Boiled: How to boil potatoes?

Subject: How to boil potatoes?
From: June Oshiro (idlewild at
Date: Fri, 1 Aug 1997 11:50:28 -0400
can potatoes be overboiled?

i can never tell when chunked potatoes are done - i usually just spear a piece or two and eat it. if it's crispy, boil longer. if it's not, drain. but sometimes i forget, it boils for a while, but it doesn't seem remarkably different then when i don't forget.
From: edrich at (ed rich)
Date: Sat, 02 Aug 1997 23:01:45 GMT
I would say that if you can't boil potatoes you need more help than is available in this newsgroup.
This is not meant to be sarcastic so don't get your knickers in a knot.
From: idlewild at (Idlewild)
Date: Wed, 6 Aug 1997 23:33:24 -0500
ed rich wrote:
> I would say that if you can't boil potatoes you need more help than is
> available in this newsgroup. This is not meant to be sarcastic so don't
> get your knickers in a knot.

see, i guess my original question (couched poorly, perhaps) was that my cooking time varies considerably, but the end result is always the same. i always boil "until they're done" - namely, i eat a couple of pieces and see if the texture is right. they are never crispy, gummy, gluey, burnt, whatever. it just seemed odd that there was so much leeway.
From: eep at (Rachael)
Date: Thu, 07 Aug 1997 13:03:40 GMT
Idlewild wrote:
>see, i guess my original question (couched poorly, perhaps) was that my
>cooking time varies considerably, but the end result is always the same.

Could the age of the potato be a reason for the varied cooking time? Like maybe really old (not green-old. bleh) potatoes take longer than freshly dug ones. And, of course, smaller pieces/potatoes would cook faster than big pieces/ potatoes.

Just grabbing at straws, here. Potato straws.
From: zedapoo at (ZEDA)
Date: Fri, 08 Aug 1997 22:16:06 GMT
Rachael wrote:

>Could the age of the potato be a reason for the varied cooking time?
>Like maybe really old (not green-old. bleh) potatoes take longer than
>freshly dug ones. And, of course, smaller pieces/potatoes would cook
>faster than big pieces/ potatoes.

I THINK that the real young ones are the ones that sometimes just disintegrate before they even cook.

>Just grabbing at straws, here. Potato straws.

ME TOO, whos the potato expert?? And what is the season for russets?

Seems to me that the ones that are rough, almost scaley on the outside with thick skins turn out the sweetest and fulffiest, when baked.

Every once in a while I get one that has a sweet great flavor, but I dont know how to spot it.

Anybody from Idaho? And is there a difference in flavor between russets and Burbanks?

From: zedapoo at (ZEDA)
Date: Fri, 08 Aug 1997 22:11:36 GMT
Idlewild wrote:
>can potatoes be overboiled?

YES! They will fall apart , depending on the time of year and the type, and when they do they "give up" their stratch to the water. Thats why you dont want to cut them too small when making mashed potatoes! You WANT the starch.

Most people UNDERCOOK potatoes and then have to use all sorts of machinations to get the lumps out.

For the BEST masehed potatoes, boil whole until very soft but NOT falling apart. Fork should go through them easilly.

You will get light fluffy spuds and the lumps will go out with a plain old masher.

Sometimes potatoes fall apart too easilly, and these are just low in startch I think. (im not sure why), but it seems to be a seasonal problem. Is it because they are too new? Ive never figured out how to spot the ones that will do this ahead of time. Mostly happens with russets. Any clue how to pick GOOD russets?

(I usually use finns or yukons or reds for boiling, but sometimes they arent good and I need to use russets).

Need more potato wisdom!


who lOVES mashed potatoes!
From: croehler at (Christiane Roehler)
Date: 9 Aug 1997 17:49:07 GMT
ZEDA wrote:
> Need more potato wisdom!

Yes, let's go for it!

A significant first step would be MUCH better information and labelling in the supermarkets. The taste and texture of the cooked potatoes (as with any vegetable) depend on the particular kind of potato used and where it was grown. And I think only a very experienced person would be able to classify potatoes correctly just by looking at them.

I have read that in Germany about 90 (yes, that's right) different kinds of potatoes are grown. I do not know the number for the US. However, as in the US, the supermarkets only carry a very limited selection. On farmer's markets the choice is much wider and the growers are usually willing to share information on their crop.

Potaoes are usually classified in three major categories:
- firm cooking (for salads, so that one can toss them and they do not fall apart)
- mainly firm cooking (for salted potatoes, potatoes boiled in their jacket, home fried potatoes)
- 'floury' cooking potatoes (for mashed potatoes, potato dumplings, and also for salted potatoes); these potatoes fall apart easily when fully cooked but are dry, not mushy and soggy.

As different kinds of potatoes prefer different kinds of ground, there is somewhat of a relationship between the area the potato comes from and the cooking properties. For example, East Germany in particular Brandenburg (the area around Berlin) is know for its 'floury' cooking potatoes.

There also seems to be a seasonal component. However, I suspect this has a lot to do with the kind of potatoes available at different times of the year. Potatoes that are sold in January and February must have been stored for a couple of month and should be the kind of potato that can take this, whereas 'new' potatoes available in April/ May should be early growing ones, etc. etc.

