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Sep 10, 2007 03:59 PM

Secret Food Myths - Let the De-Bunking Begin!

Oh, I dunno...I'm just in one of those piss and vinegar moods. Can you relate? There are so many food myths that just drive me crazy. But I'm just going to start with my top pet peeve and YOU can list your own personal secret food myths that you deep down would love to shout to the world and DEBUNK. Don't be afraid...confession is good for the soul!

OK, here goes. My number one ripe-for-debunking myth is about pasta cookery. MYTH - In order to make good pasta you have to use about ten gallons of furiously boiling water and you MUST salt the water because the pasta will never absorb salt after cooking. Well...big surprise. The pasta comes out just great cooked in water that is just at a mere simmer when you add the pasta and you do not have to use a huge amount of water either. the pasta comes out just fine - al dente, delicious, wonderful - if you only use a couple of quarts of water for a half pound dry pasta - just stir it and all will be well. And finally, why waste all that kinda pricey sea salt salting the water - your pasta will be just as delicious (better, in fact!) if you salt the cooked pasta when it's fully cooked, or hey...don't salt it at all. Because, if your sauce is good, it's got all the salt you're going to need already, and if you HAD salted the water you might throw off the flavor profile of your oh so carefully prepared sauce and maybe wind up with an oversalted mess.

Myths - our cooking is littered with them. This is something I've been thinking about a very long time (I do cook a lot of pasta) and it took courage to share it, because many people are going to disagree. But it's a big time saver - and you'll never oversalt again. Asian noodles, to my knowledge, are not cooked in salted water, are they? And I bet a lot of other chowhounds have other secret little pet peeves about other received wisdom with which they secretly disagree. I'd love to hear them.

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  1. I vastly prefer my pasta water salted. I can really tell a difference.

    26 Replies
    1. re: themis

      me too:) I don't like a lot of sauce on my pasta, so I like to season the pasta itself. Except for old-school, midwestern style spaghetti. You know... tomatoes, green pepper, onion, dried herbs, lots o' cheese. Then I prefer more sauce than pasta, but i still salt the water.

      1. re: hollyeve

        i don't go for much sauce either so you want the macaroni's flavor there the bury it in sauce (gravy) is and american thing gotta make sure the pasta is dead so smother it in sauce to be sure

        1. re: foodperv

          Foodperv, you must be from the Northeast US of A. I have only ever heard of pasta sauce referred to as "gravy" in the NY/NJ area.

          1. re: MysticYoYo

            They call spaghetti sauce "red gravy" down here in New Orleans as well.

      2. re: themis

        absolutely. i just use kosher salt though. don't know why you'd use sea salt here.

        the greater amount of water allows the pasta to move around of its accord, so you don't have to stir more than once or twice.

        1. re: themis

          Yeah, me too. I don't think this one is a myth.

          1. re: JasmineG

            1 gal water per pound of macaroni salt optional

          2. re: themis

            Count me in on bying into the salt the pasta water. As well as lots of rolling boil water to boot.
            I used to use small pots and no salt. It was fine. Then I started using a large pot, lots of water and lots of salt. The pasta is much better.

            The myth is, adding oil will not keep you pasta from sticking. It helps keep boil overs from happening but only lots of water for the pasta to move around in will keep it from sticking.

            Sorry Nik.


              1. re: Davwud

                Harold McGee tested the oil-stopping-sticking theory and found it to be true.

                1. re: Fuffy

                  It is true, but it also keeps the sauce from sticking. I want my sauce sticking to the pasta.

                  1. re: Ellen

                    DO NOT RINSE the pasta
                    it will hold sauce
                    and if you use a touch of (i 'll use the words ) heavy strong olive oil it adds to the macaroni an added dimension of flavor

                    1. re: foodperv

                      Oil in the water can also keep the sauce from sticking. I avoid it.

                      1. re: chicgail

                        I don't find that. There isn't enough oil left over to keep it from sticking.
                        Besides, if you sauce you pasta, if either is hot, the sauce will be absorbed right into the pasta anyway.


                  2. re: Fuffy

                    Alton Brown tested it and found it not to be true.


                        1. re: budlit

                          *GASP* My world is breaking apart!!

                          1. re: Morganna

                            I know!!! No, not the Great Altonator!!! He CAN'T be wrong!!!

