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Boiling pasta - oil or no oil

Hi hounds!

Adding oil while boiling pasta prevents them from clumping. It also helps previnting boil over. But oil prevent from pasta to absorb sauce. Houders, what is your preference and why?

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  1. Salt only. No water for the reason you mentioned. I want the pasta to absorb some sauce and not have it slide off. I guess you could put just a drop of oil that would reduce boil overs and foaming

    1. You may want to read this post from further down the page: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/393060

      1 Reply
        1. re: swsidejim

          I use salt and oil just Emril. if he can do it so can I, I will never bne as good as he but
          I can try.

          1. re: bigjimbray

            emeril does strange things that other chefs don't do........like adding oil to his pasta water. just add kosher salt, no oil. you need to use plenty of water, a large pot and stir every now and then

        2. IMO, adding oil does nothing other than waste oil. I salt the water and never have a problem with clumping. Your pot may be too small or you're not using enough water.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Den

            Salt only. It should taste like the sea. Add it after the water has come to a boil.

          2. I agree with the above. Salt only, added after the water is boiling. Be sure to use a large pot, and lots of water. Your pasta won't clump at all.

            6 Replies
            1. re: xtal

              That makes three-only salt and lots of it. Stir within a minute and it won't clump. A tip for finishing: Reserve some of the cooking water, add pasta to sauce and heat together for a few minutes to allow pasta to absorb sauce. Add as much pasta cooking water as needed (usually very little) once pasta if off heat to give pasta gloss and separation. I could eat it everyday!

              1. re: xtal

                Another voice for salt only - but what conceivable difference does it make whether you add the salt before or after the water starts to boil? Granted, salt water has a higher boiling point (by a degree or two), but as long as the salt is in there and the water is boiling before you add the pasta, the end result is exactly the same either way.

                1. re: BobB

                  You're absolutely right; I think the "add salt at the end" comes from the fact that if you add it to the cold water it sits at the bottom of the pan and can in some cases, damage the pot. That's all.

                  1. re: BobB

                    Salt actually raises the boiling point of the water by 4°F, causing it to take a little longer to come to a boil.

                    1. re: VeganKatie

                      Yes, but the question was whether it matters whether you add it at the beginning or when it's already boiling. In either case it will boil at a higher temperature. If you add it at the end, the boil will subside until the temperature comes up again. The only reason not to add it at the beginning is to not have salt sitting at the bottom of the pot (possibly) damaging the surface. Adding it at the end is not a "short cut" to a quicker boil.

                      Also the number of degrees (one, a couple, or 4) depends entirely on the concentration of salt.

                2. Think about the physical chemistry.... the oil floats at the top, the pasta sits or circulates at the bottom: no interaction, no prevention of clumping, but certainly will prevent sauce absorbtion when tossed out. The oil does nothing. Just add kosher or sea salt. An above posting about the volume of water might be on to the root of your problem. And as for quoting Emeril as a source - don't. I won't be as rude as Bourdain, but AB is correct about EL. Sizzle, no steak.

                  1. Salt only and lots of it. Lots of water too. There is no good reason to add oil to the water.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: C. Hamster

                      In my thoroughly Italian family unto a hundred generations - No Oil!

                      Salt the water before or after boiling - no difference. Stir gently after throwing the macaroni into the water, and several times thereafter. (Do not add water the macaronii was cooked into Marinara or Bolognese sauces.)

                    2. I use a small dash of oil when I'm cooking pasta in a smaller pot, to prevent boil over (breaks surface tension). When I'm using a larger pot I don't fill it as high so I don't bother with the oil. I use salt if its handy. I usually cook the pasta and sauce together briefly just before serving, and the small bit of oil does not prevent the pasta and sauce from coming together nicely.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: itsrob

                        (1) You shouldn't be using a small pot.

                        (2) I have seen people dump an oil slick in the pot, and, yes, it does prevent the pasta from marrying the sauce.

                      2. I don't put oil or salt in the cooking water. I turn the fire down to medium-high and that keeps it from boiling over but is still high enough to keep the pasta separated. After the pasta is done and drained, I put maybe a tablespoon of olive oil in the pan and toss the drained pasta back with it.

                        1. Oil is some kind of strange urban myth/quasi-cook kind of thing. Posts above indicate a trail leading to idiotic Emeril. Nyet!

                          1. I will put an end to the mystery of oil and salt in pasta. Use a good sea salt and a very small amount of oil. The oil helps with clumping and boil overs and because you always cold rinse the pasta to stop the cooking process the oil will basically all rinse off. Pasta will continue to cook unless you quick cold rinse it. Always rapid boil pasta and if your using different size pasta dont boil all together because cook times varies between products and size. Nothing worse than over cooked pasta so a cold rinse is the secret

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: rcsrcs007

                              That is not the Italian way, though many Italians have used all these methods at various times.

                              The accepted Italian way is to use 1 liter of water (1 quart) and 10 grams of coarse salt (sea or not, nobody cares) for every 100 grams of pasta. That works out to about 3 tablespoons of salt and 5 quarts of water for a pound of pasta. If you use the correct amount of water and stir the pasta, sticking is not an issue.

                              Cold rinse (or pouring a cup of cold water into the pot before draining) is not used, though it was once suggested to me specifically for use with a very starchy pasta in the very hard water of Rome -- highly special case. For most days of the year, absolutely no.

