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Oil or salt in the pasta water?

Or both?

Oil keeps it from boiling over, but it can make the pasta greasy and limp.

I usually go with just salt myself, and then toss the cooked pasta with some EVOO, but I'm willing to try something new.

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  1. Only salt. No oil in the boiling water.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Campania

      Ditto.

      Never oil in the water. It makes the pasta "slimy" and keeps it from holding onto the sauce.

    2. lots of salt. to taste like the sea. never oil. unless you're making pasta salad, i think. i never make pasta salad. and never rinse. except maybe again for pasta salad!

        1. re: puds_companion

          are you saying only use salt and not oil, or only use kosher salt and no other type?

          1. re: puds_companion

            It matters not what kid of salt you use -- it's all 99% NaCl.

            It does matter that you use a LOT of boiling water and a good amount of salt -- so that it tastes like sea water.

            1. re: C. Hamster

              Iodized table salt can impart a bitter or metallic taste in foods to certain palates. Salts without additives would be preferred here and always.

              1. re: CDouglas

                Only if your palate can detect such a distinction.

                Don;t get me wrong. I only cook with kosher salt. But there is really no scientific or culinary reason to use it in pasta water if you cannot appreciate the difference.

                Think of all the people who only use iodized table salt. They need not run out and buy a box of kosher for this purpose.

                1. re: C. Hamster

                  Agreed. I don't keep that stuff in my house but I do know folks who claim they taste metal when it is used on popcorn or fries. When I need a finer grain than Kosher brings to the party I run some through a coffee (now spice) grinder.

              2. re: C. Hamster

                I would beg to differ. There is a distinctive difference in flavour between regular iodized salt and Kosher (sea, if you will) salt. I find the taste of Kosher salt more pronounced, whereas regular salt cannot be detected in the pasta water.

                1. re: puds_companion

                  I would venture to guess that 99 out of 100 people would disagree.

                  Take sea salt as it is commonly known out of the equation, if you will.

                  Both iodized table salt and kosher salt are 99% NaCl, so they are essentially the same thing, And of course you can taste both in the pasta water --they are salty!

                  Most people who claim to be able to differentiate bewteen these types of salt come ot the opposite conclusion as you: they believe iodized salt to leave a chemical/bitter or otherwise "off" taste.

                  My point was that if your go-to salt is the blue box of Morton's tables salt, by definition you either can't detect and off taste or don't care. So go ahead and use it and don't be a slave to the cries of "use kosher salt."

            2. Recent, long, exhaustive discussion of this exact topic at
              http://www.chowhound.com/topics/387007

              1. I also endorse the always salt, never oil routine.

                1. For me, I add kosher salt to the water as it comes to a boil. No Oil.

                  I sometimes reserve some of the water when draining, and then rinse it with the reserved water to make the pasta more starchy, and allow sauces to stick to it better.

                    1. Salt in the water definitely improves the flavor.

                      No oil in the water, but I'll toss some in after draining it if I'm going to hold it and rewarm later (usually done in a restaurant).

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: manraysky

                        This is exactly correct, and is what is done at any one of your favorite restaurants.

                        Salt the water for taste. There is NO good way to season the pasta itself after it is done cooking in the water. Adding salt to the sauce to try to compensate for bland pasta will not yield a desirable result. Here is a tip: Wait until AFTER the water boils to add the salt, as salt will make the water come to a boil slower if it is added at the beginning.

                        Oil it after draining it if you aren't going to be saucing it right away.

                        When you order your pasta dish in a restaurant a cook will grab the correct portion from the pasta 'bin', place it in a a strainer, and dip it into boiling water for not even a minute. This removes the oil and reheats the pasta to the correct temperature to add to whatever sauce, or dish you have prepared for it. In restaurants this pasta will be originally cooked to slightly less than 'al dente' so that by the time it's dipped back into the water for a minute and then tossed in the sauce it'll be perfectly cooked.

                        This is how it is done professionally. the reason though is purely to enable the pasta to be cooked all at once, stored, and then portioned out easily the rest of the night. If you don't oil it in this situation it becomes a huge hassle to work with. I see no reason, however to oil the pasta if it is going to be sauced immediately.

