boiled baby potatoes with butter and dill

How to Cook Potatoes for Beginners

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Learning how to cook potatoes is a great start to becoming a great cook. Potatoes are inexpensive and versatile. And learning to cook them well is a great beginning cooking skill to have.

Mashed potatoes in a bowl with butter melting on top

The first thing to know about how to cook potatoes is that there are several kinds of potatoes. There are russets, that are white inside and fluffy. There are golden, that are a little waxier, and have a yellow flesh inside, and there are very waxy potatoes like red potatoes and fingerlings. They are all delicious but cook up a little differently.

Preparing potatoes

The first step to preparing to cook potatoes is to wash them well. Potatoes are grown in the ground, so they will have a little residual dirt on them, but more importantly, you want to remove as much residual pesticides or fungicides as you can.

Buy organic potatoes if you can. But if you can’t, conventional potatoes are sprayed with formaldehyde before they are sent to the store to prevent them from spoiling and you don’t want to be eating that. So scrub, scrub, scrub!

This is in addition to the pesticides, herbicides, and other fungicides that may have been used during growing. You really do want to wash your potatoes well.

If you are going to bake potatoes, you don’t peel them, but if you are doing something else with them, you may or may not want to. If I use russet potatoes in mashed potatoes, I will peel them because I don’t like the thick skins in my mash.

If I am using Yukon gold potatoes for mashed potatoes, I don’t peel them. I love the thin skins in my mash. And there is a lot of nutrition near the skin, so I like to leave it on any time I can. Which is lucky because I freaking HATE peeling potatoes.

Generally, you don’t make mashed potatoes with fingerlings or red potatoes because they are waxy and don’t fluff up. When I make boiled potatoes with little new red potatoes, I will peel part of the potato but not all, like a line around the middle.

If I need to cut them because they are bigger, I don’t peel at all. And the fingerlings, I cut into chunks before making boiled potatoes and I don’t peel them at all. I like a little skin on my boiled potatoes because it makes a little snap when I bite into it. I’m a texture eater for sure.

If I’m making potato soup or potato salad, I peel russets, but not the others for the same reason, the skins are tough. If I am roasting potatoes, I leave the skins on. And lastly, if I am cooking smothered potatoes (like scalloped) or fried potatoes, I leave the skins on any kind of potato I use. You slice them thinly and the skins are fine. But again, it’s up to your personal taste on all of them.

How to make fluffy mashed potatoes

The first tip in making fluffy mashed potatoes is the kind of potato you use. Russets fluff up the most, so if fluff is your main goal, choose those. Russets are the brown ones that you usually see at the store.

The second tip is to cook them until they fall apart when you poke them with a fork. You don’t want them to disintegrate in the water, and you don’t want them to be hard in the middle.

The third tip is to mash them well. Some people mash them with a handheld mixer and that works great. Don’t mash them too much or they turn to wallpaper paste. But don’t under mash them or they will be lumpy. You can do it with a potato masher, but it will take some doing, so don’t give up. I mash mine by hand because I can get a feel for the potato to moisture ratio and the mashedness.

And lastly, the more fat you use, the fluffier and creamier they will get. Be generous with your butter. And use whole milk or cream, not skim.

You’ll need 1 potato per person if they are of average size. And then add one extra for the pot. So if you are making mashed potatoes for 4 people, cook 5. Peel them if desired, cut them into cubes about the size of dice. The smaller you cut them the faster they cook. Make sure you try to cut them all the same size.

Put them in a pot of water so they are covered by at least an inch more water above the potatoes. Season the water with a tablespoon of salt and turn the stove on high. Watch to make sure they don’t boil over, if they start to, turn your burner down just a bit.

Once they are done, add a teaspoon to a tablespoon of butter for each potato you started with and a splash of milk. Add your milk slowly so you don’t get too much and make them runny. But add enough that they are creamy and not dry. You’ll see by mashing and tasting. They’ll tell you if they need more. Cooking has a lot to do with instincts so try to pay close attention.

How long does it take for potatoes to boil

It could take anywhere from 12 minutes to 20 for your potatoes to cook to that fork-tender stage. It depends on how big you cut them. Start poking at 12 minutes (that they have been boiling, don’t count the time it took for them to get to a boil).

If you poke them and they fall right off the fork, they are done. You can also taste one and if it’s soft all the way through they are done.

How to boil potatoes in instant pot

Add two cups of water to the inner pot of your instant pot. Add the trivet and put the potatoes whole on top of the trivet.

For boiled potatoes or potato salad, set the instant pot to manual high pressure for 8 minutes for medium-sized potatoes, or 10 minutes for larger potatoes. Let the pressure release naturally.

For mashed potatoes, set the instant pot to manual high pressure for 10 minutes for medium-sized potatoes or 12 minutes for larger potatoes.

How to make creamy boiled new potatoes

If you are making boiled new potatoes, you can use the instant pot and the instructions above but make the cooking time 7 minutes.

If you are making them on the stove, cover them in water and boil until you can stick a fork all the way to the middle and they break apart. Once they are done, drain them and sprinkle them with a little salt and pepper and add a pat of butter to the pan and stir. I love to add a teaspoon of dill or half teaspoon of thyme to mine as well.

Potato soup

To make potato soup, you start the same way as mashed potatoes. Dice the potatoes up and boil them in salted water or even beef or chicken stock for more flavor. At this stage, add some onions and celery to the water, or whatever you like in your potato soup. Cook the potatoes until they are tender, and then instead of draining them, add more flavor to it. It’s usually finished off with some cream.

