How to Boil Potatoes
Right this way for pristine boiled potatoes ready for potato salad, mashed potatoes and side dishes galore.
By Fraya Berg for Food Network Kitchen
Fraya is a chef and a contributing writer at Food Network.
Whether you’re making potato salad or mashed potatoes, here’s a step-by-step guide to boiling waxy and starchy potatoes perfectly every time. Begone, crumbled, water-logged potatoes.
How to Boil Potatoes
Boiling potatoes seems like it should be easy, but it can be tricky. One important thing to know about potatoes is that water is their enemy. Yep, it cooks the potatoes, but if they spend too long bathing, they'll become waterlogged. And no matter what type of potato you're boiling, waterlogged potatoes will be grainy, crumbly and mushy with little flavor (it'll leach into the water).
There are two kinds of potatoes you might be boiling: waxy and starchy potatoes. Each of them have different uses, and we'll address them individually below. But with regards to boiling both varieties, there are a few important rules to remember:
- Start with cold, heavily salted water
- Bring the water to a boil and then immediately turn it down to a simmer
How to Boil Waxy Potatoes
One of life’s simple pleasures is tucking into some boiled potatoes slicked with butter and finished with a sprinkle of an herb like parsley or dill. You can also use boiled waxy potatoes in dishes like potato salads and in mashed and smashed potatoes.
What You'll Need
Gather together 1 3/4 pounds red (new), Yukon Gold or other lower-starch potatoes, kosher salt, 3 tablespoons melted butter and 1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley leaves. You want to choose potatoes that are lower in starch because they’ll hold together best when boiling.
Put the potatoes in a large saucepan, add cold water to cover by about an inch and salt the water generously. You want to make sure that your potatoes are all the same size so they finish cooking at the same time.
Bring to a Boil, Then Simmer
Bring the water to a boil, lower the heat and simmer the potatoes for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on their size.
Test the Potatoes for Doneness
Now, test the potatoes by piercing them with a long fork. They’re done when the fork easily goes all the way to the center.
Drain the Potatoes
Drain the potatoes in a colander and place them in a serving bowl. Depending on the size of your potatoes, you can either leave them whole or halve them.
Toss the potatoes with the butter and season them to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley or another herb.
How to Boil Starchy Potatoes
You might typically boil starchy potatoes, like Russet and Idaho potatoes, to make mashed potatoes.
When boiling starchy potatoes, it’s important to do everything possible to minimize the amount of water they'll absorb. That means taking extra care not to overcooking them.
Cooking them whole, with the skin on is the best way to prevent over-cooking. As soon as the potatoes are fork-tender, remove them from the boiling water immediately. When they're cool enough to handle, peel off the skins.
If you do need to boil cut starchy potatoes, make sure you take extra care to reduce the water to a simmer as soon as it comes to a boil - otherwise the pieces will bump into one another, releasing more starch and becoming gummy. After boiling, lay them out on a sheet pan so the steam will evaporate and they'll dry out a bit.
How Long to Boil Potatoes
The best way to tell that potatoes are done cooking? Insert a fork. If it slides in easily without resistance, they're done cooking. You might see the term fork-tender to describe when potatoes are done boiling.
Whole, unpeeled new potatoes take about 45 minutes to cook, including the time it takes to bring the water to a boil and then finish cooking at a simmer. Obviously this time depends on how strong your burner is and how many new potatoes you're cooking.
Cubed starchy potatoes take around 20 to 25 minutes, including the time they take to come to a boil.
Boiled Potato Recipes
This recipe instructs you to cook russets in their skin, then peel them and mash them with butter and milk. Using potatoes that are all the same size ensures even cooking.
Our recipe for Classic Mashed Potatoes calls for Yukon Gold waxy potatoes or Russet potatoes that are peeled and cubed before cooking. Be careful to keep an eye on the pot: you don’t want the water to boil after you turn the temperature down.
Here, a classic side dish for fish. It’s easy to find really tiny potatoes in most markets, just remember they’ll cook fast.
Classic potato salad is often made with Russet potatoes that are cooked whole in their skins just like Perfect Mashed Potatoes. After they’re peeled, the potatoes are cut in cubes. It’s important not to overcook the potatoes or you’ll end up with crumbled potato salad.
Smashed potatoes are cooked just to doneness and smashed while still hot: leaving the skins on the potatoes keeps them together after they’re smashed. Cooking them in vinegar adds a nice tang.
The boiled potatoes in Salad Nicoise are traditionally small red potatoes, unpeeled and sliced before cooking. The potatoes are dressed with herb vinaigrette as soon as they are drained and the cut sides absorb the dressing right away.