Same as you, Lea, I find buying potatoes a bit of a lottery. In the US I buy Idaho potatoes, if I think I want to do something nice for myself and feel I can afford to pay the premium for them. Most of the Idaho potatoes, I would classify as 'mainly firm cooking'. I usually use 'baking potatoes' for mashed potatoes. Other than that, I have not been able to work out more details.

What do you like about the 'Yukons' and the 'finns'? Anyone with other preferences or criteria for choosing potatoes? What kind of potatoes are russets?
From: Gail de Prosse (gail at
Date: Sat, 09 Aug 1997 15:00:53 +0000

What I really like about Yukon Golds is that they are so versatile! They have a low water content, so they are good for boiling and mashing or salads, and their flavor is so satisfying.

Another winner for salads is the 'Russian Banana'. This is a fingerling type with excellent flavor that holds up well after cooking.

I never use anything but russets for baking. But I buy organic because they have more flavor. 'Idaho' is the most common variety of russet.

The growers say to put potatoes in cold salted water and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer 10-20 minutes (depending on size) and check with a fork.

We are lucky in my area (San Francisco) to have so many varieties to choose from--more and more each year. Is it only here that this is happening?

Gail (who gets volunteer mystery potatoes from her compost every year)
From: amanda (amanda at
Date: 10 Aug 1997 14:47:53 GMT
Irish Boiled Potatoes

First, scrub the potatoes hard with a good stiff brush.

Start new potatoes in boiling water, anything else in cold. How much salt you use is up to you: the people in County Down used to prefer to do them in sea water -- these days I would want to make sure there was no sewage outfall nearby! Sea salt in water should produce sort of the same effect.

From the boil, count twenty minutes and test for doneness -- the fork should go in easily. If the potatoes are splitting their skins a little, no harm done. (This is called "laughing potatoes" in Ireland.)

Remove from heat long enough to pour off the boiling water: then return them to the heat (but turn it down LOW) and let them sit on it for at least another ten minutes. Put a cloth over the pan when you put them back on the heat (this process is called "drying the potatoes in their steam"). And a lot of steam *will* come off at first...less, later.

After the steam seems to have stopped coming off them, just put the potatoes in a bowl and bring them to the table. The country-Irish way to eat them is to pick one up on your fork, peel it with your knife as if you were peeling an apple -- small side plates are put out for the skin -- and then add butter and salt and pepper as you please. (Check the passage in THE HOUNDS OF THE MORRIGAN where the littlest Spider asks one of the children to "Peel me a 'pud.")

A variant on this approach is to make the potatoes as above, then put them on a baking sheet or grill pan, brush them with melted butter, and run them under the broiler until the skins are brown and crisp. Oh yummy! D.
From: Gail de Prosse (gail at
Date: Sun, 10 Aug 1997 11:56:27 +0000
This reminds me of my first visit to Ireland to visit my husband's relatives on their dairy farm in Cork.

Being a good California girl, I ignored the little side plate and started in on my unpeeled potato. I noticed the horrified looks all around, and saw what they were doing with their spuds and followed suit. Very embarrassing! (Those horrid, dirty Americans eat the *skin*) Nothing was said of course; they were very polite and tactful.

Onother Irish-ism I read about in a book (Donleavy?) is 'potato and point'. You are too poor to have any fish or bacon with your potato, so you spear it on your fork and wave it at the fish.
From: lahvak+n at (Jan Hlavacek)
Date: 11 Aug 1997 07:41:02 GMT
Gail de Prosse wrote:
> This reminds me of my first visit to Ireland to visit my husband's relatives
> on their dairy farm in Cork.

Reminds me of my former roommate, an Italian, who always used to walk around in the kitchen each time i made potatos, complaining: "Those Americans, what are they doing to the poor potatos! And you are just like them! How can you peel it? You are throwing away the most nutritious and tasty part!" and so on.
From: shipley at (Susan Shipley)
Date: Sun, 03 Aug 1997 13:48:47 -0700
June Oshiro wrote:
> can potatoes be overboiled?

I think it's better to overcook a little. Undercooked potatoes can become glue-like when you go to puree a soup or mash them.
From: none-ya at (John Sanford)
Date: Wed, 06 Aug 1997 08:22:29 GMT
June Oshiro wrote:
>can potatoes be overboiled?

There is some debate here, it all depends on just how you like them cooked. I use the "fork" method and it works for me... Take a 2 pronged fork and stick in one of the pieces and if you can pull out the fork without bringing along the potato, it's done. My mother would just cook 'em till they stuck to the bottom of the pan (we had lots of burnt potatoes), as do some in this ng do... Different strokes, etc.. :)

Hope this helps...
From: phos8516 at (maxine in ri)
Date: Wed, 06 Aug 1997 10:51:36 GMT
June Oshiro wrote:
>can potatoes be overboiled?

From "Fanny Farmer:": cut 6 medium potatoes in quarters. Put in pan, and just cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and boil gently for 15-20 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a fork.

If you cook them too long, they start to lose their starch, and are impossible to drain, 'cus they fall apart.
From: Mary (smile at
Date: Wed, 06 Aug 1997 16:50:54 -0700
And for a nifty trick I learned from reading Scandinavian recipes is to boil the potatoes, drain them, and then put them back on low heat. Shake the pan until almost all the moisture is gone. These make the best potatoes and they are "lighter" in texture.