Boiling potatoes is a basic but essential cooking technique that even the most celebrated chefs like Ina Garten rely on. When done properly, boiling yields potatoes with a fluffy, tender interior ideal for serving on their own, using in potato salads or incorporating into soups and stews. But if you don’t follow the right steps, your spuds can turn out undercooked, mushy or waterlogged. Thankfully, Ina has shared plenty of tips through her cookbooks and TV shows for how to perfectly boil potatoes every time. Here’s an overview of Ina’s guidance on how to boil potatoes, from what type of potato to use, her special equipment hacks, tips for preventing them from overcooking, and how to know when they’re done.
How to Select Potatoes for Boiling
Ina recommends selecting russet or Yukon gold potatoes for boiling, as these varieties have a starchy, fluffy texture when cooked. Waxy potatoes like red potatoes don’t boil down as well and are better suited for roasting, sautéing or using in salads. For the most even cooking, choose potatoes that are similar in size. Ina also advises against boiling extremely large potatoes, which take much longer to cook through to the middle than smaller ones.
Ina’s Special Equipment for Boiling Potatoes
A large pot with a lid is a basic necessity for boiling potatoes, but Ina also utilizes a few special gadgets to streamline the process. A stainless steel steaming basket or collapsible steamer basket inserted in the pot keeps the potatoes from coming into direct contact with the boiling water, preventing them from absorbing too much liquid and becoming waterlogged. The steamer also makes the potatoes easier to remove from the pot once cooked. Ina is also a fan of using an aquarium thermometer to monitor the temperature of the water and ensure it stays between 210 and 215°F as the potatoes cook.
Preparing the Potatoes and Water
Once you’ve selected the right potatoes, preparation is simple. Ina advises peeling the potatoes first if the skins are blemished or you simply prefer them peeled. Rinse the potatoes under cold water to remove any excess starch or dirt on the exterior. If leaving the skins on, scrub them well with a vegetable brush instead of peeling. Cut the potatoes into uniform, same-sized pieces about 2 inches wide so they will cook at the same rate. Place the potato pieces in the steaming basket, collapsible steamer or directly in the pot.
Fill the pot with 1 to 2 inches of cold water, making sure not to exceed the level of the potato pieces. Season the water generously with salt, which Ina notes helps intensify the potato flavor. Bring the water to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat as needed to maintain a gentle simmer between 210 and 215°F.
Avoiding Overcooked Potatoes
If boiling potatoes intimidates you, it may be because you’ve ended up with mushy, waterlogged spuds in the past. Ina’s tips help prevent this. Monitoring the water temperature and keeping it at a gentle simmer prevents the potatoes from jostling around too much and breaking down. Avoid boiling the potatoes at too high a temperature, which can lead to overcooking on the exterior before the middle is done. Ina also says to avoid stacking potato pieces as this inhibits even cooking.
Testing Potatoes for Doneness
The cooking time can vary based on the size and variety of potatoes, but Ina notes that for cubed russet or Yukon gold potatoes, allow 15-20 minutes once the water reaches a boil. Begin testing around 15 minutes. The potatoes should be easily pierced with a paring knife or fork but still hold their shape without falling apart. When in doubt, Ina recommends slightly undercooking the potatoes since you can always return them to the simmering water for a minute or two longer if needed. But overcooked, mushy potatoes can’t be salvaged.
Draining and Serving Boiled Potatoes
Once the potatoes reach the desired tenderness, immediately drain them in a colander, allowing the excess water to evaporate for a minute or two. Ina likes to return the drained potatoes to the dry pot and place it over low heat for 30 seconds to 1 minute to further dry them out. Gently toss or stir them to release excess moisture without breaking them up too much. Season with salt and pepper or any other desired herbs or spices. The potatoes can be served immediately while hot, or use them in potato salads, soups and other recipes as needed.
Potato Boiling Tips and Tricks
Now that we’ve covered the basic overview of Ina’s method, here are some additional tips and tricks she’s shared over the years for achieving potatoe boiling perfection:
– Cut potatoes into even-sized pieces so they cook at the same rate. Ina typically cuts potatoes into 2 inch cubes.
– Avoid boiling giant potatoes, which take much longer to cook through than smaller spuds. Stick to medium potatoes around 6-8 ounces each.
Leave the Skins On for Nutrition and Flavor
– Leaving the skins on preserves nutrients and fiber found under the peel.
– The skins add texture and enhance the earthy potato flavor. Just scrub them well before cooking.
Temperature Control is Key
– Use an aquarium thermometer to monitor water temperature and keep it between 210-215°F.
