Discussion in 'The Bar' started by Bro, Oct 16, 2012.
I'm in public.
I'm in my Kitchen
How to Cook Pasta Correctly
Boiling pasta is supposed to be simple. It's the perennial college student meal because it involves only about four steps, one of which is boiling water. But is it really that easy? Have you been doing something wrong all along?
How it's done now
Seasoned eater of foods, Adam Pash, gives his quick guideline of how he cooks pasta right now.
Put in a little salt for more flavor (I did not know about this)
Stir and check every now and then until it's al dente
My method is about the same—probably a little simpler—so this is a decent place to start. It's how most of us do it already, and it's more or less "correct", but there are also a lot of little considerations to keep in mind along the way that makes a big difference.
The right way
Selecting the type of pasta
Chef Chris Whitpan prefers fresh pasta, but if you have to use dried for practicality's sake, he thinks Barilla is the winner. Chef Shaya Klechevsky agrees. If you're into alternative pastas like Chef Millie Barnes, you can try rice pasta, soba noodles and yam noodles. His current favorites are De Cecco or Ener-G Foods Rice Pasta. But as with soda and beer, there is no wrong choice as long as you're enjoying what you're putting in your mouth.
Sensory Scientist Michael Nestrud, Ph.D, says that for the basic recipes, you should avoid the Asian types of noodles, because it's more complicated and relies on a different type of preparation. It depends on what you prefer, in terms of taste, for other types of pasta.
Omega-3 whole grain pasta is going to have a much tougher texture than plain egg noodles, and a bit stronger flavor. Plain egg noodles are more tender. Shape also plays an important role. For an extreme example, think about those super thin noodles called "Angel Hair" - these would be lost completely and useless with a thick and chunky tomato sauce. Large penne would be silly in a soup - they won't even fit on a spoon. Remember, the noodles are the star and the sauce is the accompaniment, not the other way around. The National Pasta Association has an extensive guide to shapes and uses.
But whatever you do, do not mix together the leftovers of one box of pasta with the start of a new box of a different brand of pasta. Different brands and shapes of pasta have different cooking times, and one or the other won't be cooked optimally. I've done this before, and it tasted like pasta mixed in with mushy pencils.
Selecting the right equipment
A pot that will hold the right amount of water, but also has room left over on top. Chef Whitpan prefers a tall to a wide one, but notes that you should make sure the bottom isn't too thin, because pasta can stick and burn. Chef Barnes recommends a 4 quart pot to cook 1 pound of pasta.
A colander that drains quickly is more important than one that looks nice. Set it up before you cook so you can drain immediately after the pasta is done. Get one that spans the sink so you don't spill pasta water everywhere.
A pasta utensil that you can cook and serve with. Chef Whitpan also notes to use a plastic or silicone one if you have a nonstick pot.
A kitchen timer, or if you have a phone made in the latter part of the last decade, that will do.
The Culinary Institute of America teaches one gallon of water per pound of pasta. One chef says one gallon of water also needs four tablespoons of salt, but another says two is enough. Why salt? It raises the boiling temperature of the water, and also infuses taste into the pasta itself. So for a dinner for two, you'd want a 1/2 pound of dry pasta, 2 quarts of water with 2 tablespoons of salt. Boil on high.
If you don't have any measuring utensils, Chef Klechevsky's tip is that you always have enough water to cover however much pasta you're making by about 1.5 inches.
The most important take-away from this step is that you need to boil the water before you add in the pasta. Klechevsky recalls a young relative dumping pasta into a pot of cold water, which resulted in a "mushy mass of what used to be pasta." It's tempting to skip a step by boiling and adding pasta simultaneously—say, if the Mavericks/Thunder game is on and you don't want to miss Dirk throwing up crazy off-balanced shots—but don't.
Keep the pot covered until it boils, then uncover. Don't cover the pot again.
Adding pasta and cooking it
Take a look at the box your pasta came in. All the chefs agree that the cooking time listed there is actually quite accurate, so set your timer for that.
There are three choices for done-ness: Al dente, firm and soft. You'll want al dente, which means "to the tooth" in Italian. That means it's thoroughly cooked, but still offers resistance when chewing, and thus isn't too hard or too soft. Think Goldilocks.
