None of which include making mashed potatoes.
The first food I learned to make for myself was a ham sandwich. But the first food I learned to cook was instant mashed potatoes, baby.
This was no small accomplishment in my relatively small world (I was six or seven at the time). Mashed potatoes were my favorite food, and knowing how to make them from the Hungry Jack box meant I had the power to eat mashed potatoes any time I wanted. Not sure how much you remember about being six or so, but that was a capital-B Big freaking deal.
The thing about instant potato flakes was that they were more than a beige powder—they were magic! All it took was a little milk, margarine, salt, water, and a spin in the microwave to turn boxed dandruff into the purest, most wonderful food in the entire world. (Look, next to Steve Irwin, Hungry Jack was probably my biggest hero at that point.)
Anyway. You know how they say some things never change?
Well, I still worship at the altar of mashed potatoes. I know how to make them from real, live potatoes now. In a pot, on the stove. I don’t own a microwave, but I’ll still pick up a box of Hungry Jack on occasion to stash in the pantry. See, I still consider dehydrated potato flakes an emblem of empowerment. And I still think they’re magical.
Here are seven reasons why.
Boost Deviled Egg Filling
Some of the most brilliant food minds I’ve ever met share my beliefs about instant potato flakes. One of those brilliant minds belongs to James Beard Award-winning editor, writer, recipe developer, and cookbook author Ann Taylor Pittman, who suggests stirring in a couple spoonfuls of dehydrated potato flakes to add a satisfying heft and starchy richness to deviled egg filling.
Use as Binding for Meatballs and Meatloaf
Pittman is also a huge fan of using instant potatoes in place of breadcrumbs to bind her meatballs when she makes Gluten-Free Spaghetti and Meatballs. Because of dehydrated potatoes’ affinity for liquid, they help keep whatever it is that they’re binding—meatballs, meatloaf, meat patties—exceptionally moist for days.
WATCH: How to Make Turkey, Bacon, and Cheddar Meatloaf
Take Your Breakfast Hash Next-Level
This is a trick I happened upon when working with the culinary mastermind Robin Bashinsky on a story about potato hash. Sure, in theory, you can hack your way to a decent enough hash by throwing a bunch of leftovers in a skillet at once until warmed through, but the key to an exceptional hash is two-fold: achieving extremely crispy potatoes and then, giving those crispy potatoes some element of cohesive binding that does not detract from their crispiness. In other words, a hash that neither feels piecey nor mushy. The secret? You guessed it, instant potato flakes. See just how to deploy them in Bashinsky’s Master Hash recipe.
Bake Exceptionally Tender Bread
Dehydrated potato flakes act remarkably similar to potato flour when used in baking; and if you’ve ever had a slice of potato bread, you know that means incredible fluffiness and moisture. Incorporating a scoop of instant potato flakes into a simple bread recipe (try 1-2 tablespoons of potato flakes for every 1 cup of flour), like buttermilk biscuits or an easy homemade loaf like focaccia, will help to create a wonderfully soft texture, as well as keep your bread fresher for a bit longer. Give it a go with these Herbed Potato Flake Rolls.
Extend the Life of Your Homemade Tortillas
Fresh flour tortillas are prone to drying out beyond repair after a day. However, as Serious Eats points out, incorporating instant potato flakes yields tortillas that stay malleable. Try for yourself with their recipe for Flour and Potato Tortillas. I’m telling you—magic!
Instantly Thicken Soups and Stews
You’ve heard that starchy potatoes simmered in a soup or stew can help enrich the broth naturally, so this powerful little trick makes sense, right? For a bit of instant thickening power in your next pot of vegetable stew or seafood chowder, skip the flour slurry (and lump paranoia) and stir in a spoonful of instant potato flakes. Add just a teaspoon or so at a time until you reach your desired consistency.
Give a Crispy Crust to Chicken and Fish
For an ridiculously crispy oven-baked coating on chicken, fish, or pork, instant potato flakes are your best friend. You can use an equal blend of potato flakes and all purpose flour for your dry dredging mixture or go with all-tater goodness, simply mixed with your seasonings of choice.