It might sound dramatic, but cooking with pasta water truly changed the way I cook. And since I make pasta at least once a week, I use the pasta water method quite often. It's incredibly simple, but completely elevates virtually any pasta dish.
What is "The Pasta Water Method"?
I don't know if anyone other than myself actually calls it that, but it is a brilliant method that deserves a proper name. The Pasta Water Method is a technique in which cooked pasta, along with a good amount of its pasta water cooking liquid combines with a sauté and turns it into a luscious sauce.
The starchiness of the pasta water helps to bind the sautéed ingredients together and adhere them to the pasta. The alternative is dry pasta, whose ingredients all fall to the bottom of the bowl. No one wants that.
What common pasta dishes use this method?...
Some of the best and most famous pasta recipes are incredibly quick and simple to make because they utilize The Pasta Water Method.
Carbonara, Aglio Olio, Penne alla Vodka, and Spaghetti al Limone all utilize this method to develop a sauce. These recipes don't require cooking for hours, like a Sunday Gravy or ragù would. And they still achieve delicious, rich flavor and a creamy texture.
These following recipes are 3 of the recipes from my website that all use pasta water a sone of the main(most important) ingredients.
Pasta Water Substitutes
So you accidentally threw away your pasta water. Or maybe, you eat gluten free pasta, whose pasta water is much less desirable. Let's consider the two primary reasons for cooking with pasta water in order to help us develop some substitutes.
- It adds water to the sauce
- It adds starch to the sauce
Based on these two factors, finding a pasta water replacement should be pretty simple. We can look to ways in which other cuisines add these same components, starch and liquid, to food in order to bind it all together.
The Two Best Pasta Water Replacements
- Corn Starch and Water slurry (gluten free)
- Many stir fry and other Chinese dishes call for a corn starch slurry to thicken sauces and bind them to the ingredients in the dish. It's also an excellent pasta water replacement for people who use gluten free pasta. Some gluten free pastas do not release much starch as they cook, so the resulting paster water doesn't provide much value.
- Flour and water mixture
- Many gravy recipes (such as turkey gravy) call for adding flour water mixture to thicken it. Flour and water is the ideal pasta water replacement if you simply forgot to save your pasta water.
My Recipes that Call for The Pasta Water Method
We'll start with these...
But wait, there are more!
Other Chefs on Cooking with Pasta Water
There are two well-known chefs who have recently discussed ways in which you can get the most value out of the pasta water method.
J.Kenji Lopez Alt explains that you should only boil pasta in enough water to cover the pasta. Doing so will yield an even more starchy pasta water. Plus it takes less time to come to a boil.
Ethan Chlebowski has posted many ideas for one-pot pasta dishes on his very popular YouTube account. He calls for using just enough water to barely cover the
J KM8JN pasta. He then calls for adding more water as needed once the previous water has mostly evaporated. Sound familiar? He calls this process the risotto method of cooking pasta.
Note that Ethan's method yields a ton of starch. So although I wouldn't use it for every single pasta dish, I would use it for dishes that require just that- a ton of starch. The method easily yields enough starch to make Mac n cheese without a roux. The reduced pasta water takes the place of the roux and allows the cheese and milk to melt and combine without breaking.
By now you know that pasta water itself is liquid gold. But another factor to consider when making pasta is the type of pasta you use.
Fresh pasta has tons of starch, especially if you make it at home. Just think about all the extra flour you toss onto the fresh pasta to keep it from sticking together before you cook it... All of that flour incorporates into the pasta water.
Bronze Die Cut Pasta
When buying boxed pasta, buy the good stuff. Search for pastas cut on bronze die. Recognizing bronze die-cut pasta is simple. The pasta's surface will appear rough and textured. This rougher surface allows the pasta to cling to the sauce better than a smooth tephlon-cut surface does.
The box will typically flaunt this term as well, since it's taught after by people who know about it.
According to J. Kenji, the rough surface also allows more starch to release into the pasta water while cooking.
Examples of Bronze Die cut Pasta
Sfognili makes some really amazing pastas, all cut on bronze die, and all of which with really fun, less common shapes.
stephanie fransway says
I love cooking with pasta water it makes it taste so much better!!!
Such a lovely idea! Will try your method! Thanks for sharing! 💚
Always good to learn some new cooking techniques! Also, love your Pasta with Roasted Pepper Pesto recipe. Sounds wonderful!
Bob Beck says
actually the starch from pasta water with the butter or other fat in the pan makes a roux with all that implies. You can convince yourself it makes a roux by heating corn oil in a pan and adding pasta water (from making the kids Macaroni, and water a box develop in the pan.