HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


Oil in pasta water yes or no?

The other day I once again saw GR put oil on top of the boiling pasta water.
What's with him?
Oil will coat the pasta and not allow the sauce to be absorbed into the pasta........which is the point of adding a bit of sauce.....to enhance the pasta flavor.
If he did that in any Italian restaurant I'm guessing he'd be fired.
I'm waiting for him to watch some poor cooking competition competitor to make pasta and not add any oil. LOL
What's Ramsey going to do? Scream his head off?
Is it a 'British' thing? I've seen him do this a few times and each time a voice in my head says: "This is why the English/Irish/Scottish have such a poor reputation for cooking crappy food".

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I've also seen Ina do that. I don't get it. Oil on the pasta as a finishing garnish, maybe but not in the water!!

    1. Putting oil in pasta water is a bit pointless as it just floats to the top and I wouldn't have thought it would coat that much pasta. I'm English and it's not a British thing as far as I'm aware.
      The poor reputation (which is now woefully out of date) is due in part to Britain being the first country to industrialise ,and WWII and it effects on food consumption and production. One celebrity chef cooking on tv is not the reason.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Paprikaboy

        I'm not understanding the connection/s you are making between being the first country to industrialize and how/where the cuisine of Britain got to where it is today.
        Ditto re. the WW11 connection. That was over half a century ago.
        Having lived in Britain I could never grasp why, for example, the sea's bounty around Britain was basically sent to other countries and not used by the 'Brits'.
        I agree things are changing for the better though.
        I'm not trying to get into the weeds with this. Just a bit more clarification please.

        1. re: Puffin3

          In terms of Industrialisation this pulled a large number of people from the country into the cities. As in the cities there was nowhere to grow food and very few people had ovens. Therefore the link between food people and food prodction and to some extent preparation was broken in the UK before anywhere else.
          During WWII a large amount of food production was centralised. For example only 1 kind of cheese could be produced. This was a mass produced industrialised product. This lead to a loss of skills and many cheese makers never returned to making cheese after WWII. Only in the last decade or so has there been a renaissance in British cheese making.I think many of the predjudices of British food eminate from just after the war.

          The fish thing has always puzzled me. Some people blame Henry VIII and the break of the church from Rome. This gave the excuse for there to be meat eaten on days that were reserved for fish only and so fish consumption went down. I don't really buy that.

          1. re: Paprikaboy

            Part of the collapse of the British farming system was the other way around - the market was hit with cheaper foodstuffs from the vast, rich farmlands of North America, coinciding with a series of very bad growing seasons locally. So a lot of people people left for the cities because staying on the farms meant starving.

      2. Never in the water... it's is pointless for exactly the reasons you mention. I cannot fathom why anyone does this.

        1. Remember Alton B doing an elaborate experiment on this topic. He cooked spaghetti in certain amoutn of water with certain amount of oil added (maybe a T or so). When done, poured into this draining gadget that had a LONG tube at the top,,, held all the pasta AND water, so oil could settle to top. Then he did some mathematical calculations (volume of cylinder formula required). IIRC, almost ALL of specific amount of oil remaiined behind!?!

          This is one of those cooking questions that never seems to get a 100% definitive answer?? Along with things like... mushrooms (wash or don't wash), alcohol (does it cook out or not), boiliing water (from cold or hot).

          6 Replies
          1. re: kseiverd

            Not clear, remained behind in the pasta?

            1. re: kseiverd

              Why would you NOT wash mushrooms? I understand don't soak but the ones I get usually have at least a little dirt.

              No to oil in pasta water. I tried it a few times and didn't detect a benefit.

              1. re: tcamp

                I would gladly shoot the first idiot who
                advised against washing mushrooms!

                1. re: sandylc

                  I've seen a lot of chefs recommend not to wash them since their skin is so delicate.

                  I've also seen chefs say make sure you wash them really well because they're filthy.

                  1. re: nothingswrong

                    IT'S A MYTH. WASH your mushrooms. Silly not to.

              2. re: kseiverd

                Don't forget the soak/don't soak Dried Bean Debate.....lol

              3. The theory is that it prevents clumping of the pasta. I really don't know if it makes a difference. I have cooked both ways,

                2 Replies
                1. re: law_doc89

                  So have I. The theory being the pasta wouldn't clump together and the pasta was fine. Have done without too - also fine.

                  1. re: law_doc89

                    Oil in the water was how I first learned, and as you say it was to keep the strands from clumping. What changed my mind was someone pointing out that oil-coated pasta won't absorb water very well. Either way, I've quit.

                    1. I have no idea if really makes a difference but I usually add oil to the water when cooking lasagna noodle that tend to stick. I don't add to any other types of pasta.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: foodieX2

                        oil and water don't mix. ever. it's a waste of oil to add it to pasta cooking water.

                        1. re: hotoynoodle

                          gee thanks for that. I feel so much better now. <grin>

                      2. When I was much younger, I used to do this. Later, I tested the theory. I found adding oil made little difference in the pasta's tendency to clump. Then cooks on the Food Network warned against using oil because it prevented the sauce from sticking to the pasta. I found that this wasn't accurate either--no matter what I do, the sauce runs off the pasta, with or without oil.

