How to Parboil a Food Item

This method of partial cooking is vital for home cooks

Potatoes in pot
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Parboiling is a method of partially cooking food in boiling water. When a recipe calls for parboiling, it is referring to the partial boiling of an ingredient just until it is soft but not cooked through. Parboiling is different from blanching in that after parboiling, you rinse the food under cold water, to stop it from cooking, then cook it further when other ingredients are ready, or you store it for later use. By contrast, blanching does not require a cold rinse or bath.

Uses for Parboiling

Most recipes call for parboiling to ensure that the ingredients that take longer to cook will be soft or completely done when a recipe calls for a lot of ingredients. For example, parboiling reduces the total cooking time for many potato preparations. Parboiling potatoes make it easier to achieve crispy edges with fully-cooked, fluffy interiors than if you started with raw potatoes. Also, parboiling washes away some of the simple sugars in a potato, which gives the potato a golden crust rather than a darker brown one.

Another instance where you might use parboiling is with a vegetable stir-fry that includes carrots. Carrots would likely not be cooked completely if you simply stir-fry them along with the other ingredients. When you parboil the carrots ahead of time, before tossing them into the stir-fry with the other ingredients, this normally hard vegetable is far more likely to be cooked through and tender after you finish cooking the dish.

Additionally, you can use parboiling to cook rice. Rice that has just been harvested is generally soaked in water and then parboiled, which helps crack the hard hulls. Parboiled rice is easier to process by hand and also has better nutritional value, as the process of parboiling drives nutrients like thiamin from the bran to the endosperm. Parboiled rice also cooks more quickly and is less likely to spoil than raw rice.

How to Parboil

Parboiling is a simple process. With a few easy steps.

  1. First, fill a pot with enough water to cover the ingredient you intend to parboil.
  2. Bring the water to a boil while you prepare the ingredient. The recipe may call for slices or cubes, or you may be parboiling the whole ingredient.
  3. When the water starts boiling, place the food item in the water to cook. The length of cooking time will depend on the food item and the method of cooking you will be using later.
  4. Follow the recipe’s instructions for cooking time and desired texture. When you’ve reached the level of softness required, drain the boiled water, and immediately run cold water over the food to stop the cooking process and help the food item maintain its color and texture.
  5. Set the food aside until you are ready to use it.

History of the Word (by Mistake)

The word "parboil" is from the Old French word parboillir, which actually means to boil thoroughly. By mistaken association with the word "part" or "partial," the word has acquired its current meaning to "partially boil."

Similar words, "par-bake" and "par-cook," were derived the same way. Par-baking is a cooking technique in which bread or dough is partially baked and then rapidly stored in the freezer. Both par-baking and parboiling are examples of par-cooking.

You can par-cook an entire dish, freeze it, and finish quickly heating it up and cooking it at a later time when you are ready to eat it. Since this finishes the cooking process, foods are not overcooked as leftovers often are.