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Apr 22, 2008 05:46 PM

Do you add salt to boiled water for pasta?

Survey of CHs please: Do you add salt to the water when you cook pasta?
I was casually watching a cooking show last month (maybe Giada or R Ray, can't remember who it was ) and she made the off-the-cuff comment of saying she always salts her boiling water for pasta, as the pasta tastes better. Have I been missing the boat all these years? Is this a common thing for tasty pasta? Skipping the low-sodium-in-your-diet talk, how many of you do this? Does it really taste better? And do you still add olive oil? Basic question for many, but I really don't know. Maybe the Bitterman book might have the answer, but I don't have can you all give me your feedback and comments?

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  1. Yes to salt, no to olive oil (except v. occasionally for ravioli that tend to stick), and there is possibly one of the most contentious threads on CH on that subject. ;-) I'll try and dig it up for you!

    Here it is:

    1. Salt, absolutely, lots of it. It's all about flavor, and it makes a big difference. Some will tell you it's to raise the boiling point so the pasta cooks hotter and faster and this somehow helps the texture. While it's technically true that this raises the boiling point EVER so slightly, it's something like a fraction of a degree -- totally insignificant.

      Oil in the water? Noooooooooo, never never never. All that does is keep your sauce, whatever it may be, away from your pasta. Ideally, you pull the pasta from the water when it's JUST underdone and finish it in the sauce. Either way, you want the pasta to absorb just a bit of the sauce. Makes all the difference in the world. And if your pasta is coated with oil, it doesn't happen. (Doesn't apply, obviously, if your sauce IS oil).

      12 Replies
      1. re: Dmnkly

        Dmnkly, your point is so good. I am saying DUHHH to myself; why didn't I see that before....if the pasta is coated with oil, of course it won't absorb the sauce so well. . Sometimes the obvious has to be said to me before I Get It.

        I am a better eater of Chowfood than a cooker of it, but this board is helping me be a better cook. Thanks for the help!

        "lots of salt"...for the cooking-impared, can you be more specific please?

        1. re: anthrochick

          Definitely yes to salt and no to oil, although I will point out that Alton Brown demonstrated quite nicely (in a very scientific way) that if you add oil to the water, it will simply stay in the water and not coat the pasta (he did a before/after measure).

          1. re: bnemes3343

            Actually, he did a really lousy job on that demonstration. He did a before and after measure, found that only half a teaspoon was missing, and then airily proclaimed that half a teaspoon wasn't enough to coat the pasta -- which anyone who has ever used spray oils knows is not true: a half a teaspoon of oil can go a looooooong way.

            1. re: Ruth Lafler


              He also had a show where he said not to oil the water because it will coat the pasta and keep the sauce from sticking.


              1. re: grapes4444

                Alton Brown has a great show on the Food Network called GOOD EATS. He gets into the nuts and bolts of making a dish. History of the food item, why it acts the way it does. He also does a few other shows..Iron chef in America and a road trip one.

            2. re: anthrochick

              3-4 tablespoons for a standard pot of boiling water. I just hold the salt container upside down and let it dump in for a few seconds. You want your pasta water to "taste like the sea." I forgot to salt my pasta water the other night, and it made a definite difference in the final flavor of the pasta.

              If you stir your pasta while it is cooking you will have no issues with sticking.

              And you aren't rinsing your pasta after cooking are you? That removes all the starchy goodness.

              1. re: Megiac

                no, I am not rinsing the pasta post-cooking. That part I got right, LOL!

              2. re: anthrochick

                The best rule of thumb for pasta water is "as salty as the sea". So after adding about 3 tbl.. of salt taste the water, if it is salty there is too much, if it isn't then you did it just right. As far as oil is concerned, some types of pasta stick, such as tortellini and ravioli, so use about a teaspoon of olive oil. As for other pasta's, as long as you give it a good stir after about 30 secs. in the water you should not have any sticking at all. Good luck and happy cooking!!

                1. re: leiana_thomas

                  Well, "as salty as the sea" is *a* rule of thumb. not sure if it's the best. firstly, and perhaps most obviously, an awful lot of people have no idea what salt water tastes like (from the sea, or ocean, or whatever you call it). secondly, salt water varies in salinity, depending on where you are. not a very good rule of thumb for those reasons.

                  but yeah, salt your water. why not?

                  better yet. try it both ways and decide for yourself.

                  1. re: leiana_thomas

                    personally I have tasted the sea and it is QUITE salty. Nevertheless, that's how I salt my pasta water and I like how it comes out.

              3. Yes to salt.
                No to oil.

                1. What they said:

                  salt - always always
                  oil - never ever

                  Have some water with salt boiling at the moment for our pasta tonight actually.

                  1. salt always and without question or exception
                    oil never