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pre-soaking pasta

In his recent article about Heat in the New York Times Harold McGee advocates pre-soaking dried pasta - much as you would dried beans - to shorten the cooking time. Has anyone ever done this? Not that pasta takes so long to cook but I'm curious. How would this affect the texture and or flavor? If you've tried this please tell how it worked!

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  1. Seems to me that presoaking for any amount of time at all is really not worth the hassel of shortening an already 6-10 minute cooking time. What do you save?

    1. sounds to jfood like the writer was under the weather and wrote an article from the comfort of his bed and had nothing else to write about. And how long will it take to fill and wash the extra pot. Jfood may place this on the list of silly things not to do in the kitchen.

      4 Replies
      1. re: jfood

        It was actually touted as an energy saver - for the planet, not the cook.

        1. re: lupaglupa

          Hmm, I wonder how much energy we'd save if everyone switched to angel hair.

          1. re: chowser

            But what a price to pay for the savings! I'd rather buy a carbon offset and have the pasta that suits the sauce.

          2. re: lupaglupa

            oh, goodness gracious -- energy savings!

        2. I presoak lasagne noodles if I'm not boiling them. I think it makes a difference in texture. It was recommended by America's Test Kitchen. It's done in hot water for (I think but can't remember for sure) about 5 minutes.

          1. Soaking or boiling, the result is the same. Boiling is just faster. Try soaking a small amount of pasta, as chowser does. It takes longer, but eventually, it'll be reconstituted.


            1. I know this is a really old thread but thought I'd reply since I do it quite successfully. Presoak the dried pasta for 3-4 hours; long shapes you can do in a roasting tray/dish. Then use straight away or drain and keep in a plastic bag in the fridge for a couple of days.
              Pasta takes only 3 minutes or so to cook and you also need mega less water to cook it in because it is already hydrated. I'm in a small flat with no extractor fan over the stove so this method of cooking is great for not having to deal with huge amounts of steam that pasta normally generates. I live in a climate with high humidity so keeping things dry is very important.
              My budget is very tight so nice to use less electricity when I can.

              Also good if you have to cook a large amount in a short amount of time (e.g. catering type situations) because the texture is far superior to par-cooking the pasta. Great for baked pasta dishes too - I just pre-soak the pasta, assemble the dish using a sauce that is more liquidy than usual and then bake it when needed.

              10 Replies
              1. re: Billy33

                Thanks for posting. i will do this today. At the time I originated the following thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/583856, I questioned whether pasta could be completely prepared by soaking in unheated water but since responders said it would be mush on the outside and raw inside, I never tried it. But the steeping off-heat in boiled water has been my only way to do pasta in several years now.

                1. re: Billy33

                  I have a pound of rigatoni soaking. Do you bring the soaking water to a boil with the pasta still in it, or do you boil a pot of water, drain the soaked pasta, and add it to the boiling water?

                  1. re: greygarious

                    Sorry, I forgot to say - soak in cold water. Cook in boiling water as per normal. I suppose you could use the same water it's been soaking in (a good way to save water!). When I do it, I drain it off because I usually then keep it in the fridge for later.

                    1. re: greygarious

                      Sold! I soaked for nearly 4 hours, scooped the pasta out, brought water to a simmer and added the pasta for 4 minutes. It could have used another minute, possibly because it wasn't at a rolling boil. It's hot and humid today. A half hour later the water in the pot was still hot enough to use to wash the dinner dishes although for the sake of a cooler kitchen I probably should have dumped it. .

                      1. re: greygarious

                        "the water in the pot was still hot enough to use to wash the dinner dishes"

                        You wash dishes in old pasta water?

                        1. re: Jay F

                          You bet. I dismantled the dishwasher years ago. It's dish detergent and a dishpan for me - virtually no starch in the water, so there's no reason to waste it. Anyone who thinks that is improper is misguided, and free to never darken my door.

                          1. re: greygarious

                            we might dub you "greengarious" !;-)

                            1. re: greygarious

                              I'd simply never heard of it before. My father was one of the most thrifty people God ever created, and he would have loved this idea.

                        2. re: Billy33

                          Forgot to mention that long, thin shapes can soak for a shorter time - 1-2 hours.

