First off, make sure all your potatoes are the same size. You can leave the potatoes whole or cut them into pieces, peeled or unpeeled, but just make sure they're all roughly the same size so that they will cook evenly. Remember: the smaller the pieces, the quicker the potatoes will cook.
Second, start with cold water. Put your potatoes in a pan and cover them with cold water until the potatoes are just submerged. Then turn on the heat and bring the water to a boil. Starting with cold water also ensures that the potatoes will cook evenly - otherwise you end up over-cooking the outer portions while the middles are still raw.
Third, use only enough water to cover the potatoes by an inch or so. This is more about saving energy than anything else. Unlike rice or pasta, potatoes don't need a lot of water to cook properly, therefore using less water means it will come to a boil faster and cook your potatoes more quickly. If the water begins to boil off, just add more boiling water.
And fourth, leave the pan uncovered. If you cover the pan, this actually creates a super-heated environment that changes how the potatoes cook. (This is similar to why we leave blanching vegetables uncovered.)
After five minutes, begin checking your potatoes for doneness by poking them with a fork or skewer. Your potatoes are done when you encounter no resistance all the way through the center.
Also, remember that waxy potatoes are the best for boiling and all-purpose potatoes make a decent stand-in. If you only have starchy potatoes, take care not to over work them while mashing.
Any other tips for boiling potatoes?
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Republished article originally posted October 1, 2008.
(Image: Emma Christensen for the Kitchn)