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Pan Sauce with Marinara

Hi. I'm kind of a foodie/amateur cook or chef, whatever you want to call it. I love making pan sauces, and what I usually do is make a batch of marinara, and then cook up the pasta just before al dente, then put some marinara in the pan, mix it with pasta water, and then throw the pasta in there, and turn it and let it do it's thing until the sauce has tightened back up. Basic. My question is, am I doing that right? I know the pasta water is going to dilute the marinara a bit, but in letting it reduce back down to where it's thicker again, shouldn't it concentrate the flavors again? I salt the pasta water, but just use 2TBS instead of the 3 per 5qts of water to kind of cut down on the salt content of stuff. Is that what may be keeping it from being flavorful? My marinara is pretty flavorful on it's own. Also, I don't add any butter or anything when doing the pan sauce thing, also to cut down on excess fat and whatnot, but also because we're not big butter users. I will, though, when cooking for others or for special occasions (kind of pull out all the stops and go all the way with things). Is there anything I'm missing? Any suggestions?

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  1. First, welcome to CH.

    I'm a little confused by "pan sauce with marinara." Is that somehow different than just plain old pasta with marinara? I'm not one who automatically adds water to pasta sauce. Only if it needs some moisture. If you don't think the dish is flavorful enough, what's your recipe?

    2 Replies
    1. re: c oliver

      What I do is make the marinara separately, as just a marinara. When I make a pasta that's gonna go with it, I use it like a concentrate, I guess. Like I said, I boil whatever pasta just under al dente, because I'm gonna let it finish cooking in the pan that already has some marinara sauce in it. Before adding the pasta, I'll put some of the pasta water in the pan so as to mix with the marinara, the wisdom being that when I add the pasta, as it finishes cooking, the pasta will absorb the pasta water that has been imbued with the marinara "concentrate." From what I understand, that's how regular pan sauces are constructed anyway. You add the garlic, saute a bit, onion, crushed tomato, whatever, let it saute a bit, then add the pasta water, mix and bring to a simmer, and then add the pasta so as to finish it in the pan. Am i making sense?

      1. re: EscamillaSubia

        I think the confusion would be with a pan sauce that is make with drippings/juice from the meat, often by deglazing the pan with wine or stock - that's what I would call a pan sauce.

        I have seen pasta recipes that tell you to save a bit of the pasta water, and add a bit to the sauce/pasta to get it to a good eating consistency.

    2. A pan sauce is made from the caramelized brown bits left on the surface of the pan after searing, browning, or sauteing a protein. You deglaze the pan with your choice of liquid (typically wine, or stock) while scraping up the fond. The next step is to reduce the liquid in the pan, and add butter to enrich the sauce. What you are describing is merely finishing the pasta in the sauce, rather then applying over the top. Adding a bit of the cooking water loosens overly dry pasta & to help the sauce adhere to the pasta.

      1 Reply
      1. re: letsindulge

        Thanks for saying it better than I did. Yes, hold back some of the water IN CASE it's needed, not as part of every dish one makes.

      2. What you describe is definitely not an Italian way of doing things (you may not care, which is your right). Marinara sauce, which is a very liquid tomato sauce, is properly served mixed in a bowl with al dente pasta that has been cooked in the normal way, with the normal amount of water and salt.

        The pasta water in the pan business is best used for things like vegetable sauces -- broccoli, artichokes, and the like -- where there are many solids and not much liquid.

        1. The pasta water technique has never really worked for me either, and just causes a puddle on the dish and makes the sauce taste watered down.

          Another chef blog I follow suggests the exact opposite - drain the pasta completely and let it rest in the strainer until the steam stops rising off of it, then add the sauce. This same chef also sometimes says to place a lid on the pot after mixing the sauce with it, and let it sit covered for at least several minutes so the pasta can absorb some of the moisture (and flavor) from the sauce.

          I've had much better results with this method personally

          2 Replies
          1. re: Atomic76

            That's a really good idea. Will try.

            @OP: There must be a gazillion (maybe not THAT many but many) discussions of the BEST marinara sauce here on CH :) But, yeah, it's not a concentrate. But as someone said above, if it works for you, that's all that matters.

            1. re: Atomic76

              I agree. You don't need to add water for a marinara. If you want to finish it in the sauce the pasta will absorb the sauce a little but not enough to dry it out unless you continue cooking for long periods of time.

            2. I would omit the pasta water and use the correct amount (however much you prefer) of marinara and add the drained pasta a finish cooking in the sauce. You can always retain some of the pasta water in case you need it, but with marinara you really should not need it,

              2 Replies
              1. re: wincountrygirl

                Yeah, in hindsight, I'm doing something more akin to pasta al pomodoro, using the marinara in place of the pureed tomatoes.

                1. re: EscamillaSubia

                  Okay,thanks. Now, in light of that, what is your problem? Not enough flavor?