We’ve got your potato covered. Here’s how to have them fall apart in the cooking liquid only when they’re meant to.
Cooking potatoes doesn’t always have to be a bust. If you know how to select, prep, and cook potatoes so they keep their shape, every single one of your homemade dishes will always have the right mouth feel.
So let’s talk about the three secrets of potatoes that dissolve in the cooking water or turn to mush only when they not meant to. We will also give tips on how the tubers keep their shape during boiling and frying.
Secret #1: Choose the Right Variety
The first secret to potatoes that hold on to their shape when cooked starts with the variety that’s planted on the farm (and, by extension, continues with the choices you make at the grocery store).
As a general rule of thumb, waxy potatoes stay intact—whereas starchy potatoes fall apart during cooking. This makes waxy varieties of potatoes particularly suitable for soups, braises, and stews; and starchy varieties better-suited for fries, hash browns, latkes, bakes, roasts, mashed potatoes, and such.
Secret #2: Cut the Spuds Into Appropriately-Sized Pieces
The second secret to potatoes that hold on to their shape when cooked is in the way you prepare the spuds for cooking.
Coarsely chopped potatoes have an easier time holding on to their shape than cubed and diced potatoes do. The latter are quick to disintegrate and dissolve in the cooking water, especially if you boil or simmer them for prolonged periods of time.
If you want your potatoes to not fall apart in a braise or stew, chop them coarsely. In the cases when you want them to cook quickly or fall apart and melt in the cooking water, cut them up into small cubes or finer dices.
Secret #3: Pre-Boil the Potatoes or Fry Them in a Preheated Pan
The third, and final, secret to potatoes that hold on to their shape is in how you cook the potatoes.
For boiled potatoes:
To get your potatoes to keep their shape when boiled, peel them and pre-boil them at a temperature of 140°F (60°C) for 30 minutes. This will make them firm and they will stay that way, even if you stew them for a long time.
It is crucial that this temperature is not exceeded, nor significantly undercut. For this technique to work, the water must be almost exactly 140°F (60°C) at any point during the pre-boil. So use a digital instant-read thermometer; the kind you’d take the internal temperature of a steak will do.
Crank up the heat at the thirtieth minute. Season with salt, add a dash of vinegar, and throw in the remaining ingredients to start cooking your dish as per usual. The addition of salt and vinegar is another trick that’s been proven to help keep the tubers firm.
For fried potatoes:
Fry your potatoes in a preheated pan in an abundance of oil over medium-high heat lest you want them to stick unsalvageably to the cooking surface. Opt for an oil that’s suitable for high heat such as avocado oil (nutty), rice bran oil (caramelly), or canola oil (flavor-neutral).
Ceramic and non-stick pans are made of aluminum, a highly conductive metal, and therefore heat up in 20-30 seconds. Cast iron, carbon steel, and stainless steel skillets take at least 2-3 minutes to come up to heat. (In the HCW test kitchen, we preheat our pans for up to 5 minutes.)