                        Then there was the advice from the Food Network cooks to add a ladle of pasta water to the (tomato, or whatever) sauce, to thicken up the sauce and make it adhere better to the pasta. Amazingly, this actually works. I think it is more because the sauce becomes thicker than because the starch in the water makes the sauce adhere better to the pasta. Anyway, I no longer put oil in my pasta water, but I do put pasta water in my sauce.

                        As for the "crappy food" from the British Isles, I've never been there, but isn't this something from the past? It seems to me that the Brits are reknown for their gastropubs and London is famous for its French, Indian and Chinese restaurants. I don't mean to imply that all food is terrific in Great Britain, but the stereotype doesn't really apply anymore, does it?

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: gfr1111

                          I agree 'British' foods have improved a lot. I agree 'the 'stereotype' no longer applies in many cases. For any 'stereotype' to have existed there had to have been a reason. Just saying.
                          I note you mentioned cuisines originally from countries other than Britain are being served in cities like London.
                          It's probably right to suggest that in times past in Britain for various valid historic reasons food was seen as 'fuel' by most. People living in the cities were being worked to death b/c of as someone noted the 'Industrial Revolution'. People living in the country were working themselves to death on, in many areas, barren land trying to survive. Not to mention in the mines. No one cared much about how much fresh thyme was added to the 'stone soup'.
                          As for the starch in the pasta water: Were you rinsing your pasta after cooking it? If so you were washing the surface starch off the pasta. Once that surface starch has been washed away nothing will really 'stick' to it. Sure the sauce will thicken but the pasta will not then be able to absorb much of the sauce.
                          Don't rinse pasta.
                          I watched a NY chef who had been awarded the title of serving the best pasta in NY with M. Stewart. He showed how he simply hard simmered the pasta till el dente/saved back some of the pasta water/drained NOT RINSED the pasta/dumped it into a large sauce pan in which was about a 1 1/2 cups of marinara sauce/gently stirred and added some of the pasta water. The result actually looked like what would come out of a can of Chef Boyardi. But not quite as 'gloopy'. He said to Martha: "What you are listening for is a certain sound the pasta makes when it's cooked perfectly".
                          Looked pretty damned good to me. That's now how I make any pasta dish.

                          1. re: Puffin3

                            Puffin3 - I doubt many people on this board rinse pasta.

                            1. re: Jeanne

                              According to my husband, who , before he retired as an executive chef, salt in the water, drain pasta, touch of oil to keep from sticking. That way, you don't have to dress all of the pasta and waste the delicious sauce. Dress what you need. Unused sauce and pasta can be reheated next day or two. Heat sauce, boil new water drop said lightly oiled pasta in water using a colander that fits pot if you have one(after water has come to a boil) leave for a sec or two ( use judgement) viola new dinner. No damage to pasta . You can also make a different pasta dish because pasta hasn't been dressed! Ta dah! The only reason I could see rinsing pasta would be to stop cooking process, to be reheated later say for dinner party using aforementioned process???? Oh yeah, he claims waste of oil in water......

                        2. No oil in the water here with the one exception, as mentioned below, when I cook traditional dried lasagana noodles.

                          It does indeed help the sticking in shreading in that case once the lasagna noodles are cooked and drained.

                          As for regular use, never. Too much of a mess and no benifit.

                          1. I've heard of oil in the water but I've never done so.
                            Doesn't make sense to me.
                            What is the point?

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: HillJ

                              One of the "points" has been mentioned many times-to keep the noodles from sticking. It has also been widely disproven but humans are often creatures of habit. Hell, living in Italy I saw many Italians do it too. Though they insisted that the point was for flavor.

                              1. re: foodieX2

                                Yes, I've read about the sticking but that doesn't make sense to me. Do you see any difference ?

                                1. re: HillJ

                                  Only for dried lasagna noodles. Though I still think it's my overall method, not necessarily the oil. I drop each noodle in individually thru the oil, then use tongs to pull back thru the oil. Its most likely the use of tongs but when two noodles do stick together I find lifting one of them back thru the oil the other ones slips right off.

                                  Who knows, its how I have always done it and at my age it's unlikely I will stop even though I was reprimanded, quite strongly, earlier for doing so.

                                  1. re: foodieX2

                                    You know lasagna noodles are sticky and I can see where they stand apart from other pasta. Interesting.

                                    1. re: foodieX2

                                      I'm not a scientist or anything but with all the movement of the boiling water I would think at least some of the oil would adhere to the pasta. Even if it's a teeny tiny fraction it might be enough to make a difference.

                                      1. re: foodieX2

                                        Your method is the opposite though of dumping it in a strainer. When you dump the pot, the oil was on top and so goes down the drain first, and isn't left behind. Since you pull the noodles through the oil, they are getting coated and not sticking. This seems totally reasonable to me, and a good way to solve a common problem with lasagna.

                                2. It is a sound idea to add to the pasta, after it has been drained, a bit of butter or olive oil, depending on the sauce it will be served with.

