Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Cooking Pasta

People boil pasta all the time, but do you really know what you're doing when you salt the water or add oil? Plus, why you should use all that water when you're making pasta?

Why salt the water: During cooking is your only chance, practically speaking, to affect the taste of the pasta. Salt helps foods taste more like themselves by activating the receptors on your tongue. A misconception is that salting the water raises the boiling point of water thus speeding up the cooking time. While adding salt does raise the boiling point, the amount that is usually added does not significantly change the temperature or speed up cooking.

Why add oil to the water: It is not to keep the pasta from sticking together after cooking. The oil sits on top of the water during cooking and does not lubricate the pasta. Even during draining not enough oil sticks to the pasta to make a real difference. Besides, if it did lube up your pasta the sauce wouldn't stick! The only thing adding oil does for boiling pasta is that it can help prevent boiling over. As pasta cooks, some starch gets into the water, changing the surface tension and allowing boiling over. Adding a bit of oil helps break up the surface tension to prevent boiling over. But, there is a better way.

Why use a lot of water: Using more water dissipates that starch so that it does not boil over. Using more water also allows the heat to bounce back quicker after the pasta is added, thus shortening the cooking time. The more water, the more thermal mass, the more thermal mass the more heat it retains and the quicker you return to a boil. It also gives the pasta more room to move about, which keeps it from sticking while cooking, and helps it cook evenly.

In summary: Salt your water, avoid oil (unless absolutely necessary), and use plenty of water.

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