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I had a recipe for roast potatoes that states to parboil for 5 minutes before putting in the roasting tin.

Unfortunately I don't have the recipe still with me for reference but this is a general question for when instructed to parboil for a short time.

Generally speaking, when does the 5 minutes actually start? If I bring the water to boiling point, then put in the potatoes, they cool the water, and it can take nearly the 5 minutes just to get back to boiling point. So should I start timing as soon as the spuds go in the pot, or should I wait until it's boiling again, and then another 5 minutes?

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  • It’s difficult to make suggestions without the full recipe. If a small dice, I wouldn’t return it to a boil before starting the timer. If it was for whole potatoes, I might wait. But I’d also want to know how much longer they cook for
    – Joe
    Nov 28, 2022 at 3:30
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    Start the potatoes in cold water, bring the water to a boil, then boil 5 minutes. bobsredmill.com/blog/uncategorized/parboil-potatoes Nov 28, 2022 at 15:46
  • Adding the potatoes doesn't drop the temperature as much as you might think. The water could still be very close to 100 degrees, but whatever heat might have gone into converting liquid water to steam is now going into raising the temperature of the potatoes.
    – chepner
    Nov 29, 2022 at 21:03
  • Hmm . . . . why did you "bring the water to boiling point, then put in the potatoes"? This seems really odd to me, and also slightly dangerous. Just put them in cold water in the pot, bring it to the boil, and time it from when the water begins to boil.
    – Billy Kerr
    Dec 4, 2022 at 16:26

3 Answers 3

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A good recipe should have guidance on the desired end state you are aiming for, and experience with cooking will help you know what to aim for too.

In the case of roast potatoes, the aim at the parboiling stage is to get to a point where a knife can easily go partly into the potato, so that they are partially cooked and to help the outsides get roughed up in the fat before roasting. This will take different amounts of time depending on the potato size (and probably also their variety). Prod them with a knife to see if they are ready rather than relying on a timer.

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I completely agree with @dbmag9, it's about the result not the time. The time is a guideline, the actual value will vary with potato variety and piece size. Larger chunks will need longer boiling.

That being said using a timer is important as it gives an idea of when you need to start testing the potatoes, and for that the timer starts when the water boils with the potatoes in it.

There are many opinions as to how cooked you want your potatoes before you drain them, and that changes how long until you check them. Some go for just getting the outside softened, in which case you would want to start testing after 3-4 minutes of boiling. I prefer to let them get a bit softer to where a fork starts to go in easier, so I wouldn't look before 5 minutes have elapsed. I know one person who cooks them until they start to break up, then uses his hands to reshape them before roasting - madness I know but it does give a very soft inside.

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  • I disagree that (in this instance) one shouldn't test the potatoes until the water has reboiled and five minutes have passed – in some cases they may well be far past parboiled at that point. I would probably expect them done at some stage between 'five minutes in the water' and that point, depending on all the other factors.
    – dbmag9
    Nov 28, 2022 at 11:49
  • I would personally never parboil for less than 5 minutes @dbmag9, however that's not what I meant. I will edit for clarity.
    – GdD
    Nov 28, 2022 at 12:02
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It depends on the amount of water and the efficiency of the stove. If you dump many fridge cold potatoes in a boiling pot, it will come closer to the temperature of the potatoes, maybe to the point where they are almost not cooking, there you would need more time than if you dump fewer room temperature in a larger amount of water. The 5 minutes depend on how efficient your stove is heating the water, so might be close to boiling, but slowly reaching it.

Check texture rather than timing, since it also might differ depending on the size of the potatoes.

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