How to (Properly) Cook Pasta

Published on 26 May 2014

Pasta is a wonderful thing. However many unwonderful things are done to pasta when it’s being cooked. Consider this post a how-to about improving your pasta eating experience.

A sub-par pasta experience is one that involves overcooked & bland pasta, with the sauce slopped on top. However, this very easy to avoid.

How to Improve Your Pasta Experience

Whether boxed or fresh pasta, following (and remembering) these few things will improve your pasta cooking abilities and your life as well as impress your friends & lover(s).*

*these claims may be exaggerated.

1. Use enough salt

Something I see done frequently by people is they boil water for their pasta and either don’t salt their water or put only a pinch in. Salt is crucial to giving your pasta flavour & lowering the overall amount of salt needed for your dish. Also, if you’ve heard that salted water cooks food faster (because of its higher boiling temperature), those claims are a bit exaggerated; the amount of salt you’re adding is only enough to raise the temperature about 1 degree.

2. Don’t add oil

There’s a bad practice of adding oil to the pasta cooking liquid to keep it from sticking. This only achieves one thing: oily pasta & oily pasta means sauce won’t cling to it or be absorbed, which equals flavourless pasta. Adding oil may also keep the pasta water from bubbling up and boiling over the rim, but this can also be achieved by using a large enough pot and also by reducing the heat a little (but still maintaining a boil).

3. Stir

During the first minute or two of cooking, give the pasta a good stir to keep it from sticking together. This is the crucial, since during this time the pasta is coated with sticky starch. If you don’t stir, pieces of pasta that are touching one another literally cook onto one another.

4. Avoid rinsing

Rinsing the pasta after cooking, will cool the pasta and prevent the absorption of a sauce. Not to mention it can wash away any remaining surface starch, which is advantageous to your cooking of the pasta. This small amount of starch left on the pasta by the cooking water can thicken your sauce slightly when you do encorporate the pasta.

5. Cooking al dente

The term al dente is simply culinary-speak for pasta that is just slightly undercooked, which is considered by many to be the optimal mouthfeel for pasta. As cooking times vary for various pasta shapes, the only way to truly know is to sample one of the cooking pasta and see if it has just a little bite to it when you chew it –this is al dente and considered cooked.

6. Finish cooking in sauce

As it cools, the starch in the pasta crystallizes and becomes insoluble, therefore the pasta won’t absorb as much sauce. As such, I always prepare the sauce first in a large skillet, regardless of it’s simplicity, before cooking the pasta. The moment the pasta is done, I scoop it out of the water with a spider and let it drain over the pot for a few seconds. Then I dump it into the hot sauce, stir well, & cover it to let the pasta absorb the sauce for a minute or two, before serving.

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