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The key to the best mashed potato topping is already on the spud

Mashed potatoes
The potatoes’ spent peels make a crunchy topping when fried with sage leaves, for a silky-smooth mash.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times; prop styling by Kate Parisian)

Thanksgiving in 2020 is going to look a lot different this year in more ways than one. So instead of doing things the way they’ve always been done, here are recipes that throw tradition out the window — at least just this once — and play around with the expected holiday tropes. You’ll see that the classic dishes can be much easier — and more fun — when you focus on highlighting the qualities in each that really matter.

After almost a year of being at home and the same old, same old, reinvigorate your Thanksgiving table with a fresh outlook on the traditional holiday staples.

I believe the point of the holiday table is to provide a place to present certain dishes in luxe versions that befit the honor of being savored for one meal each year. So mashed potatoes always seems an odd choice, being more a staple of an ordinary Tuesday night than something to be highlighted on such an exceptional occasion.

The potatoes I grew up eating at Thanksgiving were shredded, drenched in butter and covered in cheese, then baked until bubbling, hot and stretchy. You couldn’t have more than a small spoonful, but their exorbitant richness was the point. So, as a compromise, here are mashed potatoes enriched with more dairy than you’re probably comfortable knowing about, but that is essential for the holiday table.

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The mashed potatoes are mixed with sour cream and eggs, which help keep them loose and light when you bake them under a stick of butter. This technique also solves the age-old problem of keeping mashed potatoes warm if not serving them right away. No one actually wants to go to the trouble of placing their bowl of taters over a simmering pot of water to keep them hot, especially when there are other dishes competing for heating real estate. But with this dish, you purposefully make them ahead of time and keep the dish in the fridge until an hour before you want to bake and serve.

Crispy fried sage leaves and potato skins
Sage leaves perfume fried potato skins for a crunchy topping on baked mashed potatoes.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times; prop styling by Kate Parisian)

Just to gild the lily and, ironically, encourage thriftiness, I like to save the peeled skins and fry them up with sage leaves until crispy and fragrant. I do this in non-holiday times and serve the skins with cocktails when the potatoes are for dinner. For the holiday table, the tangled, crunchy strands get toppled over the baked, soufflé-like potatoes — smooth as silk and just as extravagant, as is expected for the celebration.

Once-Baked Mashed Potatoes With Fried Sage Skins

Time 1 hour, 50 minutes
Yields Serves 8
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