Cold water pasta

Discussion in 'Food & Cooking' started by Patch, Jan 23, 2019.

  1. Patch

    Patch

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    In one of the Good Eats: Reloaded episodes Alton Brown talked about changing his method of cooking pasta. The classic approach, which I'm sure we all know, is to boil at least a gallon of water, add salt to the boiling water, then add the pasta. Alton has pushed this approach in the past but is now advocating a new method.

    Rather than boil a massive amount of water and then add the pasta, the idea is to put the pasta in the dry pot, cover with cold water to an inch over the pasta, add salt, cover the pot, and then turn on the heat. Once the water has hit a full boil, remove the lid and set your timer for 4.5 minutes. When the timer goes off, turn off the heat and use a spider to fish the pasta out of the water. Save the starchy water to thin the sauce or loosen the pasta later if needed.

    Two things are going on here. First, you're boiling a lot less water so it comes to a boil a lot faster. Second, the pasta is re-hydrating while the water is coming to a boil so it needs less time after reaching a boil.

    I know this is not an entirely new idea. A bit of online searching turned up a reference from a few years ago so I don't think this is something originally developed by Alton. Not that he was trying to take credit or anything like that. A search of the forums here didn't turn up anything obvious in the last six years so either this is very old news to everyone or it hasn't been discussed here before (or I searched for the wrong thing).

    I tried this approach the other night with 0.25kg casarecce. There was maybe a quart of water in the pot. I tried the pasta after 4:30 and thought it needed a bit longer, so I let it go about 5 minutes. The result was great and took way less than half the time it normally would. It takes 20-25 minutes to get a gallon of water boiling on my (very inadequate) stove. I usually get the water started before I begin the sauce (assuming I'm not doing a long cook sauce) and the sauce is ready well before the pasta is. This time the pasta was ready before the leftover sauce had fully reheated.

    My only complaint was the instructions I found online said to use a tablespoon of salt. This seemed like too much to me so I went with maybe two-thirds that. The pasta was still decidedly salty. Not inedible by any means, but saltier than I liked. I'm thinking maybe a teaspoon of salt next time.

    Has anyone else tried this method of cooking pasta?
     
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  2. french fries

    french fries

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    Very interesting. Never tried it but I will.

    Regarding salt, my guess is, regardless of the cooking method or quantity of water used, the amount of salty water absorbed by the pasta is always the same, so as long as you salt the water so that it tastes about as salty as sea water you're good.

    PS: This reminds me of Robuchon's cold-oil-start french fries technique.
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2019
  3. mike9

    mike9

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    I've putting pasta in water an in above in a 12" fry pan for years. I bring mine to the boil first though. I'll give the cold start a try, but I do get good starchy water my way.
     
  4. Ellen_in_Denver

    Ellen_in_Denver

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    This is now the only way I cook pasta. For spaghetti, I use a pan large enough to hold it flat (horizontal). I put in a few inches of water (I’ve seen instructions that you add so little water that it’s all gone when the pasta is finished, but I don’t do this) and a teaspoon or so of salt—because the liquid is more concentrated, you need less salt than for the traditional method. Bring to a boil, which happens quickly because of the large contact surface with the burner. Boil until al dente. Drain or lift out. I recently read that this method is particularly good if you’re using the pasta water as a thickener, because the water ends up starchier.
     
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  5. chefwriter

    chefwriter

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    What is Robuchons' cold oil french fry technique?
     
  6. Patch

    Patch

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    That was my gut instinct as well, that the amount of salt should be in relation to the amount of water, not the amount of pasta. I did hedge my bets a bit but didn't have the full courage of my convictions. Next time I'll use a teaspoon.

    I've seen the "sea water" suggestion many times and it's always struck me as flawed since it assumes the reader knows how salty sea water is. I've never tasted sea water so gauging pasta cooking water that way is useless to me. For me the comparison would work better the other way around, expecting sea water to taste like a gallon of tap water with a tablespoon of table salt dissolved in it.
     
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  7. french fries

    french fries

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    I've tasted my fair share of sea water as a kid — accidentally that is — so that's a good reference for me, although ultimately you're right, different seas/oceans, different salt levels... a better way to think about it would be that you're seasoning a flavorless soup. Basically you're just seasoning your water, and that seasoning will transfer to your pasta/rice etc... I actually don't season my rice/pasta water the same depending on what I'm going to do with the pasta/rice, for example less seasoning if I know it will be served with something quite salty. This is probably truer of rice than pasta though.

    Cut up potatoes, put in cold oil, slowly bring to temperature: https://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/19/an-easy-way-to-make-french-fries/
     
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  8. chefwriter

    chefwriter

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    Thanks for the link. I'll be trying this today. In cleaning out the pantry/frig I discovered some duck fat. A good excuse to use it up.
     
  9. kuan

    kuan Moderator Staff Member

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    To me this idea will just make your long pasta stick to each other.
     
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  10. Patch

    Patch

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    It didn't at all with the short pasta. I suspect it won't with long pasta either because the cold water allows the outer portion of the pasta to hydrate before a lot of the starch is released. There's also nothing that says you can't stir gently as the water is heating. After having taken this approach once I doubt I'll ever cook short pasta the old way again. This was so much faster, almost entirely eliminating the time required to get the water boiling, and at least as good as far as texture. Not to mention not having to wash the 8-quart stock pot that just barely fits in the sink. That alone would make this a winner.
     
