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Pasta cooked 'al dente', am I the only one who doesn't like it that way?

It seems that the preferred way to cook pasta is 'al dente', but I can't bring myself to make it that way. The texture of it seems too pasty, or chewy. I cook pasta until it has a much lighter texture (I guess mushy is the only way to describe it). I'm sure it's because that's the way my parents cooked it when I was growing up.

Can someone explain the 'al dente' thing to me? I've stopped ordering pasta in restaurants because it's almost always undercooked (unless it's in a baked dish, which seems to negate my aversion). But, I would like to give it a try again with some background as to why it's preferred.

Is it just me, or are there other over-boiled pasta lovers out there?

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  1. I like pasta cooked al dente because it has texture. I also hate vegetables that are cooked to the point they've got no bite.

    I noticed that Asians like pasta cooked till it's soft. I don't think I've ever had an Asian pasta dish cooked al dente. Every time my relatives would visit, my mom would have me cook my linguine with clam sauce "fully cooked, not like what you usually do."

    9 Replies
    1. re: Miss Needle

      Now that you mention it, the Asian dishes that I've had do have 'soft' pasta. So maybe I'm not alone after all!

      I agree that veggies need to have some bite to them. Not sure why I don't like pasta the same way.

      1. re: Reston

        It took me quite some time to get used to al dente pasta since I grew up with over-cooked, mushy spaghetti per my Asian family. And now, with my grown up taste buds, I can enjoy both. But though I like to think myself rather adept in the kitchen, I still have no concept of when pasta is al dente when I'm making it.

        1. re: JungMann

          In this case, I think overcooked is preferable to undercooked. I know that some chefs are so terrorized by the al dente requirement that they end up serving crunchy pasta and risotto. If it's still dry in the middle, that's not al dente, that's raw.

      2. re: Miss Needle

        I think that one other issue is that many of the dishes are made w/fresh noodles which don't really cook up al dente.

        1. re: Miss Needle

          I always think of al dente for semolina type pastas and Asian noodle dishes are more egg noodles at least flour based? Maybe that's why Asians seem to prefer overcooked pasta? Or, maybe "overcooked" is subjective since they seem to think al dente is undercooked...

          1. re: chowser

            Yes, I would agree with you about the flour/egg/rice/mung bean based pastas. Even the ones that are dried are not semolina based.

            1. re: Miss Needle

              Mung bean noodles are an altogether different thing. They have to be soaked prior to use and they're not boiled, or even cooked per se. You add them to whatever hot liquid you're serving them with and let them simmer/steam a minute or two. They're an ingredient in a sort of cabbage stew that a Chinese friend taught me how to make, which is why I know what to do with them. You can't really compare them to flour-based pasta.

            2. re: chowser

              The optimal point for the different Asian noodles can vary; the desired texture is typically softer than Italian pasta, but one tends to seek out renditions that retain a certain resilence and chew.

            3. re: Miss Needle

              I know this is an old post/thread but I wonder about your thoughts regarding "Asians" cooking their pasta till it is soft.

              It is true that Chinese pasta = noodles (various varieties) are cooked so there is no hard center (no "sang kwat", or no "live bone") but properly done pasta is not mushy. Wonton noodles, in particular, are prized when they are "bouncy", springy to the bite [in Cantonese, "song hau"], have definite texture and definitely most certainly not mushy/congealed together due to being overcooked. Various restaurants/vendors will have their own freshly made wonton noodles, cooked expertly by their chefs (or by the person who made them :-) ) and will be prized by customers accordingly. I suppose one might need to go to such places - e.g. in large Chinatowns or to East/SE Asia - for ample selections of such places. Even if one cooks the mass-manufactured "fresh" stuff available in Chinese groceries in the USA one can get noodles with some resistance to the bite by cooking the noodles VERY briefly in a large pot of water, basically tossing a bundle into boiling water and immediately stirring/loosening it around till the water just comes back to a boil. 30 seconds or so. :-)

            4. I tend to like my pasta just past the traditional al dente stage. I, too, like the slightly softer texture. I like it to still have some chew, but not a firm bite in the middle.