                                  1. Never ever ever ever ever.

                                    1. Oil floating on the surface of the water alters the surface tension thereby preventing foaming and boiling over.
                                      I'm not advocating adding oil to pasta water, just pointing out that it does have an effect. I add oil when I cook beans for the same effect (as does just about every Spanish cook book writer).

                                      5 Replies
                                      1. re: caganer

                                        I was going to ask that. While I have not found the oil to affect the pasta, I have found it affects boiling over. But that is based purely on casual observation. Personally I usually don't bother with the oil., but that is why I was told it was added, not the stickiness.

                                          1. re: caganer

                                            Absolutely, it really does help with the boiling-over. If I have a million things (like other dishes, or... *ahem* glasses of wine) going on and I know I'm going to be very distracted, I might add a tiny bit of oil (maybe equal to half a teaspoon, if that?), for just that reason. But in the vast majority of pasta-cooking cases, no oil. And I've never had pasta stick together.

                                            Never tried adding a little spot of oil to cooking beans, but I might just file that one away for a future experiment.

                                            1. re: caganer

                                              This is why I sometime add about a drop or two of oil to my water. It lets me not worry about boiling over while I am chasing my kids.

                                              1. re: caganer

                                                That's the reason I know - a little bit of oil keeps the pot from boiling over as easily.

                                              2. I don't do it but my simple answer as to whether to do it is "does Marcella recommend it?"

                                                  1. NO NO NO
                                                    Just think of all the oil the Barefoot Contessa could save in a year if she stopped putting her olive oil in the water.

                                                    1. Never. The only musts are lots of water--4 qts/lb at least; salt; a stiff boiling of dried pasta; and stirring early on and occasionally after during the cooking to keep things moving separately around. Depending on the sauce or dressing, reserve a cup of pasta water to add, if necessary, to adjust density. I always toss drained pasta into a bit of sauce before serving, with additional sauce available. A small drizzle of raw good oil on the sauce pasta doesn't hurt

                                                      1. The answer to this eternal question can be found in H.M.S. Pinafore.

                                                        - Never!
                                                        - What, never?
                                                        - Well, hardly ever.

                                                        The way to keep pasta from sticking together is to use enough water (1 liter per 100 grams of pasta) and to stir frequently. Freshly made lasagna noodles are a special case. They are very pesky and will stick together if you just look at them, so a little oil helps. Also, they stay in the water for a very short time, so it isn't like normal pasta cooking at all.

                                                        5 Replies
                                                        1. re: mbfant

                                                          Not only do you NOT need a large volume of water, it doesn't even have to be boiling:


                                                          1. re: roxlet

                                                            When I first read that I was floored. True. But, it didn't get me to change the way I make dried pasta. Some habits die hard.

                                                            1. re: roxlet

                                                              Granted. But life's too short to spend ignoring my nonna's method. God love McGee, but in this case, it's just too much work, and not much reward, to change a perfectly fine procedure.

                                                              1. re: bob96

                                                                Agree about Nonna, but when you have a lot of pasta to cook, and a not big enough pot, have no fear!

                                                                1. re: roxlet

                                                                  For better or worse, nonna always had big enough pot for us, tutti quanti.

                                                          2. No oil in pasta water here.
                                                            Just plenty of salt.
                                                            I skim a cup or so of the cooking water off near the end of cooking to be added to the pasta/sauce. This technique prevents stickage for me.

                                                            1. I put a bit of olive oil on the bottom of the pot before I add water. It prevents the pasta from sticking to the pot.

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: mucho gordo

                                                                And prevents the sauce from sticking to the pasta.

                                                                Really, it's unnecessary. If you use enough water, the pasta won't stick to itself *or* the pot.

                                                                1. re: linguafood

                                                                  Just stir it. Don't waste your olive oil.

                                                              2. The easiest way to get the oil and water to mix is to put a drop or two of dish soap in the water along with the oil. You may hear complaints of foul tasting pasta, but I can't solve every problem....

                                                                1. Just water and salt and DON'T RINSE the pasta. Save some of the pasta water for the sauce to use as needed.

                                                                  1. I thought the idea that adding oil to pasta water to prevent the pasta from sticking had been thoroughly debunked as myth by multiple food enthusiasts in recent years. It's hard to believe that Gordon Ramsey did it. That said, plenty of people fully admit to adhering to cooking practices that have been handed down from their mothers or whomever despite knowing they have been proven to be myth. If that's the case with GR, then I approve.

                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                    1. re: LorenzoGA

                                                                      slightly ot, but i can barely stand to watch the tv commercials for his shows. don't know how viewers can stand entire episodes of a screaming, cussing lunatic who treats people like sh*t. having worked for chefs like that, i don't find it remotely entertaining.

                                                                      1. It's a waste to put oil in the pot of boiling water. In Italy, they would cringe as this!

                                                                          1. What keeps the pasta from sticking/clumping as it cooks is to Stir it w a long two-pronged fork every so often. That's what keeps it from sticking, not oil in the water!.

                                                                            1. Eons ago my mother taught me to put oil in the pasta water to "keep it from sticking together." Bless her heart - she also taught me to rinse the pasta after removing from the heat. Mother never was a very good cook.