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  11. phatch

    phatch Moderator Staff Member

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    If you follow Pepin's advice, it's kind of moot. First thing he does when he gets home before taking off his coat even is put some water on to boil. Then when he gets to the kitchen after changing and figures out dinner, the boiling water is ready for pasta, or rice or potatoes or vegetables or for blanching or for soup. It's just such a basic part of cooking and so versatile to have boiling when you get right down to the cooking.

    Besides. Most sauces aren't ready in 5 minutes. Give me the cooking time to put it together. And I want to finish cooking the pasta in the sauce as well. Interesting trick for certain situations, but I don't see it being of frequent use.
     
  12. fatcook

    fatcook

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    The cold oil fry method is great when short on time. Scrub and cut the fries (I don't peel), pop them into the oil and the rest of dinner can be put together while it comes to temp with the occasional stir and nothing else until they are done. I don't keep the temp low though, turn it on high and they are done in 30 minutes. I love when the fries break when being stirred - it makes wonderful crispy ends.
     
  13. Patch

    Patch

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    If I did that my cooking fuel costs would at least quadruple and for no useful purpose. About the only time I boil water, certainly that much water, is if I'm cooking pasta. I'm sure boiling a gallon of water every day works for Pepin. It would be a total waste for me.

    The pasta isn't ready in 5 minutes either. You still have to get the water and pasta to a boil before you start the timer on the four and a half minutes. This approach basically eliminates the time required to boil the gallon of water. The pasta is still in water cooking for about the same amount of time it would be with the conventional approach, you just don't boil the water before you start.This technique basically shifts the long pole in the tent from the pasta to the sauce, so I can get the sauce almost ready and then start the pasta. I'm not sure how wanting to finish the pasta in the sauce makes a difference here. So you take the pasta out of the water after four minutes instead of four and a half.

    @fatcook, do you need to use a particular type of potato? I think I saw this method on TV and they said it would only work properly with Yukon Gold potatoes.
     
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  14. phatch

    phatch Moderator Staff Member

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    I doubt he boils a gallon. Unless you're cooking a full pound of pasta or long pasta that's overkill. Which gets abck to the gimmick of the concept.
     
  15. brianshaw

    brianshaw

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    Gimmicks... they are sometimes good but especially easy to promote when (a) money is no object, or (b) someone else is footing the bill.
     
  16. Patch

    Patch

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    Why is it a "gimmick"? Just because it's not the method that's been typically used doesn't mean it isn't an improved way of doing things, even if the improvements are simply saving time and fuel. From the "green" aspect alone I'd think a lot of people would be on board with this method.

    For people like me who are typically cooking for a small number, it can also provide improved overall results. The boiling of the water stretched dinner prep time out enough that I'd usually cook the full pound of pasta even though we'd eat no more than half of it. And then I'd have to wash that big pot. Reheated pasta is clearly inferior to freshly cooked but I'd live with that just to avoid having to wait for the water to boil. Maybe this is not such a huge deal if you've got a burner that will put out 15,000 BTUs. I don't. So I boil all the pasta on the first night and just live with the inferiority of microwave reheated pasta the next night. No more. With this method I can have freshly boiled pasta in about 15 minutes. That's barely enough time to get the sauce reheated. Better results, less time, less fuel. That doesn't sound like a gimmick to me.

    You don't want to use this approach, fine, but why dismiss it as a "gimmick" when you apparently haven't even tried it or seriously considered the practical applications? Is this going to take over as the new method in commercial kitchens? Of course not. Will it reduce meal prep time for the busy person trying to get a decent dinner on the table on a Tuesday night? Most likely. It certainly has done so for me.
     
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  17. phatch

    phatch Moderator Staff Member

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    Because boiling pasta is still short. It's part of a meal that has other involved parts. I don't recall waiting around for pasta to finish. Matching timing is all just part of cooking skills.

    It's a solution in search of a problem.

    I have Chinese egg pasta that boils to completion in 4 minutes in the traditional method in 6 cups of water if I'm needing a fast noodle solution for dinner.
     
  18. Patch

    Patch

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    I made pasta for two tonight and again used the cold water method. Curious about the specifics I timed it. 250g of gemelli in a bit less than one quart of water in a 1.5 quart saucepan took 8.5 minutes to come to a boil and another 4.5 minutes to finish cooking. The results were again excellent. I saved at least 20 minutes of fuel and have just a small saucepan to clean instead of the 8 quart stock pot. If this is a gimmicky solution in search of a problem, please sign me up for the newsletter. I could use more gimmicky solutions like this in my life.
     
  19. fatcook

    fatcook

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    Patch, we use whatever we have on hand. Usually russets, sometimes yellow or white. I find with the russet we get a crisper exterior (which we like).
     
  20. mhpr262

    mhpr262

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    Good god this is torture. Can the outlets in your kitchen deliver 2000W of power? If yes you need a portable induction hob. It can bring a gallon of water to a boil in a quarter of the time.