                      2. Only salt. The oil will make the pasta slick and keep your sauce from adhering.

                        1. My pasta always comes out perfectly.

                          Pasta cooked in water without salt is bland and tasteless. No amount of seasoning afterwards can compensate. 1 1/2 TB added to 6-8 quarts of boiling water.

                          A few drops of oil in pasta water alters the surface tension and prevents boiling bubbles from breaking the surface and spilling over. ONLY A FEW DROPS... LESS THAN A TEASPOON. That leaves no oily residue, limpness, or greasiness.

                          1. Salt yes, for taste. Oil, no. If you coat the pasta with oil during the cooking process, sauces won't stick. It might no matter if your going to dump a quart of spaghetti sauce over your plate of pasta, but it you plan on tossing your pasta with a small amount of sauce (the Italian way) then you want the sauce to adhere.

                            1. Just salt. If boiling over is a concern, just use a deeper pot or turn the heat down a little.

                              7 Replies
                              1. re: jzerocsk

                                Thanks for the tips, hounds. I usually use kosher salt, occasionally I use iodized sea salt. I use a big pot if I'm cooking a whole pound of pasta, but if I'm making less I'll use a smaller pot. Easier to wash.

                                Do you folks mix the pasta with the sauce and heat it in the pot, or do you ladle out the sauce over the bare pasta and serve it like that? I guess it depends somewhat on the type of sauce.

                                1. re: Veritas_Redux

                                  Adding oil to your pasta water will prevent the sauce from sticking to your pasta. Salt is to flavor the pasta while cooking. I like to cook the pasta a bit in the sauce before serving. It helps make sure every pasta piece is coated...

                                  1. re: Veritas_Redux

                                    With 99% of sauces, I cook the pasta until it is even more "undone" than al dente, and then drain the pasta (reserving some of the cooking water) and finish it in the skillet with the sauce for about 30 seconds, which makes for a more integrated dish. I thin with cooking water if needed or if the pasta is a little underdone at that point. I sauce my pasta very lightly so the pasta water is crucial.

                                    However, for pesto or other noncooked sauces such as checca sauce, I have a large serving bowl ready, warmed in the oven, then as the pasta is done I put the sauce in the bottom of the bowl, drain the pasta (reserving some cooking water just in case) and toss the pasta in the bowl with the sauce, so as not to cook the sauce too much.

                                    In answer to your original question, you should always liberally salt the water but never put in oil for the reasons other posters have mentioned.

                                    1. re: farmersdaughter

                                      I though salt also helped the pasta from becoming sticky in addition to the affore mentioned reasons. Also, could could someone quantify what they mean by "a lot" of salt. I always give it a few healthy shakes and have never measured.

                                      1. re: CerealKiller

                                        I cook 1 pound of pasta in about 5 quarts of water and use a big handful of salt (probably 1 to 2 tablespoons).

                                        1. re: CerealKiller

                                          If pasta sticks, it's because there was too much of it in an insufficient amount of water.

                                          1. re: bkhuna

                                            Or you didn't give it a few good stirs when you first put it in the water. Or your water hadn't come to a rapid boil when you added the pasta. During many Boy Scout campouts, I witnessed an incredible array of ways to render pasta completely inedible!

                                  2. Here is an article by Shirley Corriher that addresses these questions.

                                    http://www.taunton.com/finecooking/pa...

                                    1. OK. Here goes: I had a Home Ec teacher about 20 years ago that said you don't need to salt the water nor put oil in it. You're just adding xtra salt and calories to the food??? Anyone else agree with this. I don't. I've tried it both ways, and I just use the salt. Kosher.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: godis1224

                                        He/she's right. Adding salt adds extra salt to the food and adding oil adds extra calories to the food. If the goal is not to add extra calories to the overall dish, why not just leave the pasta out?

                                        The point is, "extra" in relation to what? What's the definition of "just enough" vs. "extra" with regards to salt and calories? The answer is, it depends on the individual. If you like your pasta the way it tastes without adding any salt to the cooking water, then leave it out. However, if you're like most people, you'll enjoy the flavor of the pasta and the overall dish more if you salt the pasta's cooking water.

                                        There are some applications that benefit from oiling the pasta water, but not many so if you're going to make a habit of one or the other, I'd skip adding oil to the pasta's cooking water.

                                      2. Salt salt salt baby !! Only salt.

                                        1. Like everybody else: salt yes, oil no. For this purpose, the type of salt doesn't really matter.