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Boiling Water 101

by Jane Wangersky | May 9th, 2014 | Cooking Basics
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file6301236135303This isn’t exactly an article on how to boil water; it’s more like how to make the best use of it without hurting yourself. Recently I realized that most recipes I read that use poached eggs describe in some detail how to put the eggs in the hot water. It’s one of those tasks that’s simple, but not easy. Since I don’t have much experience with poaching eggs, I’m not going to cover that, but I do have some tips on using boiling water for other dishes.

When putting anything into boiling water, minimize the splashing — you can’t eliminate the possibility of it, or the risk that the water may just randomly spit at you. But if you’re putting in something like pasta or frozen perogies, you can calm down the water by turning down the heat. It’ll boil again soon after you turn it up again, depending on how cold the food is that you added. (This is not a good way to poach eggs, as far as I know, however.)

If your boiling water is ready before you need it, you can put it on hold by, again, turning it down to low, then back to high when you do need it.

If you’re making tea, make sure the water is boiling. Otherwise it’s just not going to taste right.

If a recipe calls for an exact amount of boiling water, measure it first, pour it into an empty kettle or pot, then boil. That’s safer than pouring it into a measuring cup when it’s already boiling. A little of it will be lost in boiling off, but not enough to worry about.

If you’re at a high altitude, water will start boiling at a lower temperature. There’s nothing you can do about this, as I learned while living in Denver, except let everything cook a little longer.

When cooking pasta, remember to put a teaspoon or two of salt in the water. This may or may not make the water boil faster, but it keeps the pasta from tasting impossibly bland. If you forget, you can salt the pasta when it’s cooked, but it won’t be the same.

What will definitely make water boil faster is keeping the lid on the pot. Remember, it’s all about building up enough pressure to make the water molecules break away in steam.

Back to cooking pasta — the noodles should have enough room to move around freely in the boiling water so they don’t stick together. Go by the package directions until you learn to eyeball it. If there are no directions about the amount of water, use a bigger pot than you think you need and fill it two thirds full.

Slotted spoons and pasta inserts are your friends when working with boiling water; they keep as much of it as possible in the pot and not potentially on you.

There’s always a risk, but with a little care you can cut it down.

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