How To Avoid Mushy Potatoes In Stew (Don’t Overcook!)


Stews are fantastic meals to warm you up on cold nights, but when your root vegetables like carrots and potatoes are overcooked, the texture is unappealing. Few people like to eat a stew where the potatoes have gone far past soft and become mushy instead. I’ve discovered some tricks to ensuring my potatoes don’t go mushy in my stews and ensuring everyone comes back for more!

To avoid mushy potatoes in your stew, use potatoes designed for boiling rather than mashing or roasting. Waxy potatoes hold their shape better when boiled; low-starch potato varieties won’t soften as much. Do not overcook potatoes; instead, add them 20-30 minutes before the end of the cooking time.

The easiest way to avoid ending up with soft, overcooked potatoes is to add them later in the cooking process, usually around twenty minutes before the end of the total cooking time. Of course, you’ll want to ensure they are fully cooked as we also don’t want raw potatoes in our stews.

Another question I often see is, is peeling potatoes really necessary? I answered that question in its own post which is worth a read.

Overall, different types of potatoes will work better in liquid cooking like stews or boiling – I’ll guide you through the best way to cook potatoes in a stew.

Do I Need To Boil Potatoes Before Adding To Stew?

Only pre-boil your potatoes if you plan to add them to the dish at the last moment, otherwise just add them 20-30 minutes before the end of cooking to cook through until tender.

Stews are generally cooked for more prolonged periods over lower heat so that the flavors can develop and the meat softens. This long cooking time can result in certain veggies ending up inedible mush – carrots and potatoes are particularly notorious for this. Instead of holding their shape and being tender to bite, they end up soft like you’re eating baby food.

However, there is also the opposite problem – while no one wants to eat mushy potatoes in a stew, they also don’t want to bite down on raw potatoes. To avoid this, sometimes people precook their potatoes.

Precooking isn’t always a bad idea, depending on your intentions. But if you’re pre-boiling your potatoes, then adding them to your stew and leaving them for several hours will end up with very soft and disintegrated potatoes. If you’re unsure, then check out my whole article on cooking stews and soups with potatoes.

However, if you’re concerned about the texture of your potatoes, you can boil them to the exact tenderness you desire then add them to your stew at the end of the cooking time. If your dish is very acidic, this can stop your potatoes from softening properly when cooked in the dish, so cooking them separately and adding them at the end is a good workaround.

Best Potatoes To Use For Stew

Some varieties of waxy potatoes to use for stews are:

  • Red potatoes
  • Fingerling 
  • New potatoes
  • Jersey Royals

You can avoid much of your potato-related cooking woes by choosing the right potato for the job. Different potato varieties have different starch levels, and some are floury while others are waxy.

For dishes where the potatoes will be cooked in liquid or boiled, you want to use waxy potatoes as these have less starch and hold their shape better as they cook, rather than falling apart.

Waxy potatoes are the types that aren’t used for mashing – think potato salad, boiled potatoes, etc. Your cooked potatoes will still have bite when cooked and not be mushy.

Avoid using general-purpose potatoes like Russets or Idahos, as they are low-moisture but high in starch. This gives them a floury texture when boiled. In stews and soups, they will soak up the stock and fall apart.

Using the right potato will make a massive difference to your results. When using new or small red potatoes, you can even leave the skin on, which is great for a lazy cook like me!

Smaller, waxy potatoes are best for stew

How Long Does It Take For Potatoes To Cook In Stew?

Potatoes in stew will usually cook through within 30 minutes. The size of the potato, the method of cooking, and the temperature will affect this. Smaller potatoes or potatoes cut into pieces will cook faster than large whole potatoes.

Because stews often use meats that need to be cooked for a long time to make them melt-in-the-mouth tender, stews can have very long cooking times – usually several hours. A potato will cook much faster than this. Even a baked potato – which generally has a longer cooking time than boiled – will only take about 45 minutes to cook.

To decrease cooking time and ensure your potatoes are cooked all the way through, it’s a good idea to cut them into even-sized chunks. This way, your potatoes should not take longer than about twenty to thirty minutes to be fully cooked.

Add your cut potato (and root veggies) to your stew 20 minutes before the end of the cooking time. The stew will be done once your potatoes are fork-tender.

You may need to cook your stew for up to 40 minutes, depending on the other ingredients in the stew and the type and size of potatoes you are using. You might need longer if your stew is particularly acidic and heavy on the tomatoes.

Another thing to keep in mind with stews is that they often need a resting time for the flavor to develop, which is one of the reasons stews often taste better reheated the next day.

Why Do My Potatoes Take Longer To Cook In A Stew?

Sometimes you may find instead of your potatoes turning mushy in your stew, they don’t seem to soften at all. If this happens to your stews, these might be some of the reasons why:

The high acid content in your stew

If a dish is high in acid, usually from an ingredient like tomatoes or wine, potatoes often won’t soften. If you know that you are making a stew with high acidity, one solution is to boil the potatoes separately and add them towards the end.

The potatoes are too big

It might seem obvious, but smaller pieces of potato will cook faster. If you’re worried about potatoes taking too long to cook in your stew, cut them into small, even sizes before adding. Smaller pieces will also help you avoid potatoes that are going mushy on the outside but still hard in the middle. Potatoes are only hard when undercooked not overcooked.

The heat is too low

If your stew was on a very low simmer, it might be that your potatoes simply never got hot enough to cook through. You just need to give the dish a bit longer to simmer, or you can boil the potatoes before adding them at the end.

Too little salt

Salt is a helpful ingredient in cooking potatoes in liquid, not only for the seasoning. It helps it boil at a higher temperature and makes it heat faster. Even when simply boiling potatoes in water, you will get the best results by adding salt to your water.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you now know how to avoid mushy potatoes in stew. To get the best out of your stews, make sure to use waxy potatoes that will hold their shape better in a liquid-based dish.

You can avoid mushy potatoes in your stew by avoiding overcooking your potatoes, only adding them towards the end of the cooking time. If your stew is high in acids or cooked at a very low temperature, you might prefer to parboil your potatoes before adding them to the stew later.

Tom

Hey, I'm Tom. I set up Boss The Kitchen to start answering the thousands of questions people have while cooking. For me, the kitchen is my happy place and I hope to help other people with the knowledge I've gained along the way.

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