Food Faceoff: Mashed Potatoes

Pet peeve alert! As part of my continuing crusade to debunk the notion that processed boxed food can be a suitable replacement for whole ingredients, I decided to devote today’s Food Faceoff to the humble mashed potato. I know I’m not the only one who feels her blood pressure rise every time she sees a commercial bemoaning the difficulty, the pain, of making mashed potatoes by hand. Maybe this is why I don’t watch the Food Network anymore.

To my parents’ credit, I remember nothing of eating the boxed flakes as a child. Rather, it was my high school cafeteria’s semi-regular Turkey Day that sent me running, nay, sprinting down the hall to wait in line for a scoop of pasty starch covered in a supple slick of vivid yellow gravy.

Nothing about this meal screamed authentic, but it was a salt lick in a bowl and as someone who also ate entire bags of Doritos in one sitting and brought turkey bacon (no bread, no mayo) as her lunch entree at this point in time, it’s no shock to see why this was right up my alley.

Now I’m enlightened, right?—a student of Slow Food and locavorism, someone who’d never let dehydrated taters touch my lips. Or would I?? Let’s start with the real deal.

Total time: 29 minutes

Instant Mashed Potatoes

For comparison’s sake, here’s the process for making instant mashed potatoes as directed by the package of Betty Crocker “Creamy Butter” mix.

Pour the contents of the package into a large bowl. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil, then stir the hot water into the dry mix until fully incorporated. Let the mixture rest for 2 minutes, then whip with a fork until smooth, about 2 minutes more.

Total time: 9 minutes

The taste? Gimme some of that yellow Campbell’s chicken gravy in a can and I’d be right back at the corner booth in high school, wearing brown corduroy overalls from Old Navy and cropping yearbook photos with a plastic ruler and a red wax pencil.

I know food scientists are hard at work replicating the look and feel of the real thing in instant form, and they’ve clearly succeeded in improving the consistency over the years. The mouthfeel was smoother than I remembered, less grainy and more of a real puree.

But the lingering coating on my palate, not to mention the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!—oh wait, I can, it tastes like movie theater “butter” from a pump—finish makes me firmly believe that the extra 20 minutes spent to make the real version are well spent.

Final verdict:
Advantage Mother Nature, though I’m not gonna lie and say I didn’t eat a few spoonfuls of the instant version out of the fridge later that evening—my late night snacking habits seem unchanged over the years.

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  1. says

    Great details. I too get tied up in a knot when people complain that cooking dishes like this are “too time consuming” or difficult. Really?

    I have to say that working at W-S has made me a potato ricer or food mill convert for mashed potatoes. I love how fluffy they are and they really don’t need as much cream or butter.

    If I want chunks and skin, I make “smashed potatoes” and use a masher or fork, but any method used is head and shoulders above those flakes called potatoes that I had to go to friend’s houses for the experience. I grew up in a no boxes (except for Uncle Ben’s converted rice — not instant) in the pantry house and am so happy for that.

  2. says

    Did you see the recipe from Dorie Greenspan in the NY Times a week or two ago? Crackery Potato Bugnes, using Hungry Jack potato flakes! They look fantastic.

    • Casey BarberCasey says

      I was a tad worried too when the instant version was better than expected. After the surprise boxed brownie upset, I guess I should be prepared for anything.


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