best method for boiling potatoes?

Excuse the ignorant question, but I have heard varying reports on whether it’s best to boil potatoes in salted or unsalted water, and also whether to start them in cold water or hot. Any thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks!

23 Answers

  • Pat Hammond Nov 7, 2002

    There’s absolutely nothing wrong with your question. I’ve been cooking for many years and I’m not sure I’ve been doing it correctly, although I haven’t had any complaints. I drop potatoes into salted boiling water. I’m always open to suggestions though.

    • 2chez mike Nov 7, 2002

      Cold water or boiling water? It doesn’t really matter. The important thing is to cook them until they’re just done. Overcooking will waterlog them and leach out the flavor.

    • the rogue Nov 8, 2002

      I remember when I studied at the french culinary institute they said to start the taters in cold slightly salted water but for the life of me i can’t remember why. They also said to cook them until they were just barely cooked (fork test) then dump out the water and let them sit in the hot pot for five minutes to steam and dry off. again i can’t ‘member why.

      • Pat Hammond Nov 8, 2002

        I do that “sit in the pot and steam” thing too. I put a folded tea towel over the potatoes to absorb the steam though. You get a nice mealy potato that way. I think I learned that from an old Joy of Cooking. pat

        • berkleybabe Nov 8, 2002

          My husband comes from a large Irish family so potato cookery is essential in any of our households. In fact, he’s the pro in our home. First, he tests for doneness with a fork, not a knife–much more accurate testing tool. When making mashed spuds, he always dumps the cooked potatoes into a colander than tosses them back in the pan at medium heat, and tosses the potatoes in the pan until they get a floury surface. It dries the surface moisture and makes for a fluffier, superior mashed spud. It’s actually taken on a ritual quality at Thanksgiving :).

        • bushwickgirl Nov 28, 2021

          I seem to remember, from culinary school as well, that starting the taters in cold, salted water prevents osmosis (loss of flavor) and allows for more even cooking and heat penetration from outside to inside, than by starting them in boiling water. Then, of course, letting them steam to dry results in a non-soggy potato.
          Lately, I’ve been steaming my potatoes and I like the results better than boiling, they’re fluffier and retain a good potato flavor.

          • greygarious Apr 27, 2021

            I prefer the increased flavor from steaming, too – and even more so, steaming with the skin on. When cooked. spear the spud on a fork and scrape a serrated knif over the skin to peel. It comes off easily with virtually no waste of potato flesh, but to preserve my own, I keep a bowl of cold water handy, to dip my fingers in if they get too hot.

        • Louisa Chu Nov 8, 2002

          I just made gnocchi today in school. Here’s how we boil potatoes to use for recipes like gnocchi or puree or pommes dauphine, etc.

          Preheat your oven to warm.

          Wash your potatoes. Prep a bowl of cold water. Peel your potatoes well, removing all dark bits. Hold in the water.

          If you’re using very large potatoes, halve them lengthwise and cut them into large chunks – about 8 total. The idea is to have roughly uniform pieces that will cook about the same time.

          Rinse your potatoes well. Place them in a large pot with cold water to cover about an inch. Use a pot large enough so that it won’t boil over. Use cold water because otherwise your potatoes will overcook on the outside before they cook enough on the inside. Do not salt yet or you will wait longer for your water to boil because salt raises the boiling temperature of water.

          Heat the water to a boil and then salt. Cook at a full boil until the potatoes are tender – test them with a sharp paring knife until there is no resistance. Do not overcook them.

          Drain them – do not rinse. Turn them out to a pan large enough to hold them in a single layer and dry them out in the oven. Turn them occasionally but do not allow them to form a crust.

          Mill or rice while warm.

          Do you want to know the method for just boiled peeled pototoes to serve as is too?

          • Tom Meg Nov 8, 2002

            Thanks for that. Please do share your serving method for just-boiled potatoes.


          • kc girl Nov 10, 2002

            IMHO, the best way to boil potatoes is to cut them (about 2 Cups) in half, then slice them in uniform thickness, put them in a microwave pot (The Pampered Chef has some with strainer tops), pour in a can of Campbell’s chicken broth and 1/2 can of cold or RT filtered water, add salt, microwave on high for 8-10 minutes. Mash russets. Stir white rose or similar creamy textured potatoes with a little butter and mozzarella cheese.

            • al b. darned Nov 28, 2021

              I second the microwave method, with one exception…you don’t need any liquid if you don’t want to add any. There is enough water in the potatoes to cook them properly and there is no draining needed. I’ve usually do about 2 pounds at a time this way. I never peel them, either.

              I have been cooking potatoes like this for years. The best thing about the m-wave is you can’t overcook the potatoes. Check after 8 minutes and if they aren’t to your liking nuke them some more.

            • laughingcookie Nov 26, 2021

              There is no such thing as an ignorant or rather a stupid question. Thanks to yours, this cook joined the Chow hound blog. Best methods are discovered as we experiment in creative cooking…that is, each recipe & cooking event elicits the best way for me to cook.
              So it would be best to boil potatoes in unsalted water if you were cooking for someone who was a diabetic, perhaps. If you like what salt does for the taste of your recipe, then use salt.

              My stupid questiion had to do with whether or not to cover the pot of boiling potatoes. As I reviewed the source of the question which had to do about authority figures in my life and taking ownership of my life and choices, i realized there is no the right or best way of doing anything, we simply need to experinent/experience & decide, based on our philosophy or way.
              My first chef/teacher 50 years ago in the school of hard knocks, ordered me to remove the tops from the boiling potatoes. I never asked why. But i took him to mean that you never put a top on potatoes when they aRE BOILING. But now I know it depends on what your reasons are, he wanted to be able to test them for doneness without having to remove the tope each time. This morning i boiled potatoes with salt & with the top on because i decided to be the authority. The results of my choices have yet to be tasted in the form of ‘Great Grapa Bernie’s Potato Salad”, but I’ll keep you posted…after the great-grandson eats it..

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