Perfect hard-boiled eggs, mashed potatoes and other tips every cook should know

Mackensy Lunsford
Southern Kitchen

Not everyone can be a top chef. But there are certain skills every adult should be able to navigate with ease. Here are four very practical skills to help you in the kitchen, including a recipe for that elusive perfect hard-boiled egg. 

How to make perfect hardboiled eggs

This fail-safe, go-to method is easy to remember and yields an egg with a yolk that's neither too jammy nor too crumbly and never green. 

First, place your whole, uncooked eggs in a sauce pot with a lid. Cover them with cold water. Next, place the lid on the pot, bring the water to a full rolling boil over high heat and let it boil for a few seconds. I usually let the pot boil until I hear the lid rattle.

The process of flavoring the yolks for deviled eggs.

Then, remove the pan, still lidded, from the heat and set it aside. Start a timer for 11 minutes. After 11 minutes, drain the hot water, run some cool water over the eggs and place them in an ice bath. Let them remain there until they are completely cool.

Whether eggs are easy to peel or not largely depends on their freshness; older eggs are easier to peel. If your eggs are fresh and hard to peel, try rolling them around a bit to crack the shell and then soak them in cold water for a few more minutes. 

How to roast a chicken

How to perfectly roast a chicken is something every cook should know. Few things beat the satisfaction of a succulent, well-seasoned roasted chicken on the dinner table. It's also easier to do than you probably think it is. 

I usually brine my whole chicken in a cooking pot with cold water and about a cup of kosher salt and some garlic cloves. The submerged chicken stays in the refrigerator overnight.

When you're ready to roast your chicken, drain it and pat it dry. Make sure there are no giblets or other parts left in the cavity of the bird. Place quartered onions and garlic in the cavity.

Roasted chicken over sweet potatoes.

I put close to a stick of sliced butter under the skin at the breast, but you don't have to do this. Rub the chicken's entire skin with the seasoning of your choice, but salt lightly if you've already brined your chicken.

Truss the bird, or bind the legs to the body with kitchen twine, to help your chicken cook more evenly. Place it in an oiled roasting pan over quartered sweet potatoes, which keep the chicken from sticking to the pan. Sweet potatoes taste beautiful roasted in luscious chicken fat. 

I blast my bird at 500 degrees until the skin is brown, and then turn the heat down to 325 for the rest of the time. Roast your chicken until the skin pulls back from the ankles and the internal temperature at the thickest part of the thigh reads 165 degrees. Rest your chicken for 10-15 minutes before slicing. 

How to make chicken stock

Once you've eaten your roasted chicken and made chicken salad with the scraps, you're still not done with that bird — use the bones to make stock. With each chicken frame, you should be able to get about a gallon of stock, if you use enough vegetables.

You're in luck if you have an Instant Pot. Simply place the bones in the Instant Pot with celery, carrot, a couple of onions and some bay leaves, and cover it to the max line with water. Pressure cook on high for two hours and walk away. 

Over the stove, you'll want to simmer this all day, but your house will smell amazing. You can season the broth with salt if you'd like, but I don't. 

Chicken stock stores in the freezer in quart takeout containers almost indefinitely. 

Breakfast prep:Adaptable frittatas and overnight oats: Make-ahead breakfast ideas for the morning rush

How to make the best mashed potatoes

Mashed potatoes seem simple, but anyone who's ever overworked a spud before knows there's more to cooking proper potatoes than meets the eye.

First, you have to choose the right tuber for your purposes. Want light and fluffy mashed potatoes? Choose russets with their lower moisture content. Then, after peeling and chopping them, simmer potatoes gently in salted water rather than boiling hard and fast.

Perfect, fluffy mashed potatoes.

Boiling potatoes breaks them down too quickly, while simmering gently allows salt to penetrate the flesh. 

At the same time, take care not to undercook your potatoes. If they're not fork-tender when you go to mash them, the starch will not have had a chance to expand, which means you're looking at clumpy, gluey potatoes.

And never, ever over mash potatoes, which also can make them gluey. Handle them as little as possible, as a matter of fact. A potato ricer works perfectly for this purpose.

Here, a recipe for the very best mashed potatoes, provided by none other than Potatoes USA, which represents more than 2,500 commercial potato farms in the United States.

You'll notice the recipe calls for black pepper, which Potatoes USA chef PJ Harvey said is his preference over white. "But to each their own," Harvey said. 

Perfect Mashed Potatoes

Russet potatoes are gently folded together with milk and butter for perfect and comforting cloud-like mashed potatoes.

Ingredients:

4 pounds russet potatoes

2 cups whole milk

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Kosher salt, as needed

Freshly ground black pepper, as needed

Equipment:

Large bowl

Dutch oven or large stockpot

Colander

Potato ricer or food mill

Rubber spatula

Instructions:

Peel the potatoes and cut them into 1- to 2-inch dices (the size of the pieces should be consistent for even cooking). Transfer the potatoes to a bowl of cold water and rinse them 2-3 times until the water runs clear, which helps remove excess starch.

In a large stockpot, bring 4 quarts of salt-seasoned water to a boil over high heat. Add the potatoes, reduce to a simmer, and cook them until they are completely tender. 

Drain the potatoes in a colander, rinse them quickly but thoroughly with hot water, and then allow them to continue to drain/release steam for about 1-2 minutes.

Place a ricer or food mill over another pot and pass the potatoes through it. 

Heat the milk and the butter, then add it to the potatoes and gently stir. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

Keep the potatoes warm until ready to serve.

Mackensy Lunsford is the food and culture storyteller for USA TODAY Network's South region and the editor of Southern Kitchen.

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Reach me: mlunsford@southernkitchen.com