It resembles a large garlic press. When I was a kid, we had a metal one so heavy I could hardly work it, but these days, with stainless steel and high-impact plastic, they’re easy to use in many ways. You simply put cooked potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, carrots, butternut squash, whatever, into the basket and clamp down the lever, and through the bottom come light, fluffy bits of the vegetable—no lumps, airy, looking a bit like rice.
You can use it in many ways: Whip the “riced” potatoes with a bit of milk and butter, or olive oil, and you’ve
got smoothly perfect mashed potatoes. Leave them as they are, place in an ovenproof dish, sprinkle parmesan cheese or breadcrumbs (or both) on top, run them under the broiler for a few minutes, and you’ve got a simple sort-of gratin, with a light crust. My grandmother used to make spaetzle, the German version of egg pasta, by mixing the dough, and then squeezing it through the ricer into a pot of boiling salted water; it was delicious fresh, and even better the next day, fried till lightly crisp and served with leftover roast pork. Most often here, I use it to make a light topping for shepherd’s pie or fish pie—rather than making mashed potato, I run the potato through the ricer and then scatter it over the meat or fish. (Recipe for fish pie coming soon.) Good Grips makes an excellent stainless-steel version, which you can get through Amazon, while Metaltex manufactures an excellent, sturdy plastic version, widely available.