              The higher quality the pasta, though, the more al dente it can be and I'll still be happy with it.

              6 Replies
              1. re: ccbweb

                I agree with ccbweb. Just a bit past al dente, but before mushy.

                1. re: danhole

                  I'm with you. I don't like to taste the flour or the wheat product. But just a few mins past the al dente, I couldn't be more mad at myself when I've gone to far. Then Its "pasty' and I'm reminded of that glue that I used to eat back in elementary school!

                2. re: ccbweb

                  Ditto that. Rustichella suggests 9 - 11 minutes for their spaghetti and I find that 10 is perfect--just too-firm enough to continue cooking while soaking up the sauce. The final result has integrity without that underdone texture that "those in the know" seem to think represents some sort of pasta pinnacle.

                  1. re: MacGuffin

                    I'm with you. Just a little past al dente - it seems like it accepts the sauce better.

                    1. re: bayoucook

                      Does it seem to you also that East Asian pasta never seems mushy, even though it's soft? I'm guessing that different wheat, different recipes, etc. account for this. I'm guessing it's held to a different standard because it's really not the same thing at all (and why am I suddenly craving sesame noodles Szechuan-style?).

                  2. Question (for the OP): What is your favorite pasta brand and what does it taste like to you?

                    Thanks

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: Chinon00

                      The brand I buy most often is Barilla. It has a nice flavor, but I do find that I boil it much longer than the box recommends. I've also tried the wheat pasta which I like too. I grew up in the Boston area eating Prince spaghetti (anyone remember 'Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti day'?

                      1. re: Reston

                        "Nice" isn't too precise. Not to be difficult but what specific flavor(s) do you taste in your pasta if any? What about it tastes good to you independent of any sauce?

                        Thanks!

                        1. re: Chinon00

                          It's difficult to describe, but I guess the flavor is similar to that of French bread with a nutty aftertaste. I think the flavor itself is good, but the texture seems to be what I dislike. If it's not tender (boiled to death) then it feels like I'm chewying on gum. Maybe I'm just inept at getting it to a proper al dente. Are there other pasta brands that you would recommend? I'm always up for trying a new one.

                          1. re: Reston

                            I WOULD suggest that you go to a restaurant known for their pasta dishes to get a good idea of what "al dente" is. However, as you've stated above you've found pasta in restaurants "undercooked". I really wish that I had this problem because I find that pasta is one of the most ruined dishes in restaurants, precisely for being OVERCOOKED.
                            This whole "chewing gum" texture that you mentioned I'm not familar with but it doesn't sound desirable. As the name suggests al dente means that the pasta is firm "to the bite". Not hard or undercooked but retaining significant body. If you don't like it cooked this way, that's cool. What's cooler is the fact that you've given the idea this much thought, time and effort.

                            Thanks

                            1. re: Chinon00

                              I think 'significant body' sounds like what I should be looking for. I've been assuming that al dente meant 'dense and chewy'. I will try to make some pasta again using the exact directions for al dente and see if I can get that 'significant body' without the 'dense and chewy'.

                        2. re: Reston

                          "Aaanthoneee...!" To be precise, "...in the Italian north end of Boston..."

                      2. Pasta cooked barely enough: al dente
                        Pasta cooked slower: al lente
                        Pasta cooked too long: al lamente

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: DonShirer

                          The first joke I remember making as a child was when my mom let me test the pasta to see if it was done, and I said "Uh-uh. It's al cemente!"

                          1. re: pamiam

                            I'm absolutely a fan of properly cooked, al dente pasta. I can't abide fully cooked pasta. Of course with regards to vegetables, Italians would generally prefer them fully cooked and fork tender. The concept of al dente doesn't translate from pasta to vegetables in the Italian diet.

                            R. Jason Coulston

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