How to Boil Water

Boiling Water: A Simple Thing, Right?

Water boiling in pot on stove

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How to boil water? It might sound like a no-brainer, but boiling water to make various dishes isn't always as simple as it seems. Some tips can help you make sure that the water is perfect for that Greek recipe you're planning to cook.

The Two Basic 'Boils'

Water boils at 212 F and only then is it a "real" boil. We use the term "slow boil" in Greek cooking as well.

  • A slow boil is reached when the water bubbles across the entire surface, but without the enthusiasm of a full boil. Bubbles are generally large and slow-moving. The slow boil temperature is 205 F. 
  • A full boil, rolling boil or real boil occurs at 212 F. A full boil happens when all the water in the pot gets involved in fast-moving rolling waves of bubbles. The water bubbles enthusiastically and gives off steam.

Boiling vs. Simmering

A simmer isn't a boil at all, although it's sometimes called a "gentle boil." In Greek cooking, it's reached by boiling first, then reducing the heat to a point where small bubbles can still be seen, usually over low heat.

Bubbles and Boiling 

Do bubbles automatically mean water is boiling? No. Technically, boiling water means it has reached a temperature of 212 F and it's steaming. Bubbles can form well before this temperature point, as low as 160 F. 

Don't be deceived by pots that get hot very quickly around the sides and start to show little bubbles just around the edges. This doesn't fit into any part of boiling. It's just the pot saying, "My sides are getting good and hot. Don't touch."

Bringing Water to a Boil 

Water can be brought to a boil quickly over high heat, or slowly over medium heat. In Greek cooking, the water starts out cold. The general rule of thumb is that if there is no food in the water, go for high heat and get it to the boiling point as quickly as possible. If there is food in the water, such as eggs or some vegetables, bring it to a boil over lower heat.

Boiling Salted Water for Pasta 

Pasta recipes often call for adding the pasta to salted boiling water. How much water? That general rule says 1 quart for each 1/4 pound of pasta. If you're making a pound of pasta, up the water to 6 quarts. Not enough water leads to gummy pasta.

How much salt? The general rule is 1 2/3 teaspoons for each quart of water, and kosher sea salt is best. Add the salt after the water comes to a full boil. Adding the salt might reduce the speed of the boil. Wait until the water reaches a full boil again before adding the pasta.

Adding salt to boiling water for pasta is a matter of taste and recipe. If the recipe calls for it, you can be pretty sure there's a reason. If you're watching your sodium intake, simply don't add it and adjust seasonings later in the recipe.

Boiling Water for Eggs 

This one is a big surprise for those who grew up boiling eggs for 3 minutes for soft, 5 for medium, and 10 for hard. To make perfect boiled eggs, place them in a single layer in a pot of cold water, using enough water to cover the eggs by at least an inch. Cover and bring to a full boil over medium heat. As soon as the water reaches a full boil, remove the pot from the heat and let it sit until the eggs are done. This depends on the size of the egg, but it's generally 2 to 3 minutes for soft-boiled, or 15 to 18 minutes for hard-boiled.