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Why don't you cut up potatoes before boiling?


I have a bit of a silly question, but I was wondering if anyone knew the real reason why they recommend keeping potatoes whole when you boil them. For instance, when you're making mashed potatoes. I always thought it was because it makes the potatoes watery, but is it more a taste issue?


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  1. Who are these "they" who are doing the recommending?

    1 Reply
    1. re: Non Cognomina

      haha. Right. I guess 'they' are the hosts of the various cooking shows I've seen.

    2. I guess cause its easier for the potatos to disentegrate into the water and then retain water. Or maybe it has something to do with starch.

      either way, I cut up my potatos in equal sized pieces, throw them in cold water, and then bring the water to a boil. It works fine

      1. Nutrients and flavour leach out of the spuds when they're boiled. It's worse when they're peeled before boiling and worse still when they're cut up, since more surface area is exposed to the water. It also tends to make the potatoes more water-logged.

        1. I always peel and cut up potatoes prior to boiling for mashed. I was surprised to see my father's wife leave them whole for mashed. OTOH I always leave them whole and unpeeled for pot. salad. I never use anything but russetts

          1 Reply
          1. re: Candy

            Leaving the peel on makes for more flavorful potatoes.

          2. I nuke the potatoes, then peel and mash. Nice and dry and fluffy.

            1. Seems to me like they'd take forever to get done if they're boiled whole.

              1. The author Jeffrey Steingarten discusses mashed potatoes at length in a chapter of one of his books; I have used his recommended techniques with great results. I will paraphrase his take:

                Boiling a whole potato leads to uneven cooking. The outside becomes overcooked, the inside undercooked. However, if you cut the potato into very small pieces a lot of the nutrients and flavor get boiled away. As a compromise, Steingarten recommends cutting potatoes into large slices ("between five-eighths and three-quarters of an inch thick") before boiling.

                It works well!

                2 Replies
                1. re: Yaqo Homo

                  Joel Robuchon, the Michelin three-star chef who built his reputation on mashed potatoes (some would say mashed butter with potatoes), uses small potatoes (rattes) and boils them whole in their jackets. Once peeled and mashed (or, rather, food-milled), he heats them in a saucepan to evaporate excess water.

                  With larger potatoes he advocates pricking them all over and baking until tender.

                  And, *pace* Steingarten, both methods preserve more flavour and produce a better texture than peeling, cutting and boiling.

                  1. re: carswell

                    The step of heating the cooked, drained potatoes in the pan they were boiled in, to evaporate excess liquid, is the key to avoiding watery mash.

                2. I find potatoes cook a lot more evenly and faster when cut first. Faster translates into less nutrient and flavor loss and evenly translates into a smoother end product.

                  Always cut your potatoes. What do three-star chefs know, anyway? ;)

                  1. Add me to the list of cut before boiling. Always do. Never really viewed mashed potatoes with butter, milk, S&P as a means of getting extra nutrients. I just like them.

                    1. I'm in the "peel, cut and boil" camp. I do cut them into large chunks and use russets for mashed potatoes.

                      Besides uneven cooking as suggested above, ending up with hot potatoes you then have to peel and reheat makes it too much of a multi-step process. (I'm reminded of the Roz Chast cartoon -- recipes for people w/ too much time on their hands with 50 steps for one dish!)

                      1. Yes, for good smooth mashed potatoes you have to peel and cut, imo. It's actually good for the potato to be on the cusp of disintegrating because that way the mashed potatoes will be smooth not lumpy without having to mess with a the ricer(as inevitably occurs with an unevenly cooked spud- and in my opinion sometimes the ricer doesn't even deal with all the tiny lumps). Using small potatoes sounds like a good idea if you have a 3-star kitchen with a sous chef who can peel the hot skin off of a zillion little taters. Though I do agree that you need to boil potatoes whole for salad and watch them like a hawk so they don't over cook.

