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?
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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,
I think you're making yourself a little crazy over this. You're adding steps which in my opinion do little or nothing for the end pleasure of your pasta. Make your marinara to the stage you like, but it should be rather fresh and liquid, and not watery. Cook your pasta to its desired doneness. Then, mix both together in a warmish bowl, or, as I sometimes do, toss the drained pasta back into its still warm, now empty pot for 10-15 seconds with just a ladle of sauce to coat, and then pour it all into a serving or individual bowls. and add additional sauce (and maybe some snipped basil) to taste. No water. And don't worry about calling it a pan sauce.
i reserve pasta cooking water mostly when using a cream-based or heavier sauce. all you're doing is watering down the marinara. there is zero benefit to adding the water to your sauce.
i'm also imagining a boat-load of sauce vs. the amount of pasta you're serving? perhaps that's your preference?
for red sauce:
warm the sauce while cooking the pasta. DO NOT BE AFRAID to salt the cooking water. the pasta will be dead without it.
drain the pasta well. shake, shake.
add a bit of sauce to the pasta cooking pot.
shake the pasta again in the colander, then add to the pot.
cover for 5 mins.
serve with some more sauce on top.
what you're making has nothing to do with a pan sauce. :)