So here are my feelings about instant mashed potato flakes: When made simply into mashed potatoes, they're not great. And yet, as I move forward in life, there is a very good chance that I will always keep a stash of them around. This may sound dramatic, but it's true: Instant potato flakes have the potential to save holidays. They can make any hearty stew more satisfying. They can even turn into the star of a 15-minute dinner that's as casual or as fancy as you please. Here's how to pull off these tricks, plus a few more reasons to grab a box for your pantry.
Reason 1: Instant potatoes may not make the best mashed potatoes, but anything that you can do with leftover mashed potatoes, you can also do with instant-and much faster. Croquettes? Yup, and any other mashed potato-based fritters too. Just reconstitute the instant potatoes according to the package directions, then proceed with the recipe. With flavorful mix-ins like smoked trout or goat cheese, plus the act of frying, taking this small shortcut to your crispy-appetizer dreams will barely even be noticed.
Reason 2: Homemade gnocchi usually require a bit of fuss. But with a box of potato flakes in the cabinet, there's no need to bake and cool and wait around. The 2019 edition of the Joy of Cooking includes a recipe for quick instant-potato-based gnocchi that come together in one bowl. The dumplings are shaped and boiled like any other gnocchi, and they turn out even lighter and more pillowy than some of the best bowls I've ever eaten. simply toss the cooked dumplings with melted butter and herbs, or in whatever sauce you like. Total time: Just about 15 minutes.
I also love to use that same gnocchi recipe to make potato cakes-stir crab and chopped dill or corn and chiles (or whatever other mix-ins you like) into the rehydrated potatoes before adding the flour, then form into discs and pan fry in butter or oil until crispy and browned on both sides (about 3 minutes per side).
Reason 3: Many bread bakers will tell you that potatoes-both instant and less-than-instant-can give you softly sweet, tender, and squishy loaves and rolls. Into sourdough? You can even use potato flakes to feed your starter, which will turn out loaves that are both a bit sweeter and more tangy than your standard. Using dried potato flakes instead of roasted or boiled fresh potatoes in any loaf allows you to control the dough's moisture, which is sort of what bread baking is all about. The dry staple frees you up to add more flavor to your loaf by using milk, buttermilk, or another liquid in place of the moisture you'd get from cooked potatoes.
Reason 4: Want a luxuriously thick gluten-free pan sauce or gravy? Potato flakes make an excellent thickener-and you won't have to worry about lumpiness or cooking out raw flavors, as you do when thickening with flour. Jut scrape up the pan drippings with whatever liquid you're using (wine, stock, etc.), bring to a boil, then add the potato flakes (for 1 cup liquid, stir in about 1 tablespoon flakes, give them a few seconds to dissolve, and adjust to your preference). For an extra-smooth sauce, grind the flakes in a spice grinder before incorporating them.
You can also toss dried potatoes into any soup or stew to thicken the broth. Add a little at a time and stir it in, then add more, bit by bit, until the body of the soup is to your liking. And one other thing: if you've oversalted your soup, adding potato flakes can help tame that salinity.
Reason 5: All right, I know I've bashed instant mashed potatoes enough, so I will concede on one point. If you ever-say, in the heat of Thanksgiving prep-add too much milk or butter to your carefully cooked and mashed potatoes (or maybe found that your potatoes weren't drained properly), instant potatoes can be your savior. Add a few spoonfuls of potato flakes to any mashed potatoes that are runnier than ideal, and suddenly you've rescued the holiday.