks leave behind lumps and irregularities in the potatoes. Food processors and stand mixers can prepare the potatoes quickly, but they have the unfortunate habit of giving them a gluey texture. The only other kitchen utensil that gives a similar result is a food mill, which uses a crank and paddle to force the potatoes through a perforated metal plate.
Using Riced Potatoes
Use your potato ricer the next time you make mashed potatoes. Ricing leaves the potatoes light and fluffy because it allows steam to evaporate and make them dryer. Mix in butter and milk, salt and pepper, and stir the potatoes until they come together. If you add beaten egg to your potatoes, you'll make "Duchesse" potatoes, which can be piped into attractive shapes and baked until golden. Riced potatoes are also ideal for making gnocchi or similar potato dumplings.
Your ricer can be used for many things other than potatoes. Use it to rice sweet potatoes or pumpkin the next time you make a pie. If your sweet potatoes are fibrous, the stringy parts will stay in the ricer. Baked squash can be passed through the ricer before you butter it and bring it to the table. You can speed up your tomato sauce by pressing seeded tomatoes through the ricer, and as a bonus, the skin stays behind. Make applesauce easily by pressing baked apples through the potato ricer, which removes the skins, stems and seeds.