                              Likewise oil is not normally used except for the quick dip in boiling water of very fresh lasagne sheets and for some hand-made, sun-dried southern flour-and-water pastas, and even then its use may be based on a myth.

                              Yes, definitely exercise care when cooking different shapes or even brands in the same pot.

                              "Sauces & Shapes: Pasta the Italian Way"

                              1. re: rcsrcs007

                                you resurrected a 7-year-old thread for this? because, erm, no.

                                rinsing pasta rinses the starch down the drain so your sauce will not be able to cling as well. once the water comes to a boil lower the flame just slightly and stir to avoid any boiling over.

                                cooking pasta al dente means it won't be overcooked, so you don't need to "stop" the cooking.

                                1. re: hotoynoodle

                                  Agreed. A cold rinse is a very bad suggestion unless, possibly, you're making a pasta salad. A first post of questionable value.

                                  1. re: grampart

                                    Other than, "if your using different size pasta dont boil all together because cook times varies between products and size." (which I have never heard of anyone doing)
                                    It is only of misinformational value

                                    1. re: chefj

                                      Actually it is perfectly legit to boil different sizes of pasta together, say for pasta e fagioli or a pasta al forno (a great way to use up odd small amounts cluttering your pantry), but each addition should be timed so that they all finish together.

                              2. If you want to eliminate boil-over, get one of these.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: grampart

                                  Yes, I have one and like it but usually forget to use it. Also, you still have to stir the pasta, quite a bit at the beginning and then from time to time.

                                  1. re: mbfant

                                    Agreed. Once the boiling water starts to fill the lid (as shown in photo), it's best to take it off the heat before stirring.

                                2. Just salt. No oil. I like to under cook my pasta a little then finish it by draining and tossing around in a shallow pan with the sauce until the sauce is warmed through. If its too dry add a little of the pasta water to the pan. Generally by then the pasta is perfectly done and I feel it absorbs some of the flavor of the sauce by cooking it in the sauce. This does not work with all sauces (generally creamy sauces are a bust here) but with tomato or stuff like scampi, it totally makes a difference.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. No oil for me.
                                    Pasta clumping isn't really a problem if you stir a bit especially when it first goes in the the water.
                                    Oh, don't skimp on the water.

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: monavano

                                      My standard now when making spaghetti is to boil the noodles in the saute pan I will use to make the sauce. Easier clean up and there is actually some (small) usable starch in the water if I want to add it to said sauce.

                                      1. re: gourmanda

                                        I do this in my Calphalon braiser when I want to make a true one pot meal. It isn't ideal for long past, however.

                                        1. re: monavano

                                          How long is your spaghetti???? Mine fits fine in a 12" saute pan. And no, I don't break it in half first. ;)

                                          1. re: gourmanda

                                            It's the relative flatness of the braiser that makes it less than ideal.
                                            It works optimally with shaped pasta.

                                        2. re: gourmanda

                                          Wow, I learned something new. I never made pasta in the saute pan. Glad that I checked my 7 year-old post :) Thanks for the tip!

                                      2. http://www.seriouseats.com/2010/08/ho... very informative, scroll down to the middle of the page.

                                        1. Oil in a pot for cooking pasta is a crime against the food gods.
                                        - only cheap poor quality pasta would need oil. Quality well made pasta will not stick.

                                        7 Replies
                                        1. re: PastaMamma

                                          Most pasta is very cheap and boils up just fine. You don't need to spend $$ on dried pasta.
                                          Lots of water, salt and stir, stir, stir to prevent sticking.

                                          1. re: monavano

                                            Beg to differ. The variables among dried pasta are few -- they are all made by mixing durum wheat flour (semolina) with water, extruding the dough, and drying the cut pieces) -- but the specifics are important.

                                            The flour may be bred or selected by the pasta maker and grown under his supervision or you can have bargain anonymous flour from who-knows-where that nobody else wanted.

                                            The dies for extrusion can be bronze, stainless, or Teflon. The result differences in the texture of the pasta are crucial.

                                            Drying slowly at low temperature (more expensive) enhances the wheaty flavor of the pasta. Large-scale industrial blast drying doesn't.


                                            1. re: mbfant

                                              I buy a box of pasta for about a buck. It doesn't stick with stirring.
                                              What else do I need to know?

                                              1. re: monavano

                                                I tend to agree with you. I think the quantity of water relative to pasta is key as well. Back when we were in grad school, folks were trying to cook spaghetti for 10 in a 6 quart pot.

                                                We called it "pasta rope".

                                                1. re: DGresh

                                                  Harold McGee has proven to his satisfaction (and therefore mine) that pasta will cook just fine in enough water to cover it, and though it takes less time if the water is kept hot a simmer is all you really need. Kind of nice to know here in drought-wracked SoCal …

                                                  1. re: Will Owen

                                                    but did those lazy grad students have to stir it (instead of drinking beer and goofing off)?

                                            2. re: monavano

                                              Vero ma, it's the quality that counts. Example pasta made in Italy has high standards & requirements regarding how it's made by the Italian gov. So in Italy ya, you don't really have that problem. The states I feel very differently. Perhaps I am a pasta snob but I would never buy say- "Anthony's" I'd prefer De Cecco or Barilla my fav by far is BioNature- organic pasta made in Italy. Love it Love It love it!
                                              I am a lazy and rarely ever stir my pasta, and I never have an issue with sticking pasta. :)