The most important point to remember when boiling potatoes is that using an appropriate potato variety will make all the difference. See Best Potatoes for Boiling to see which varieties are best suited to boiling.
Steps for boiling potatoes
After potatoes are peeled, cut large potatoes in half or into quarters. If the potato pieces are still fairly large, cut in half again. The smaller the pieces, the faster they will get done. Try to cut the pieces so they are consistent in size so that they will cook evenly. (see Notes 1 & 2)
Put potatoes into a saucepan and completely cover with cold water. Add salt to water before starting to cook. (see Notes 3 & 4)
Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15 to 30 minutes until tender. Check at 5 minute intervals because cooking time will vary depending on type, size and quantity of potatoes being cooked.
Potatoes are done when you can slide the tip of a knife all the way through without resistance. Overcooking will cause potatoes to fall apart and under-cooking will result in hard centres. When done, drain potatoes.(see Notes 5 & 6)
We recommend that you leave the skin on when boiling potatoes. This keeps the flavour and nutrients inside during the cooking process. The skins add a bit of flavour and texture to the finished product, but if you really can’t stand eating potato skins, just peel them after cooking. Make sure to let them cool down first.
Regardless of what you’ve chosen to do with the peel, your potatoes will cook more quickly if you cut them up into chunks. They don’t have to be super small, especially if you are going to be mashing them, but know that the smaller you cut the potatoes, the faster they will cook. Of course, if you do decide to peel them after boiling, it’s best to keep the pieces fairly large.
Potatoes suck up a lot of flavour, so salt the water before cooking for the best flavour. You also don’t have to stick to plain salted water for boiling your potatoes. Add herbs, spices and other seasonings to the pot to enhance the taste of your final product. Some cooks boil their potatoes in vegetable or chicken stock, while others add butter, cloves of garlic or pieces of onion or celery. Some favourites are black pepper, Cajun spices, parsley and rosemary. Have a quick look at our Spice Mixes and Blends for more ideas.
Place the potatoes in the cooking liquid before bringing it to a boil — not the other way around. This allows the potatoes and the liquid to heat at the same time for even cooking. It’s also important to make sure the cooking liquid completely covers the potatoes and that you keep an eye on the pot during the cooking process, adding liquid if it gets too low. Keep the boil to a gentle simmer.
Don’t overcook your potatoes or you’ll end up with a soggy mess of a texture and not much flavour. The potatoes are done when you can slide the tip of a knife all the way through without resistance. When boiling whole potatoes, such as small red potatoes, you may want to drain them when they are slightly under-cooked since they will continue to cook after being removed from the heat. This way, by the time they make it to the table, they’ll be perfect.
It’s important to drain the potatoes immediately after cooking. Don’t let them sit in the liquid while you finish preparing the rest of the meal. Potatoes retain their heat quite well, so putting them back in the pot after draining and putting a lid on them will keep them warm until you’re ready to serve.