                          2. re: budlit


                            YOU MUST NOW FLOG YOURSELF 100 TIMES TO REPENT

                          3. re: Davwud

                            Because Alton Brown and the folks on Mythbusters hold all pertinent knowledge in the world and thus - are always, always right .

                            1. re: aokoye

                              Oh, and don't forget America's Test Kitchen. They are right up there with Alton.

                            2. re: Davwud

                              Actually, Alton reversed himself on this. There is a newer episode where he flashes back and shows the earlier episode where he says adding olive oil is useless, and now states that it does in fact serve a great purpose.

                              Besides, I've spent a fair amount of my life around Italians, real Italians, and if they say salt and oil the pasta water I'm doing it.

                              1. re: kkak97

                                Lidia once said that you shouldn't add oil to the water because it keeps the sauce from sticking to the pasta. She said the key to avoid sticking was "abundant water".

                        2. re: themis

                          I can totally taste the difference and prefer my water salted, diamond kosher

                          1. re: themis

                            Salted water here, too. But I wouldn't use the expensive stuff. I keep plain table salt around for such jobs.

                            When I was a kid, I was told that the salt actually keeps the pasta from sticking. It seems to be true in my experience, but strangely, I've never heard anyone else say that!

                          2. The original comment has been removed
                            1. Pasta does absorb water as it cooks, yes salted does make a difference. About every chef "worth his/er salt" will say salt/season as you go along...not as a final thing.

                              The less water that does depend...on what you do with it after you cook it. Immediately rinse and dump into sauce, probably no big deal...hold for a bit...well, glued, goozy mess.

                              BUt as always, your milage can vary..never say never. :)

                              13 Replies
                              1. re: Quine

                                rinsing pasta is a no-no too. all the starch goes down the sink and sauce won't cling as well.

                                1. re: hotoynoodle

                                  Same effect as using lots of water, methinks...

                                2. re: Quine

                                  OK, you take a forkful of sauced pasta. You mean to say your tongue is sensitive enough to distinguish that the salt is IN the pasta and not just in the sauce. My mouth, when I take a bite of saucy pasta, immediately integrates the parts into one whole chewed up well integrated flavor. Like, you would never be chewing on some sauced up pasta and say, "Hmmmm...the sauce is fine, but I really should have put more salt into the pasta water and sadly, the pasta tastes flat, but the sauce all over it is really delicious - next time I better remember to put more salt into the pasta water." Ha.

                                  1. re: niki rothman

                                    Absolutely my tongue is that sensitive--I am a supertaster though ;)

                                    1. re: niki rothman

                                      with a thicker pasta, even a penne, jfood can definitelytaste the taste in the pasta. mrs jfood actually mentioned once that the pasta itself was too salty.

                                      1. re: niki rothman

                                        Yup, sure can.

                                        It's the same way I can tell when fish wasn't salted before cooking, even if it's been smothered in a well-salted sauce.

                                        There's a distinct difference (for my tastebuds, anyways) between a dish where all elements were properly salted vs. one where only some were seasoned and are compensating for the unsalted parts.

                                        1. re: niki rothman

                                          Why bother salting the sauce, either? Just take a bite of unsalted pasta with unsalted sauce, toss a pinch of salt in your mouth, and chew.

                                          Oversalted sauce is does not adequately correct for undersalted pasta.

                                          1. re: niki rothman

                                            Of course I can taste whether the pasta has been salted or not, and if too much. There is a marked difference in flavor.

                                            1. re: niki rothman

                                              Yes, absolutely that's what we're saying. I think the disconnect is that you may prefer more sauce on your pasta than the folks who want their pasta salted. I like my pasta slightly undersauced the same way I like my salad slightly underdressed: I'm there for the pasta as much or more than I'm there for what's on top of it, and if the pasta is unsalted and bland, all the salt in the sauce isn't gonna make a fig's leaf worth of difference.

                                              1. re: niki rothman

                                                I absolutely can taste whether or not pasta has been cooked in salted water. (And yes, there are times where I have oversalted the water, but this is rare.)

                                                And I'm not a supertaster.

                                                1. re: niki rothman

                                                  In Rome we used to say, "De gustibus non disputandum est," which probably best translates to "Everyone to his own taste." However, in Rome pasta was lightly sauced, compared with what we do to it America. The sauce was a foil to the flavor of the pasta and not a substitute for it. And the pasta al dente is chewed. You would clearly get the wheat flavor of the pasta and would be able to distinguish the salt or lack of it in the cooking water.

