I like to over-prepare when I host dinner. I have a job that allows me to get practice reps in; I like to make lists; and I even schedule out the big day to make time for every dish. (You can too, with our customizable timeline.) Despite all this, I’m always open to short cuts. My favourite shortcut so far is for mashed potatoes. Cook your spuds faster by steaming them.
Mashed potatoes are hands-down my favorite side dish. While they’re easy to make and even easier to eat, they sure take a long time to cook. The boiling is time-consuming, especially for a crowd. You may not flinch at boiling a small pot of spuds for yourself, but a six- to eight-quart pot usually demands a whole space on your Thanksgiving timeline. A gallon of cold water with potatoes can take 20 to 30 minutes to boil while covered with a lid, depending on the type of heating element you have, and longer if you need more water. Once the water comes to a boil, a large pot of potatoes can take 10 to 20 additional minutes to cook through, depending on if you like to cut them or leave them whole.
Why steaming is better
Steaming gives you a major jump on the boiling process. Instead of waiting for four to six quarts of water and potatoes to come to a boil, you’re only boiling about a half-inch of water. Regardless of how many potatoes you’re cooking, you’re boiling the same amount of water. In a steaming scenario, the potatoes are stacked up on a raised platform (a steaming basket). The pot is covered with a well-fitting lid, and the small amount of water boils beneath the platform, never touching the potatoes. The pot fills with hot steam because it’s covered, and cooks everything inside evenly.
A half-inch of water only takes two or three minutes to boil in a standard pot (cast iron, or a Dutch oven like in my picture, takes about five minutes) and the potatoes begin cooking. This trims the boil time down significantly and leaves you with just the cooking portion, a mere 10 to 20 minutes. With a tight lid, you won’t have to top up the water level. The small amount of water leads to less waste, and a cup of water is far easier to walk over to the sink and dump out.
How to steam potatoes
Prepare the potatoes how you normally would, whether that’s peeling and cubing, leaving the skin on, or leaving them whole. The water level will depend on your steamer basket. The boiling water shouldn’t bubble up around the potatoes on the bottom, or else those would be boiled potatoes and cook at a different rate than the ones above. Measure the foot of the basket first, or you can eyeball it. The nubs on my basket are about three quarters of an inch, so I put about a half-inch in the pot.
Put the basket into the pot. If you see the water splash through or it’s within an eighth of an inch, remove a bit of water. Fill the basket with potatoes. You can stack the potatoes all the way up to the lid of the pot if you need to. Cover the pot so it’s secure, and not cracked open anywhere. Turn the heat on medium or high and let it rip. Once you hear the water boiling, start your timer.
Check on the potatoes after 10 minutes for cubed, and 15 minutes for medium-sized whole potatoes. Wear an oven mitt and/or be mindful that the steam will billow out when you remove the lid. Keep your face back, too. Test a potato with a knife or fork like you normally would. It should slide through to the center easily. If it’s giving you resistance, cover the pot and check again in three to five minutes.
Once your potatoes are fork-tender, turn off the heat and let them cool slightly with the lid off. Transfer the potatoes to another pot, or wherever you like to do your mashing. Use the extra half hour for whatever fell by the wayside, or the simple pleasure of checking off your to-do list.
Lead Image Credit: Credit: Pixel-Shot
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