– Maintain a gentle simmer – boiling too vigorously can cause potatoes to break down.
– Don’t let the water temperature exceed 215°F, which leads to overcooking.
Allow Plenty of Room
– Avoid stacking or overcrowding potato pieces in the pot, which prevents even cooking.
– Use a large pot and add plenty of water so potatoes have space to move around.
– Place a steamer basket or rack at the bottom of the pot to elevate potatoes and prevent direct contact with the boiling water.
– Limit the amount of water to 1-2 inches depth in the pot. Too much water overhydrates potatoes.
– Drain potatoes immediately after cooking and let excess steam evaporate before serving.
Check for Doneness Frequently
– There’s a fine line between perfectly tender and overcooked mushy potatoes. Start checking for doneness at around 15 minutes.
– Potatoes are done when a fork or knife easily pierces through but the pieces still hold their shape.
– Remove from heat immediately once they reach desired tenderness.
Shock with Cold Water to Stop Cooking
– For use in potato salads or recipes where the potatoes will be cooked further, plunge them into an ice bath after draining to stop the cooking process.
Reheating Trick for Mash or Roasts
– For mashed potatoes or roasts using boiled potatoes, Ina microwaves the potatoes still in their skins, then scoops out the hot flesh as needed.
Frequently Asked Questions
Still have questions about how Ina Garten tackles potato boiling? Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:
What is the Ratio of Potatoes to Water?
Ina uses a ratio of about 1 pound of potato pieces to 4 cups of water. The potatoes should be fully submerged in 1-2 inches of water. Too much water can lead to overly moist potatoes.
Does the Type of Pot Matter?
A heavy bottomed stainless steel pot with a tight fitting lid works best, but an enamel coated cast iron Dutch oven would also work well to maintain even heat distribution.
Should You Add Anything to the Water?
Adding a generous amount of salt (about 1 tablespoon per 4 cups water) enhances the potato flavor, but avoid any vinegar or lemon juice which can cause the exterior of the potatoes to break down.
Can You Boil Potatoes in Advance?
Yes, Ina says boiled potatoes can be prepared 1-2 days in advance and stored in their cooking liquid in the refrigerator until ready to use. Reheat gently in the liquid before using.
How Can You Speed Up Cooking Time?
Cutting potatoes into smaller, evenly sized pieces allows them to cook faster. Ina also recommends covering the pot with a tight fitting lid to allow the potatoes to cook through in less time.
What Causes Black Spots on Boiled Potatoes?
Black or blue-gray spots are caused by oxidation and exposure to air. To prevent this, cook potatoes with skins intact and limit exposing the cooked flesh to air. Acidic ingredients like lemon juice or vinegar also accelerate discoloration.
Putting Ina’s Tips to Use in Recipes
Now that you know how Ina prepares perfect boiled potatoes every time, let’s look at some of her favorite ways to use them:
Warm Vinaigrette Potato Salad
Rather than drowning the potatoes in mayonnaise, Ina makes this tangy, herb-infused potato salad with a bright vinaigrette dressing. After boiling and shocking the potatoes, she tosses them with the vinaigrette while still warm so they soak up the flavors.
Leek and Potato Soup
Ina uses boiled, cubed potatoes as the base for this creamy, satisfying leek and potato soup. She simmers them in chicken broth with sauteed leeks, then purees the soup until smooth. A swirl of heavy cream finishes it off.
Pot Roast with Root Vegetables
Fork-tender boiled potatoes add starch and soak up the delicious pan juices of Ina’s comforting pot roast. She surrounds the boneless chuck roast with halved potatoes and other roasted root veggies for a rustic one-pot meal.
Crispy Smashed Potatoes
For a fun spin on basic boiled potatoes, Ina smashes the cooked spuds with a spatula to flatten them into crispy potato cakes. After boiling, she lets the potatoes steam dry for a few minutes before smashing so the exterior gets perfectly crispy when pan-fried.
Twice Baked Potatoes
To give baked potatoes an ultra-fluffy makeover, Ina boils them whole, then scoops out the insides and mixes them with sour cream, cheddar and scallions before stuffing the mixture back into the skins and baking until golden.
From her go-to potato varieties and special equipment to her tips for preventing overcooking, Ina Garten has mastered the art of boiling perfect potatoes every time. Follow her guidance on monitoring temperature, gently simmering, and properly draining and drying the potatoes, and you’ll have fluffy, tender spuds ready to be served on their own or incorporated into salads, soups and entrées. With Ina’s simple but essential techniques, you can feel confident your boiled potatoes will impress at any meal.