                        3. He discusses several variations on the large pot of boiling water. Besides the soaking, he explores taking the boiling water with pasta off the burner for a while, and using much less water.

                          I've not tried the presoak, but have been using somewhat less water, or at least not worrying that I had the full amount suggested on the package. And I had already cooked finer pasta like rice - in just enough water to be absorbed (Spanish fiedua or Mexican sopa seca de fideos).

                          1. It's not the Italian thing to do. Marrone! Never heard of presoaking pasta except for this energy saving idea.

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: ChiliDude

                              I haven't pre-soaked but I sometimes do pasta kind of like risotto, barely toasting penne rigate in a little oil then adding liquids in stages. I learned it from one of the Italian cooking magazines. It was a good recipe except it added so much gorgonzola at the end that all the other delicious flavors that had developed were totally lost.

                              1. re: Betty

                                Interesting! Sorry to learn of the loss of flavors. I have another problem. My wife, she has the Italian genes, will not eat any ridged pasta because it tastes different than smooth pasta. Yeah, right. To me, all dried pasta tastes the same. Of course, I don't have Mediterranean blood.

                              2. re: ChiliDude

                                Am I allowed to try it if I'm not Italian?

                                1. re: paulj

                                  Wonder if the earlier Itallians turned their noses up to pasta because it was not the Italian thing to do?

                                  1. re: paulj

                                    As a fellow nontalian, I give you permission.

                                    1. re: jvanderh

                                      BRAVISSIMO! IL PAPA HA PARLATO!!! E' un buono scherzo.

                                    2. re: paulj

                                      Be my guest! Try anything you wish. I don't have Italian genes either as stated in my reply to Betty. In fact, I've enough pasta for 3 lifetimes after 51.5 years of marriage.

                                  2. If it ain't broken, don't fix it.

                                    9 Replies
                                    1. re: Jay F

                                      If I can cook pasta faster while saving water and energy by soaking/steeping, not to do so would be as ludditic as writing with a quill dipped in ink. The quill wasn't broken, either.

                                      1. re: greygarious

                                        Well, you go right ahead and do it.

                                        Love the greyhounds, btw (and as with everything else, especially the Italians).

                                        1. re: greygarious

                                          As a calligrapher, I'll defend the quill and ink but I do like my oven over rubbing two sticks for fire.:-)

                                          1. re: chowser

                                            I don't know I'd really class soaking pasta in the machinery category anyway. In the goofy category, perhaps.

                                            1. re: oldunc

                                              Hey, it's goofy but it works. The theory is sound - we presoak dried beans and other things to hydrate them and reduce the cooking time, so why not pasta?

                                              1. re: Billy33

                                                It's not so much a matter of why not, as of solving nonexistent problems. If the theory you mean is that water will get it wet, then hot water will get it wet faster.

                                          2. re: greygarious

                                            For you, perhaps.

                                            But for me this method requires additional steps and a second pot just to save a few minutes' cooking time. So far no one's claimed that presoaking pasta results in a superior flavor and as long as that's the case I'm not worried about the energy consumption required by the additional five minutes' cooking time.

                                            I don't see this as progress.

                                            1. re: Roland Parker

                                              @Roland Parker: Not sure why you need a second pot and if you read my original post on 3rd Sep'11 you will see that the benefits I get out of it were more than just 5 minutes worth of saved electricity. It does provide a superior texture as an alternative to par-cooking and then re-cooking pasta.
                                              I'm on a SERIOUSLY tight budget so any savings I can make to my power bill, not matter how small, are vital.

                                              I think that different people have different priorities so pre-soaking might seem pointless to some people but there are others (such as me) who find advantages to it. I don't think anyone is claiming that it's the radical next step in the evolution of cooking dried starches; it's just a technique that some people might find useful in certain situations.

                                          3. re: Jay F

                                            Now that's a good Polish proverb!

                                          4. Once I saw someone presoak the pasta in olive oil. I thought it was a complete waste of olive oil.

                                            As for presoaking in water, I'd be worried to make the pasta mushy. Also, I never pre-cook my lasanga noodles; I just add more tomato sauce.

                                            1. I bring water to a boil, salt, put in pasta, return to boil, stir, turn off heat, and leave covered for the recommended cook time. Flawless.

