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Nothing is better than a lovely roast potato that is golden and crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, but sometimes the potatoes do not cooperate with you to reach this goal. Some potatoes may stay hard, so how do you soften potatoes to get the meal everyone craves?
It is difficult to try and soften potatoes that have already been added to a dish, but if your potatoes haven’t been, then there are a few things you can do. You can parboil, steam, or put them in a slow cooker. If you have them in a dish already, add ½ tsp of baking soda into the dish.
Why do some potatoes not soften when you have cooked them? Are there any other tips and tricks you can use to help ensure your potatoes are always perfectly soft when you cook them? Let’s find out!
Why Do Potatoes Not Soften in Certain Dishes?
Nothing is worse than sitting down at the table for a meal that you have been cooking for an hour or two, and you bite into what looks like a perfectly cooked potato only to find that it’s still hard in the middle.
This is a predicament that many people find themselves in, and it can leave you wondering why your potatoes did not cook through. Well, the cell walls of potatoes contain something called pectin.
Pectin forms chains in the cells of the potatoes, and these chains will remain stable and will not break down if the potato is in contact with certain acids.
So, if the dish you are making contains a high acid content, such as a dish that you add wine to, the potatoes will not soften no matter how long you cook them.
Thankfully, you can use a few methods to help soften the potatoes throughout the cooking process to ensure you make the best potatoes for any meal.
How to Soften Potatoes
Softening potatoes is not a difficult task, but it can increase your cooking time and your dishes that need washing when the food is cooked. However, we can all agree that these two minor drawbacks are worth the delicious potatoes you get to eat in the end.
Some of the methods mentioned below are as simple as adding a regular household ingredient into the mix, and some are a bit more difficult, but you can decide which one suits you and your cooking style the most. So, let’s go through these methods to help you soften your potatoes.
1 – Par-Cook the Potatoes in the Microwave
A great option for you that will help you soften your potatoes, especially if you do not have a lot of time, is to partly cook your potatoes in the microwave.
This will save you some cooking time and will not cook the potatoes through entirely. So, you can still roast them or fry them to your liking after, without them overcooking or burning. To soften your potatoes in the microwave, you can follow these simple steps:
- Wash the potatoes
- Peel the potatoes (optional)
- Cut the potatoes into equal chunks and place them into a microwave-safe bowl
- Cover the potatoes with water and add in half a teaspoon of salt; mix thoroughly
- Place the bowl with the potatoes and salted water into the microwave, microwave them on high for about 10 minutes
- Carefully take the bowel out of the microwave and drain the water. Now you can cook the potatoes through roasting or frying, and you will have lovely soft potatoes to serve.
2 – Parboil Your Potatoes Before Frying or Roasting
Another method you can try is to parboil your potatoes on the stove before you roast or fry them. This is also a great time-saving method as the potatoes will cook in half the time, and you are guaranteed that you will have deliciously soft potatoes. Here is how you can parboil potatoes on the stove:
- Wash your potatoes
- Peel your potatoes (optional)
- Cut your potatoes into equal chunks
- Place the potato chunks into a pot
- Cover the potatoes in water and add in half a teaspoon of salt and mix thoroughly
- Place the pot on the stove and bring the potatoes to a simmer. Simmer them for 10 to 15 minutes or until they are tender when you prick them with a fork
- Carefully drain the potatoes and then cook them through however you desire
3 – Add Salt to Your Potatoes
Many home cooks only boil their potatoes in plain water. This is a common oversight when it comes to cooking potatoes perfectly, as the plain water will bring the starch of the potato to the potato’s surface, which will prevent the potato from cooking through.
When you boil your potatoes to help cook them faster, you need to add salt to the water. Salt will help break down the starch and the pectin chains we mentioned earlier.
Once these are broken down, the potatoes will cook better, meaning you will have softer potatoes. So, remember to always add salt to your potatoes.
4 – Steam Your Potatoes to Soften Them
If you have a steamer or know how to use a pot as a steamer, this could be a great advantage to you in the pursuit of soft potatoes. Steaming your potatoes is a great way to help soften them before you roast or fry them.
Steaming your potatoes has the same great benefits as boiling the potatoes. There is no need to use extra oil, and it will help you save time when cooking your potatoes.
However, steaming your potatoes will not dilute the flavor of the potatoes like boiling them does, which means you have a more flavorful meal.
To steam your potatoes, you will follow the same steps as if you are boiling your potatoes, but you will use less water and a steamer.
5 – Use a Slow Cooker to Boil Your Potatoes
If you have a slow cooker, you can use it to help ensure you make soft potatoes. This is an easy way to help cook your potatoes, and it is great for when you need the whole stove to cook other elements of your meal.
