How Do You Cut and Cook Parsnips?

Parsnips, like a few other winter vegetables I could mention, get a bad press really, don’t they? Let’s face it, it’s not like anyone rants and raves about this tapered root vegetable. With its pale off white and dirty appearance it doesn’t have the same glamour as the orange carrot or the purple turnip. If you’re not a fan of parsnips keep reading and you’ll realise it’s just precisely what you’ve been missing! For a winter family roast or puréed heaven there is nothing that matches this underrated but wonderful vegetable.

Parsnip by Definition

The parsnip is a tapered root vegetable that is part of the Apiaceae family, which includes the carrot and parsley. The best parsnips are after winter frosts as this produces a sweeter variety. It is quite amazing that in times of antiquity the parsnip was used as an everyday sweetener before cane sugar was introduced. It has a sweet earthy flavour and is high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. They are grown in the autumn and winter seasons and best picked when not too big.

Shopping for Perfect Parsnips

The best advice is to buy from a local market and look out for parsnips that are straight and between about 6 to 10 inches. If they are allowed to grow much bigger than this, they can often have a tough woody core, which is not good for eating. You don’t want to put your children off the fabulous parsnip! But the most important thing is to use your eyes and feel of this root veggie is nice and firm. Best to also avoid too many brown spots and splits as you will end up cutting off and wasting most of the edible parts.

If necessary, they keep well in the fridge for up to three weeks.

Perfect Prepping of the Parsnip!

One essential tip is that a lot of the favour is just under the skin, so best to scrub with a vegetable brush than use a peeler. Just give them a good rub under cold water and preserve more of the earthy flavour. After a good clean then all you need to do is grab a small knife and cut off the green end and then chop as desired. If you are mashing, then slice in to regular small pieces but if roasting allow for thicker chunky sized cuts. Like other fruits and vegetables, chopped parsnips will oxidise, so if you need to place in a pot of cold water until you are ready to cook. You are now nearly ready!

Boiling Parsnips

If you decide that you want to mash or simply blanch your parsnips to add to soups or other dishes, then first you need to boil them until tender. First, as we have mentioned, it is preferable to scrub clean instead of peeling. The size of the cut parsnip should be just under about 1 inch wide, but just try and allow each piece to be of a regular size so that they all cook simultaneously!

Then, allow enough water to cover the quantity of parsnips you require and add a pinch or two of salt. Bring the water to a boil, and then carefully add the parsnips to the pot. Cooking times will vary but aim for about 8 to 10 minutes and stop the cooking when they are fork-tender.


If you fancy an alternative to mash potato, then why not use parsnips for a sweeter side dish that goes very well with most meats and poultry. The only advice on mashing parsnips is to make sure they are fully cooked and tender enough to make into a nice creamy consistency. For the best-mashed parsnips cook well, drain off any excess water and then use a potato masher or large fork. To add flavour and richness to the mash then add butter, olive oil or even a spoon of cream. Of course, you can vary things by using both potato and parsnips together which makes for a very tasty side dish.

Perfect Roast Parsnips

If you are going to roast your parsnips, then it is an excellent idea to cut them quite chunky, as they do not need to be too delicate for cooking in a hot oven. We would also recommend that you use a high temperature in your oven, as this means that the natural sugars in the parsnip will caramelise. This adds so much in terms of flavour and is one of the great ways to cook this lovely veggie. The only preparation is quite simple, after you have scrubbed and chopped just coat the pieces in vegetable oil and season well with salt and pepper. One nice addition at this point is to add a little spice mix like chilli or paprika to this coating. Place the prepared parsnips on a baking tray as large as you need. Then roast in a hot oven for about 20 to 25 minutes until they are golden brown and tender on the inside. These roasted parsnips will accompany most roast dinners and a nice rich gravy will never go to waste!