Some people like to blend up the potatoes more for potato soup, some people don’t. I’m in the camp of leaving them whole. You do cook them a bit longer than for mashed, because you want them really soft, but too much longer.

Many potato soups have cheese, cream, milk, whatever you like. My favorite one is zuppa toscana. You start it by cooking some sausage, adding a chopped onion until it’s soft, then adding the liquid and potatoes and cooking them in that yummy flavor of the sausage. You add all kinds of yummy stuff like kale and bacon, click on the link and check it out. It will be your favorite way to cook potatoes too.

crispy brown roasted potatoes in a bowl

How to make crispy roasted potatoes

Roasting potatoes is a way to make them crispy like french fries right at home. Just dice them up or cut them into sticks like fries. Next, sprinkle them generously with coconut oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. I like dill on mine too, but you don’t have to use it.

Roast them at high heat. If you have a convection oven or air fryer, they will get even crispier, but a regular oven will make delicious little potatoes with crispy corners. Bake at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes or until they are fork-tender and well browned. Roasting vegetables brings out the most flavor in them.

How to make potato salad

Potato salad starts like mashed potatoes. But cook them for about 2 minutes less time. They will be fork tender, but not quite flake apart. Drain them, and put them in a bowl. Add about 1/2 cup of miracle whip, a big squirt of mustard, about half an onion diced (you can cook that with the potatoes if you don’t like raw onions), 3 pickles diced, and 1/4 cup of pickle juice from the jar.

Mix it well. I like chunks of potato in my potato salad, but if you like it smooth, mash them or run the mixer through them. Taste it and see if it’s the way you like it and add more of whatever it needs. Remember, as it chills in the fridge it will develop more flavor.

You can use mayonnaise if you like that flavor better. You can also add 6 boiled eggs to the mixture and dice them up. I would not skip the mustard or pickles and juice. Those are what make me famous for my potato salad. If the potato salad is too dry, add more juice and miracle whip.

How to make smothered potatoes

Smothered potatoes or scalloped potatoes aren’t hard to make at all. Just butter a casserole dish, slice up potatoes about 1/4 inch thick, and arrange in the pan. I like sliced onions mixed in with my potatoes. Then mix up the “sauce” ingredients and pour them on. Bake it covered in aluminum foil and then take it off at the end to brown them up.

Many people put ham in their scalloped potatoes and that’s fine by me. What dish isn’t made better with some ham? In the south, we usually use milk instead of chicken stock in our smothered potatoes like they do in other places. This makes them scalloped potatoes. And if you add cheese to your scalloped potatoes, it’s called potatoes au gratin. Check out this recipe for potatoes au gratin for inspiration.

scalloped smothered potatoes in a casserole dish

How to make fried potatoes and onions

Speaking of southern cooking, let’s talk about fried potatoes. To make them, you start the same way as for the smothered potato casseroles, by slicing potatoes into slices. Do some onions too. I would do 2 large potatoes and 1 onion. Fried potatoes need some room to brown, so we don’t want to put too many in there.

You can soak the potatoes in saltwater if you’re going to cook them later, this works for all kinds of potatoes you want to cook later. For fried potatoes, drain the water off and pat them completely dry. Potatoes need to be dry to brown.

In a skillet, heat up some coconut oil, about 2 tablespoons. Let it get really hot on medium heat. Don’t let it smoke, but let it get good and hot and you’ll be able to see the oil moving around a bit. Then put your potatoes in the skillet. Try to have most of them touching the pan and let them cook for several minutes until they start to brown.

Add the onion that you sliced up and start to stir them around a bit. Sprinkle some salt and pepper on them, however much you like. Continue to cook and stir. Once you add the onions, you have to make sure you keep stirring because the sugars in the onions will burn. Once the potatoes are tender, they are done. They will break up a bit during cooking.

One of my kid’s favorite dishes is Sausage and Potato Empanadas, the recipe is here.

Cooking potatoes in air fryer

Like I mentioned previously, you can air fry your roasted potatoes, but you can also bake a potato in an air fryer. Just wash them well and put a little olive oil on your hands. Rub it all over the outside of the potato and then sprinkle it with a little salt.

Set the air fryer to 375 and cook the potato for around 40 minutes. To check if it’s done, stick a fork in and make sure it will go to the center of the potato easily. The outside will be crispy and the inside will be fluffy and you’ll never want to eat another baked potato that wasn’t air fried! Cut it open, salt and butter it, and enjoy!

Check out these other air fried vegetable recipes.

How long do cooked potatoes last in the fridge

Storing raw potatoes in the refrigerator is discouraged because it causes unwanted chemicals to build up in the potato. Store them in a cool, dry place that is also dark.

Cooked potatoes can be stored in the fridge for up to 4 days. You can freeze them for up to a year, but cooked potatoes lose a lot of quality with freezing. I don’t recommend freezing dishes that contain them. They come out kind of grainy.

Spoiled cooked potatoes may have a strong odor or mold. But you may not be able to see spoilage. They hold a lot of moisture, so are at risk of spoiling if you keep them too long. So eat them within 4 days and heat them up well to kill bacteria before eating them.

Once you have mastered a few of these ways to cook potatoes, you’re going to have a lot more techniques in your repertoire of cooking. For more basic cooking skills check this out. And for basic measurement conversions with a free printable pdf, check this out.

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