Here are 5 ways (that aren’t mashed potatoes from a box) to use up those pandemic pantry potatoes.

A year ago, you might have been one of the millions of people who were at the beginnings of your personal sourdough journey. You may have been nurturing a new bubbling jar of starter, desperately adhering to a schedule of feedings, researching cast iron skillets, practicing your scoring technique. A year passed and now you are one of two things: Either you are a skilled weekly sourdough baker, churning out crispy crusted loaves and other baked delectables, or a person who accidentally killed their starter, and went back to either store-bought breads or instant yeast for their baking.

What to do with those dehydrated potato flakes?

If you are the latter, you may be in possession of some bonus baking products. Flours and mix-ins will get used up in your regular baking practice, but many starter recipes call for dehydrated potato flakes both to get the starter going and as part of the feeding process. If you began with one of these starters and were worried about the supply chain as we all were, you might have loaded in a stash of potato flakes that would last you several months of pandemic baking.

So, what do you do with them now that your own little Clint Yeastwood is RIP and you are back to supporting your local bakeries? Are you relegated to a life of powdered mashed potatoes until they are used up?

Never fear. Dehydrated potato flakes are actually a useful thing to have around for all sorts of cooking! Here are 5 easy things to do with them:

Potato Flakes
Credit: Getty / Michelle Lee Photography

1. Use as a binder instead of breadcrumbs

From meatloaf to meatballs, fritters to croquettes, any dish that uses some sort of starch as a filler or binder can benefit from potato flakes. They are a neutral flavor, and both absorb and hold moisture, so your finished results will be tender and juicy (breadcrumbs can dry things out too much or make them dense or rubbery). Use the same amount of breadcrumbs that the recipe called for, or just add by the spoonful to get the consistence you like. Bonus tip: Add a bit of flakes to other potato recipes that could use a little extra glue, like potato pancakes or hashed browns.

2. Use as a thickener instead of flour

Potato flakes are a godsend for thickening everything from gravy to soups and stews. This is an especially important hack if you have family or friends who are gluten free, since most recipes rely on a roux, which is flour-based, to thicken. Whether you want a sauce with a little more body or have a soup that could stand to be less watery, sprinkle in potato flakes, a tablespoon at a time, until you get the texture you want. They disintegrate quickly and unlike other thickeners, don't need to cook for their effects to be seen, so it is a fast and simple way to get the texture you want.

3. Fix your mashed potatoes (and other smooshy stuff)

Mashed potatoes are one of those things you often make by just winging it. No fuss: Cook the spuds, smash 'em up, add milk or cream, plus butter. Except sometimes you can get a bit overzealous with the dairy, and find yourself on the wrong side of puree, dangerously close to soup. I can usually make mashed potatoes in my sleep, but recently got distracted while adding the milk, and ended up with something that looked a lot more like chowder than mash. Not having time to boil more potatoes, I reached for the potato flakes and stirred them in a spoonful at a time until I got the texture I wanted, and no one was the wiser! This also works when you have overdone the mayo in your deviled egg filling.

4. Make crispy crusts without breadcrumbs

From breaded cutlets or fish filets, to fried snacks like mozzarella sticks or arancini, to a topping on casseroles, using potato flakes in place of breadcrumbs makes for a light crunch with subtle flavor, and again, a boon for gluten-free versions of things! Just substitute flakes for crumbs in a 1:1 ratio.

5. Make your own potato flour

Many bread recipes use potato flour to keep them tender, but it can be hard to source. Lucky for you, those potato flakes can be whizzed up in your blender or food processor into the flour you need in just seconds! Just keep in mind that the flakes take up lots of room pre-processing, so plan to process about 2X what your bread recipe calls for then measure post-processing to be sure you've made enough.