8 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Cooking Pasta
Ah, pasta — always an easy and super-satisfying meal. Saying “I'll make a plate of pasta” is easy. Doing it right isn't. Just how many mistakes can a person make? Here are the 8 most common mistakes that are made when cooking pasta.
1. Using a pot that’s too small.
Ever tried squeezing too-tall spaghetti into a tiny pot? Perhaps you broke the spaghetti in half to make it fit?
By using a pot that’s not large enough, the water temperature drops significantly when the pasta is added. More so than if you were using a larger pot. While the water returns to a boil (which can take a while), the pasta gets clumpy and mushy sitting in the pot. This also creates a higher starch-to-water ratio, which makes for sticky pasta.
2. Not salting the water.
In our quest to limit the amount of sodium in our diet, this step is all too often skipped. When I was in culinary school, our chef’s rule of thumb was that the water should be as salty as the sea. That may be a little on the extreme side, but pasta water certainly needs more than just a pinch of salt.
Pasta doesn’t actually absorb all the salt that goes in the water; the purpose of the salt is to “rough up” the surface of the pasta to keep it from getting slimy. Salt also helps to season the noodles, which is especially important when cooking dried pasta.
3. Adding pasta to the water too soon.
I’ll admit, I’ve made this mistake more than once. When you’re hungry, it seems like the water takes forever to boil. But don’t use that an excuse to jump the gun on adding pasta to the water too soon. When pasta sits in water that’s not hot enough, it gets gummy and sticky.
4. Don’t add oil into the water.
Although there are some pasta cooking guides recommending to add a little oil into the water to avoid the pasta becoming too sticky, professionals do not recommend that. Instead, they recommend stirring the pasta while it’s boiling (see the next tip). Oil can also make pasta too slippery and then sauce won’t stick to it at all. Therefore it’s better not to add oil.
5. Not stirring the pasta.
Stirring pasta during cooking is crucial! Skip this step and you’re left with a giant clump of noodles that are stuck together.
6. Rinsing the pasta after cooking.
Please, do not rinse your pasta. Not only is it totally unnecessary, but by doing this, you’re washing away the starch that helps the sauce cling to the pasta. It also washes away some of the pasta’s wonderful flavour.
7. One shape is as good as another.
If you want to prepare pasta right, you have to match the sauce with the most suitable variety. Long pasta, for example, goes well with fairly liquid and creamy sauces, ridged pasta absorbs the sauce better, short pasta is perfect for ragù and uneven sauces, and spiral pasta pairs well with a classic tomato sauce.
8. Cooking for too long.
If the package indicates 9 minutes of cooking, do not go beyond that. Drain it before the time is up and keep the cooking water. Throw the pasta directly into the sauce and let it finish cooking during the creaming process, adding cooking water as needed.
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