                                              5 Replies
                                              1. re: Cameraman

                                                i've done this technique, and it has worked well. i don't typically do it (why, i'm not sure), but it really allowed me to grab the pasta at a perfect al dente.

                                                1. re: Cameraman

                                                  I did this while cooking on a sailboat for years; great pasta. Why I've gotten out of the habit on land, I don't know.

                                                  1. re: Sherri

                                                    I know, it's crazy isn't it. I don't know why this isn't the go to method for cooking pasta. I wonder what else it would work for: hard boiled eggs, corn, really anything that's boiled for 15 min. or less. Think of the energy it could save if it was widespread. Oh well.

                                                    1. re: Cameraman

                                                      I already use this method for both corn and hard cooked eggs -- it works perfectly. Time to remember it for pasta. Thanks for the reminder.

                                                  2. re: Cameraman

                                                    Love this idea as well! I do this for hard boiled eggs by bringing to a rolling boil and then covering for 10 minutes. I get perfect yolks every time.

                                                  3. I'm actually rather interested in this technique. Saving fuel (for myself, though of course it helps the environment!) is a concern of mine and it's one of the reasons I use my pressure cooker so much. If soaking pasta really can cut down cooking time from 12 minutes to 3 minutes then that would be very useful for me.

                                                    7 Replies
                                                    1. re: Muchlove

                                                      The energy used in cooking pasta is almost entirely consumed in bringing the pot to a boil and bringing it back to a boil when the pasta is added. Unless you're working in a high wind, maintaining temperature consumes very little energy.

                                                      1. re: oldunc

                                                        It uses more gas when you keep the stove on for longer. I pay for gas by the cylinder for my stove, as do most people in India. The aim is always to have the stove on for as short as time as possible to conserve gas, and thus money.

                                                        1. re: Muchlove

                                                          Conservation in itself is always a good habit, I merely point out that the saving in this case is negligible. It also will be far more than offset if you do something crazy like throwing out the soaking water or washing an extra vessel.

                                                            1. re: Muchlove

                                                              I agree. Plus, in the heat of summer, I'd much rather turn off the stove and cover the pot than to leave on the stove with the pot uncovered.

                                                        2. re: oldunc

                                                          On my stove maintaining a rolling boil on a large pot of water requires heat just below high. So if the pasta cooks just as well with a simmer or even off the heat, then it would save a good amount of energy.

                                                          I'm more concerned about fuel and water usage when camping than I am at home.

                                                          1. re: paulj

                                                            Neither the rolling boil nor the big pot is usually all that necessary, if you're willing to stir occasionally. If it takes that much to keep it boiling, it took a lot more to get it there. A lot of our culinary habits were developed at a time when conservation was much less of a general concern; even today, not many recipe writers give it much consideration.

                                                      2. I decided to try this last night. I used cool tap water and soaked the pasta overnight for 8 hours. This morning, the pasta was certainly done, but past the al dente state. I have to say that I didn't care for the texture. It seemed almost chalky. I probably soaked it for too long, so I'll try it again for 4 hours.

                                                        FWIW, I used curly egg noodles. I don't know if the type of pasta would make a difference in the texture.

                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: goodeatsgal

                                                          You do still have to cook it. Raw flour doesn't taste good.

                                                          1. re: goodeatsgal

                                                            If your goal is al dente, soak for no more than 3 hours. More like 2-2.5.

                                                            1. re: greygarious

                                                              I stand corrected. This video explains that while long soaking may seem to make it too flabby, cooking reverses things: http://www.kitchendaily.com/read/how-... And it only takes a minute to cook!

                                                          2. my former mother in law would fill a pot with rigatoni, just cover it with water, put it on the heat and bring it to a boil. Nearly all the water would be absorbed by the pasta and the pasta tasted like paste to me. I'm not saying it's exactly the same principal, but I believe there is merit and maybe even a scientific reason to putting pasta into boiling water. (what does soaking the pasta do to the starches, are they being converted while sitting in water?? I don't know, i'm speculating)

                                                            I like the idea of turning the pot off, leaving it on the stove for reccomended cooking time and then draining! I will try this next time... oh wait! I just started South Beach Diet... never mind