Then once the potatoes are tender, you can take them out and roast them, fry them, or mash them easily. To boil your potatoes in a slow cooker, you can follow these easy steps:
- Wash your potatoes and peel them if you want them peeled
- Cut your potatoes into equal chunks
- Place your potato chunks into your slow cooker and 1 ¼ cups of water and half a teaspoon of salt and mix thoroughly
- Cover to cooker with the lid and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours; alternatively, you can cook the potatoes on high for 3 to 4 hours, or until the potatoes are tender and can easily be cooked through in the oven or a pan.
6 – Cook Your Potatoes Separately from Other Food
If you are struggling to cook lovely soft potatoes when you are making a meal like a roast or a stew, this could be because the acidity of the other ingredients in the meal are affecting the breakdown of the pectin chains in the potatoes, causing them to remain hard.
If you are making an acidic dish, or you are unsure of the dish’s acidity, you should play it safe and cook your potatoes separately.
Then once the potatoes are cooked, you can then add them to your stew or meal. This will mean a few extra dishes to wash, but you will have nice and soft potatoes.
7 – Add Baking Soda to Your Dish
There are times when we have already added our potatoes into a dish like a stew, only to realize that the potatoes are not softening due to the dish’s acidity. Unfortunately, when this happens, there is no way to “save” the potatoes and make them as soft as you would have liked.
However, you can try and salvage the dish a bit by softening the potatoes a bit more, even if they won’t be completely soft. To do this, you can add some baking soda to your stew or dish.
Adding about ¼ or ½ of a teaspoon of baking soda into your dish can help neutralize some of the acids in the food, which will then allow the potatoes to soften a bit more.
However, the potatoes will not soften completely, so it is best to use one of the other methods above when cooking your potatoes before adding them to your meal.
Tips and Tricks to Make the Perfect Soft Potatoes
Now that you know how to make your potatoes soft, we can go through a few tips to ensure you always have perfectly soft potatoes. Call these the potato rules, if you will, as they are important to know.
Choose the Right Potato for the Job
Not many home cooks are aware of this, but there are many different types of potatoes that exist, and they are all better suited to different kinds of dishes.
This is because the amount of starch in the potato affects the texture and flavor of the potato, and the starch content will vary depending on the type of potato you buy. So, some potato types are better for mashing and others better for roasting.
When you have a meal in mind, you should research what potato would be better for that specific dish, as this will help ensure that your potatoes become soft as you are cooking the meal they are meant for.
Cut the Potato into Equal Sizes
When you are cooking potatoes and want them to come out soft, it is essential to cut your potatoes into equal pieces and maybe even cut them smaller if you are making a dish that allows for smaller potatoes.
Cutting your potatoes into equal sizes will allow all the potato pieces to cook on roughly the same timeline. This will increase your chances of all your potato pieces being cooked through and soft when you serve them.
Use a Bigger Pan
A common mistake people make when cooking their potatoes is overcrowding the pan they use to cook the potatoes. When you overcrowd the pan, this reduces the airflow around the potatoes, additionally reducing the heat that penetrates each piece of potato.
This will result in the potatoes cooking on the outside while still being hard on the inside. So, when cooking a large number of potatoes, ensure you use a large pan that is big enough to spread the potatoes around.
Alternatively, you can use a wire rack to help spread out and cook your potatoes and ensure they become soft, as this will help increase the airflow around the potatoes.
Soak Your Potatoes Before Cooking
Potatoes have a lot of starch, which can get in the way of the potatoes softening and cooking through. The starch in potatoes is made from sugars, and when you try to cook your potatoes without parboiling them first, the starch can sit on the outside of the potatoes.
This starch will then caramelize when heat is applied to the surface of the potato and could even begin to burn before the potato is cooked through, creating the illusion of cooked potato.
To help avoid this issue, you need to soak your potatoes before cooking them without parboiling. Soaking the potatoes will help eliminate some of the starch that has built up on the surface of the potatoes.
Place your potatoes in the bowel and cover them with cold water. Allow them to soak in the water for at least one hour before you cook them.
Cook Your Potatoes at a Simmer Instead of Boiling
Potatoes should be cooked at a simmer if you are parboiling them and not at a vigorous boil. This is because the outside of the potato will cook faster than the inside, so the outside may feel tender and cooked with the inside is still rock hard.
Simmering the potatoes rather than boiling them will slow down the cooking process and help the whole potato cook evenly simultaneously.
Potatoes are wonderful root vegetables that are versatile and are used as a staple to many different meals. So, it is always unfortunate when they are undercooked. If you implement the methods listed above, you are sure to never suffer through a hard potato again. Good luck softening your potatoes!