Sunday, January 22, 2012

How to boil water 2.0

Okay so after receiving some feedback from friends and other bloggers, I've decided a rewrite of my water boiling technique would be appropriate. Before I could rewrite this though, I really needed to reread what I had preciously said. After doing so, I found the main fault in my logic.

People expect different things from their food. I myself want to do what I like, what I know. Everyone is different, and everyone is constrained by the situation they are currently in. If you like the way you make your food in boiling water, it's okay if you stop reading now. In my humble opinion, if you like it, if the people around you like it, don't change what you're doing.

If however, you find that your pasta comes out gluey, your vegetables come out gummy or mushy, or if you just want to hear my take on cooking in boiling water, keep reading because I think I got it right this time.

My model for boiling water:
Before I go any further, I have to send some appreciation out to Daniel B. of FUSSYlittleBLOG, Jerry P. of derryX and my good friend Dave. They were the only ones to point out the faults in my previous post, and therefore the only reason why I felt compelled to rewrite this.

Since this is my second post about boiling water, I'm going to cut straight to the chase. If you want to hear the garrulous version of boiling water, go here.

Instead of suggesting that you must do certain things, I will just plainly suggest some things that you can do to get a better boil going.

Plan ahead:
No matter what you do with respect to the next few suggestions, always start your water before anything else. Why do I say this? Because it takes time. Get your water started first and prepare your other food items accordingly. Like I said in my previous post, this streamlines your kitchen time since you won't be waiting for water to boil. Plus, if you are the impatient type, you'll definitely end up with hotter water in the end. And yes, you want the hottest water possible.

A rolling boil:
Hey, guess what? I'm lazy and I copied and pasted stuff from my previous post:

"When I think of what boiling water should look like I think back to science class in high school. I remember when we would use Bunsen burners to heat the water in flasks and get the water to a boil. When the water was really going, huge bubbles of air would be escaping the water at every moment and the water would boil so vigorously that you could literally hear it. That is what a rolling boil is. You should wait until you see and hear these same signs of boiling before dumping your food in."

What am I really saying here? If you plan ahead and start your water first you'll probably have a rolling boil going by the time your ready to cook your food. If you don't have a rolling boil going, don't be impatient, just wait until you do. 

Use a lot of water:
This is where I have to address the first qualm of my previous post. Using a lot of water reduces the temperature drop in the water once food is added. The more water, the less the temperature drop, the quicker the cook, the better the food; capisci? Just use as much water as possible when boiling anything and you'll be following this suggestion.

Now while I myself believe this is the crux of a good boil, some people cannot bring the temperature of a large amount of water up to the proper temperature. With more water we need more heat to get our desired temperature. If your heating element is limited in heat output, boiling 9 quarts of water for you pound of pasta just won't work and you need to work with a smaller amount. Remove water until you achieve a rolling boil and memorize how much is in that sucker. Always use this amount when boiling food and you'll be good.

Season your water:
I originally called this part salting your water, but after Jerry the chemist explained some of the finer points of salt water, I decided to call this seasoning your water. Here's why:

Salting your water will make the boiling temperature increase, but not even enough for you to notice or for it to make a difference when cooking. We salt our water for seasoning, which means we salt our water for taste and no other reason. Fortunately, this is the most important part about food for most people.

To properly salt your water use 1 tablespoon of coarse kosher salt per quart, or 1/2 tablespoon table salt per quart.

Start with the right water:
This is something I was opposed to until I took hydrometer readings from my tap and did a taste test. If you use hot water from the tap, there will be stuff other than water cooking with your food. No, it's not harmful for your health but it does effect flavors in a negative way.

Start with cold water from the tap, or filtered water if you have it. Plan ahead by getting this on some heat and let it come to a boil.

Sure, if you wan't to save some time you can use hot tap water, I'm not stopping you. This does effect flavors though. I did a blind taste test of hot water (after it came to room temperature) versus my cold tap water. Yes, I could tell the difference; it was extremely transparent which one was which.


  1. I didn't read the other post or any of the comments, so I don't know if this has already been addressed. You stated-

    "No, it's not harmful for your health but it does effect flavors in a negative way."

    Could be harmful to your health, lead solder in pipes is still a potential issue in many older houses. The water sitting in the pipes can allow some lead to leach in. I think this is where a lot of the don't cook with hot water/let the water run before you drink type lore came from.

    I think there has been some cross pollination between the culinary and safety interpretations of these tips. I am not too well versed in the issue though...

    1. From the CDC website:

      "Most studies show that exposure to lead-contaminated water alone would not be likely to elevate blood lead levels in most adults, even exposure to water with a lead content close to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) “action level” for lead of 15 parts per billion (ppb). Risk will vary, however, depending upon the individual, the circumstances, and the amount of water consumed. For example, infants who drink formula prepared with lead-contaminated water may be at a higher risk because of the large volume of water they consume relative to their body size."

      What I gather from this is that nearly all individuals need not worry about lead content in their food, even if they make it in contaminated water. They are speaking of ingesting the water directly, so boiling food in water should expose you to even less risk of adverse effects than mentioned above.

      That being said, you bring up a good point and I will research this matter some more as the CDC explanation does't fully describe what were talking about here.

    2. Yeah, I am in the process of possibly buying a 1920's era house (probably has lead paint in places) and I have infants. The wife and I have probably gone all hyper-vigilant on the lead issue. Much of the lead related information out there seems to err way on the side of being alarmist, but in any event, it really does seem to be nasty stuff. Ahhh, the nerve wracking joy of being a doting parent.

  2. When I have a spare burner, I speed my cold water coming to a boil by heating it up in multiple vessels. I fill my stock pot half way and my kettle all the way up. Both get put on high heat, and come to a boil about the same time. Then I pour the kettle into the pot, and I've got a big pot of boiling water in a fraction of the time.

    And thanks for the mention. I was just talking about this post with Mrs. Fussy last night. Loved it in its first iteration, and naturally now that it has been revised, I love it even more.

    Keep up the good work.


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