                                                  1. re: Father Kitchen

                                                    Niki, I can see it's a minority opinion, but I am totally with you on this. It's a waste of salt. And you gotta stir the pasta anyway, so why heat up extra gallons of water, it's not ecological.

                                              2. Have fun with this one: Eels are poison. Don't eat 'em. (My husband, of course, eats an abundance of eel sushi, and he's still with us, hale and hearty as always.)

                                                7 Replies
                                                1. re: revsharkie

                                                  I love the Eel sushi, have eaten a lot of it, and I'm still alive and kicking!!

                                                    1. re: revsharkie

                                                      All I can say is THANK GOD THE PASTA WATER POSTS ARE OVER!!!!!


                                                      1. re: revsharkie

                                                        Hmmm I had never heard this. Perhaps eels from certain regions? I have heard you can't eat barracuda in many regions because they retain a high level of lead. You can eat it in Barbados and Bonaire though?

                                                        1. re: ktmoomau

                                                          I think with barracudas It's age and size that determine if they're toxic. Older barracudas have had more time to build up toxins (from poisonous prey?) and so are less safe to eat.

                                                          1. re: Moosemeat

                                                            Ahh I googled and kind of figured it out. Small ones sometimes ok in the Atlantic, but can be questionable, large ones bad, but apparently on the west coast the species there doesn't have the same problem? Ciguatera disease I guess comes from toxins from tropical waters. Hmm, I guess it occurs so often people just don't take a lot of chance with it on the Atlantic coast, but I have had it in Bonaire and Barbados, good thing they must have been young ones.

                                                        2. re: revsharkie

                                                          thats because you don't feed him the right mushrooms to go with it lol lol

                                                          you do know i am kidding

                                                        3. Celery has "negative calories". As in, celery contains less calories than calories required to chew and digest it, apparently. According to the NY Times, it may be possible to expend a few more calories than you absorb eating something like celery, but in the end the deficit is negligible. But hey, if it makes you feel virtuous, go crazy and eat a ton.

                                                          10 Replies
                                                          1. re: TheGloaming

                                                            Works great as a diet. Celery stuffed with peanut butter, celery stuffed with cheese, celery stuffed with devilled eggs, etc. Negative calories, but you still feel like you've eaten!

                                                            1. re: alanbarnes

                                                              That's because you HAVE eaten peanut butter, cheese, and mayonaise-y eggs! Guess that puts it back on the positive side...

                                                              1. re: saticoy

                                                                I vote we just have the peanut butter, cheese, and egg goo, and feed the celery to the rabbits. I'd lose a ton of weight on any diet that requires me to eat raw celery, because I won't eat it. Don't care what you stuff it with.

                                                                1. re: revsharkie

                                                                  Favorite story. Decided to riff on the traditional Thanksgiving dinner for extended family. (For example, the main dish was a partially deboned and butterflied turkey, broil-roasted and re-formed around a core of stuffing to look like a bird that had never been cut.) One side dish was a take on pimiento-cheese-stuffed celery (double Gloucester, homemade mayo, fire-roasted red cherry peppers). My (now-ex) sister-in-law had nothing to say about the rest of the meal, but commented that it was the "best Cheez-Whiz she'd ever had."

                                                                  1. re: alanbarnes

                                                                    I'm eating celery sticks for lunch right now (thank heavens, I also had other stuff!) and let me tell you, definitely not as satisfying as a pizza. for weight-loss wonder foods, I think cabbage trumps celery any day.

                                                                    1. re: Sophia.

                                                                      I can't deal with the strings. And the flavor's just too strong. Cook it, fine. But don't make me eat it raw.

                                                                      1. re: Sophia.

                                                                        Please do your co-workers a favorite--do not eat cabbage for lunch. Not unless you have a pint of beano to go with it.

                                                              2. re: TheGloaming

                                                                I learned the same thing about hard boiled eggs - but only hard boiled. Wonder how long you would have to eat celery and hard boiled eggs before you actually lost weight. I wonder if snopes covers this?

                                                                they do discuss celery, so I guess it's not a myth

                                                                1. re: TheGloaming

                                                                  So "Celery has "negative calories" is not a myth. Even if the "deficit is negligible" it is still a deficit.

                                                                  1. re: TheGloaming

                                                                    while not 100% on the mark it is fairly close close enough to help fill you without adding any serious amt of cal