Don't add in your pasta too early. Chef Whitpan explains:
You need to have a rolling boil prior to adding your pasta. This does not mean a few bubbles on the outside. A rolling boil means movement across the whole surface of the water.
Now you need to stir.
The stirring of the pot as soon as you add the pasta is one of the critical moments. This moment is when the pasta can clump together as the first layers start to soften and release starch. Keep the pasta in a light motion by hand, as well as with the boiling water, and you are setting yourself up for success.
Begin timing as soon as all the pasta is submerged and you have stirred. If you use Barilla, like I recommend, they conveniently put cook times right on the box, and they are spot on.
He adds that you should stir gently for a swirl or two every 3-4 minutes in a figure-eight motion to keep the bits apart.
Chef Barnes agrees with the initial stir, but says you only need to stir once with wheat pasta to break it apart. With rice pasta, you need to stir often.
Once your timer goes off, the pasta should be done, but since different equipment cooks differently, check for yourself by tasting it. Texture trumps time. It should be slightly firm in the middle when you bite.
If it is snappy or chewy, it is not done. If it is tender and soft, it is cooked. (This takes practice—pay attention at your favorite Italian restaurant on the texture of their pasta next time you go out). Whole grain pasta will never be completely tender, but it does make a marked improvement as time passes. Learn yourself how pasta cooking progresses by tasting pieces every couple of minutes throughout the process - you'll be a pasta expert in no time.
Now that it's done, remove and strain the pasta immediately.
It only takes one minute to go from al dente to firm and another to start turning to mush. Get the pasta into your colander right away, and allow it to drain, moving it with your utensil.
At this point you should add it right to your sauce and toss it. This is the best way to enjoy pasta since the starch that is coating the outside of the pasta will help the sauce stick to it nicely. If this is not an option, lightly toss the pasta with olive oil, about 1 ounce per pound of pasta. (That's half of a quarter cup.)
Nestrud explains that the olive oil keeps the pasta from sticking together.
One other thing to keep in mind is "carry-over", which is the effect that when food is still hot, it continues to cook itself until it cools. Chef Klechevsky explains:
To accommodate for this process, there are one of two things you can do. Ideally, you shock the pasta in iced water. In order to do this, you would fill a large bowl with ice and water and have that ready for when the pasta is ready to be drained. Once the pasta reaches al dente - which you could check by pulling out a few pieces of pasta from the water and biting into it - immediately drain it into a sieve or strainer and then dunk the pasta with the sieve or strainer into the larger bowl of iced water, making sure the pasta is completely immersed in the ice water. Let the pasta sit in the iced water for about 3-5 minutes, or until the pasta has cooled and will no longer continue to cook.
Those of us (myself included) who don't have kitchens large enough to accommodate the large bowl of iced water, I've taken a different approach - I let the carry-over cooking work for me. Whatever amount of time is indicated on the pasta box for how long that pasta should cook for to reach al dente, I subtract 2 minutes and set the timer or I'll just test the pasta for doneness right before al dente. At which point, I drain the pasta into a sieve or strainer but then put it back into the pot and cover it, thereby allowing the carry-over cooking to continue bringing the pasta to the exact level of doneness - al dente - without over cooking and getting mushy.
Because it's so easy and because almost everyone makes it, a lot of pasta myths have developed over the years. Chef Whitpan lists a few.
When pasta is done it sticks to the wall No, it just makes a mark you have to clean up. Usually if it will do this, it is actually over cooked. Leave the sticking wall things to your Wacky Crawlers from your Cap'n Crunch.
I have to oil the water to keep it from sticking. No self respecting chef will tell you to do this. It's a waste of oil, and we all know oil and water don't mix. How is the oil supposed to get between strands of pasta if it is floating?
If I salt the water my pasta will turn out salty. Too much salt is indeed a bad thing, but in the cooking process, this is about the only time you can infuse flavor INTO the pasta, the rest is just coated on the outside. Salt is crucial actually.
If I break the pasta it will cook faster. Nope, the diameter and thickness of the pasta itself is what determines its cook time. (Ed. note: It will, however, help you fully submerge longer noodles if you don't have a deep pot.)
Always rinse your pasta.
I just ate dinner.
I hope I do better tonight than last night.
we got 4
lets go fags
Bad luck on that last hand Bro
people still play poker?
Never had to send out an invitation with pirate poker.
Pirate didn't have tourneys.