Mashed potatoes are suitable for just about any season, not just the holidays. When you have hours to dedicate to peeling, boiling, and tirelessly mashing potatoes into a beautiful golden heap, they are absolute heaven.
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But for the average weeknight when you’re just trying to get a dish on the table that the whole family will enjoy, it’s boxed mashed potatoes to the rescue. Not to steal the Campbell’s tagline here, but this pantry staple is for “real, real life.”
Just because you’re leaning on this time-saving technique doesn’t mean your mashed potatoes can’t taste freshly mashed. The box instructions will suggest adding butter for extra flavor, but we recommend jazzing up the dish even further with a few easy add-ins. With these tricks, your family will think they’re being treated to Thanksgiving Day potatoes on an average Wednesday night.
The best box for the job
Potato flakes are the perfect shelf-stable food to live in your pantry year-round. They’re made from russet potatoes that have been boiled, mashed, and then dehydrated to create flakes. For these methods, start with plain ol’ unflavored potato flakes that don’t have butter or salt in the ingredients list. You’ll be adding those elements in yourself and will have much more control over the final product this way.
Know your liquids
To really mimic the consistency of homemade mashed potatoes, thickness is key. Those dreaded soupy mashed potatoes you find at most cafeterias aren’t fooling anyone. It’s all about the ratio of liquids to potato flakes, so if you aren’t satisfied with the final texture, feel free to add another spoonful of flakes.
On the package instructions, you’ll see that most recipes start with boiling water. Instead of water, sub in chicken or vegetable broth. Sticking to the same measurements, heat the liquid with a little salt and a few tablespoons of butter just long enough to boil, then remove from the heat.
The box will then tell you to stir in cold milk with the potato flakes, but we suggest opting for sour cream, Greek yogurt, or buttermilk in the milk’s place. This will add an extra tang as well as a delicious creaminess. Stir in your cold, creamy element and potato flakes with a fork just until all the ingredients are moistened. Let the mixture sit for one or two minutes, then stir again with a fork. For even more flavor and thickness, stir in a few tablespoons of mascarpone or cream cheese while the mixture is still warm.
What about the lumps?
If you miss the lumps and uneven consistency that homemade mashed potatoes usually offer, there are still ways to imitate that texture in your boxed variation. And you don’t have to start from the beginning of the process.
Grab some canned new potatoes at the store when you shop for potato flakes. After draining and rinsing the canned potatoes, then boiling them with milk for about a minute, they can be mashed and stirred in with minimal effort. Voila! A lumpy texture without all the strenuous mashing.
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The finishing touches
At this point, revert to the traditional mashed potato toppings you know and love. Herbs like chives and parsley are easy to stir in or sprinkle on top for color and freshness, while bacon bits add a savory, salty bite. Add in a flavorful cheese like blue or gouda, or roast a few cloves of garlic to mash in.
If you love a browned crust, finish off the dish in a casserole pan with a layer of melty cheese and breadcrumbs on top, popping it under the broiler for 3-5 minutes before serving.
Mashed potatoes are a blank slate just waiting for a new flavor profile. Get creative with new seasonings like fresh basil, hot sauce, or ranch powder. The possibilities of boxed mashed potatoes are endless because this is one easy dinner dish that will never go out of style.
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