                        1. I always cut and peel my potatoes before boining, if I am making mashed potatoes. Like a lot of the postera above, I cut them into even sized pieces. If I am using small reds, or fingerlings, I leave them whole, skin on- boil ( or steam), and mash away.
                          If I am making potato salad, I leave them whole, skin on, and boil. I then take them off the heat, drain, and douse them with vinegar. I peel them while they are still hot, and make the salad.

                          1. I make mashed potatoes from thin-skinned taters cut up & boiled but never peeled. The peels hold a lot of the nutrients & I like the added texture, flavor, color in the dish (unless I'm going for something that has to be more refined/creamy). I also often go 2/3 potato, 1/3 carrot. If you cut them roughly the same size, you can cook them together & done & ready for smash/mashing at the same time. I leave a little cooking liquid so I don't have to use as much butter & milk (as I posted on another thread, I also sometimes like to use olive oil, chicken broth and goat cheese instead of butter & milk -- especially for lactose intolerant guests, but also just because it's damn delish). I also always use tons of salt & pepper, and either garlic (cooked a little 1st in the butter or olive oil) or chives.

                            1. If you cut them up and don't pull them out early enough, they do start to disintegrate and get watery. If you get them out on time, though, they're fine. I always boil whole potatoes if I have time, but if I've waited too long to start them, I'll quarter them (skins on) and it takes less time.

                              1. What you add to the potato's after boiling is what really makes the difference. I peel and cut my potato's before boiling and then drain as much water as possible. The key for great mashed spuds is to heat your milk and/or cream and soften your butter and/or cream cheese, etc. If you add cold ingredients to hot drained potato's, you end up with a gewy mess.

                                1. Peel and cut down the middle length wise,then three slices across. Usually works with a 4-5 inch potato. Place in cold water, and then boil using a knife, insert til runs through testing the largest slice if there is one.

                                  I mash with hand masher, salt and pepper, butter and then add milk. Then I whisk in a tablespoon of mayo to fluff them up. Then usually grind more pepper and salt before serving.
                                  Something so easy that can be messed up if you don't drain them properly or they're not cooked long enough. Bleh.

                                  1. All right. After hearing all these opinions, I will just cut my potatoes into medium sized pieces first. Thanks!

                                    1. I use something similar to "the Steingarten method" - Cutting into thick slices with the peel. However, I then mash them up with the peel (using an old fashioned hand-masher).

                                      I find the "rings" of peel fall off easily when mashing, and can be picked out quite easily. They also add more flavor to the final product.

                                      After draining my slices, I put them back in the hot pan over a warm burner before mashing. This helps dry them out a bit.

                                      Cook's Illustrated suggests adding the butter before all ingredients because the oil coats the starch molecules, and prevents them from coming into too much contact with the water in the milk/cream/stock/whatever (I use greek yogurt & milk). This keeps them from getting too gluey. I do this and get great results every time.

                                      1. Boiling-- bleh. I much prefer steamed potatoes for mashed and the like.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: JudiAU

                                          I use a two step boiling/steaming process.

                                          For the perfect taste & texture, don't fully boil them. Start with a boiling pot of salty water, but lower the heat, cooking your potatoes at 160 degrees F for 25-30 minutes or so. Remove from the heat, let them rest for 30 minutes--then steam them until soft and mashable. A bit more time consuming, but for reasons I do not understand, this produces superior-tasting mashed potatoes.

                                        2. I was thinking about trying them steamed next time.
                                          But normally I use small red-skinned, unpealed and uncut - though I half some larger ones if they're in the mix. I used to use bigger taters and cut them I can tell the difference. It's slight, but I can tell the difference, at least with red taters.

                                          1. oh, and not to start another round, but I always add a peeled onion to the water I boil the potatoes in. (perhaps it compensates for loss of flavor from my peeled, cut-up taters?;-)

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: NYchowcook

                                              I have an Irish recipe for Colcannon that says to simmer green onions in the milk that you'll use to mash the potatoes. That's a real nice way to infuse a bit of extra flavor.