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Mar 21, 2011 07:54 PM

Cooking pasta for a crowd or in a restaurant setting?

Here is my question. I will be cooking for a group of people that will need service in a 4 hour span. The only thing I have to cook to order is the pasta and I was curious if you can keep pot ( 8 quart or so ) of water boiling and reuse the water? I would imagine it would get very starchy? Any suggestions? How do restaurants do this? Thanks!

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  1. If you cook all of the pasta ahead of time (a day ahead is fine) until it is nearly but not completely cooked through, you can drain it and cool it on a baking sheet or similar surface then refrigerate it until you need it. It can be moved from the cooling surface to something deeper (e.g. large roaster pan) and covered for refrigeration. Just make sure all containers are clean and that there is no exposure to cross contamination. When you're ready to cook it for serving just pop what you need into a pot of boiling water, cook until it's heated through and completely done, and serve.

    1. I would not worry about the starchy water. It will add a certain je ne sais quoi of "body" to the sauce. I'm pretty sure restaurants use the same water all night.

      1 Reply
      1. re: lidia

        When I worked the pasta station, we did change the water; when the current pot started to get too cloudy looking, I'd put on a new pot and save a little of the previous pasta water to use as needed to correct the sauce texture ala minute. todao's advice is good; you might consider using just a tiny bit of oil to toss the pasta you've cooked ahead in before you coil and refrigerate it. Then have your pot of boiling salted water at the ready, put the pasta into a strainer basket, and give it another minute or so in the water, to heat and finish the cooking process.

      2. Are you using fresh or dried pasta? If dried, then par-cooking (discussed above) won't just speed up the cooking process, it will reduce the amount of starch released into the water while you're serving, so you'll need to change the water less often. Par-cooked pasta can be a bit sticky, and I'm generally opposed to oil before saucing, so I'd divide it into individual portions and have them ready for final cooking.

        You could even go a step further by fully cooking the pasta ahead of time (well, not fully fully cooked, but super al dente) and finishing it in the sauce. No boiling water required.

        If you do decide to go the boiling water route, have two pots going. Cook batch after batch of pasta in one until the other comes to a boil, then dump and refill the first. While it comes to a boil, cook in the second one, then switch off again.

        2 Replies
        1. re: alanbarnes

          I might try a strainer stock pot for reheating the pasta.

          1. re: aqn

            A large spider works well, too.

        2. i'm gonna assume an alto-shaam isn't available :)

          par-cooking is a good idea, but if we also assume you don't have commercial refrigeration, i would worry about cooling and storage, say in an average home fridge, for any large quantity of pasta. both the quality of the food, and the safety of the food, could conceivably be compromised, with a nice long incubation time for bacteria thrown in. . . i would hate to rec this method and have you make a couple hundred people sick, or something. how many people/portions of pasta are we actually talking about, here?

          one restaurant method is to use a large (5-8gal), full stockpot of salted water, kept at a simmer and used to immerse individual orders of pasta in strainers, or they use a smaller pot with the 4 part divided insert for the same job, bringing new water to boil periodically in another pot so that the pasta station is never "down" waiting for water to boil, and many places cook pasta to order this way. the downside is that i could see an inexperienced person getting overwhelmed and falling behind. if there will be a quantity of simultaneous pasta orders coming in i could see attempting to follow this method as potentially very stressful, if not disastrous, but otoh if the orders will come in at a moderate pace and you are very organized, it may be fine. again, depending on how many plates/portions you will have to prepare, and the amount of work you'll also do with sauces and finishing. it's important to actually time yourself ahead of the event, instead of just guesstimating that you'll be able to finish a plate of pasta every 3 mins, or something.