The Genius Ingredient Jacques Pépin Uses To Thicken Soup

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When it comes to food television icons, who do you think of? Obviously, Julia Child and Anthony Bourdain are among those whose staying power is not likely to diminish anytime soon, despite them no longer gracing the world with their presence. However, there is one television chef whom both Child and Bourdain looked to for guidance and friendship: Jacques Pépin. A legend in his own right, at 87, Pépin has a life that can be envied. He's produced countless programs for PBS, published over 30 books, shares a daytime Emmy with Child, and has been bestowed with the greatest honor his native France can provide: Chevalier de L'ordre National de la Legion D'Honneur (via Food & Beverage Magazine). 

Pépin's unquestioned culinary mastery brings with it a certain degree of respect for his techniques and innovations. Known for whipping up perfectly silky omelets, per the Jacques Pépin Foundation, Pépin's command of the kitchen has allowed him to turn even the simplest of ingredients into extraordinarily tasty dishes. One ingredient in particular that Pépin likes to add to soups is simultaneously genius and aggravating to others who would like to claim credit since, in retrospect, it seems like such an obvious trick. 

Enter instant mashed potatoes

On an episode of his cooking show "More Fast Food My Way," Pépin adds a remarkably simple ingredient to thicken a leek and mushroom soup he is preparing: instant mashed potatoes. Proficient home cooks might not think of the ingredient as one worth using. However, they'll be more than glad to have some stocked in their pantries when making soup because, as Pépin shares in the episode, instant potato flakes can be used not only to thicken the dish remarkably well, but to also add an extra layer of flavor.

But even if you're not interested in the flavor boost you'll receive by adding instant potatoes to your soup, there is another reason this ingredient may be the one you turn to again and again to thicken dishes.

Instant mashed potatoes eliminate a vital cooking step

Other common thickeners, like flour and cornstarch, need to be dissolved and mixed into water to make a slurry before being added to soup. Bon Appétit explains this is because both ingredients tend to clump up if this step is not taken, resulting in a grainy, lumpy mess — but that's not the case when you use instant mashed potatoes. With instant mashed potatoes, you can add them directly to whatever you're making without any additional work.

This simple, yet incredibly useful tip is very much in line with the philosophy behind both the book and television program "More Fast Food My Way." For the project, Pépin was all about creating meals that are not just scrumptious, but also easy to make, per KQED. The leek and mushroom soup, as Pépin points out, can be made very quickly when you come home from work. It's just one of a multitude of recipes perfected by the chef that are so effortless you'll never have to settle for takeout again.