Seriously? A post on pasta water? I recently read the book Flour + Water: Pasta by Thomas McNaughton (U.S. Amazon link here) and I came up to the entry on water. I realized that I took pasta water for granted. It didn’t dawn on me that I’ve been making pasta the way a restaurant does for years, not realizing that it wasn’t common to do it this way. Well, today I will share my “secret”.
Here’s the thing – have you ever gone to a restaurant that specializes in pasta, and just can’t recreate it at home? Chances are good it’s because of the pasta water.
Before we get started, let me give you the recipe for pasta water. A recipe? Seriously?
Let me explain, but first here is the recipe:
- 4 liters water, boiling
- ¼ cup kosher salt
- ½ cup semolina flour
- Bring your water to a boil; don't add the salt until the water is boiling - it will take longer that way.
- Add kosher salt and stir to dissolve. I've read it should taste like sea water. I don't know. I've tasted sea water, and that's pretty gross. This will do though.
- Add semolina flour, stir and set the burner to maintain a boil.
So, what’s the deal? Why is it so important to have this set up for pasta water? To explain fully, I need to tell you how we make your pasta in a restaurant:
A pasta dish is assembled to order. That means that all the components are already made or prepared. (The sauce, garnishes cut, even the pans should be heated constantly) Let’s say you order a spaghetti putanesca.
All the sauté cook has to do on order is:
- Grab a pan off the burner that is set to low. The pan should be hot enough that the oil shimmers.
- Hit it with a 1/2 fl oz ladle of olive oil (because that chef is a tight ass. This is how we control the food cost here.)
- Toss in a spoon each of garlic, anchovies, capers, and crushed chilies.
- Sweat for a few seconds, shaking the pan. Take great care the garlic doesn’t burn.
- Toss in a small handful of sun dried tomatoes, and kalamata olives.
- Hit it with a blast of wine. About 1/2 oz for those who are counting.
- Add an ounce of tomato sauce to keep it moist.
Now, the next moves happen at pickup: (Pickup should take less than a minute:)
- Put your pasta of choice in the strainer for the pasta water. In our case here it’s spaghetti. Drop the basket into the pasta water.
- Reheat your sauce you made. If it’s on order-pickup, then you can drop the pasta first and make the sauce.
- Once the pasta is reheated, pull up the basket and let it strain.
- Once the pasta is strained, take your reheated sauce and add your pasta to the pan.
- Begin to toss it (it’s all in the wrist) a few times.
- Add a small ladle of the water from the pasta container to the pan and finish the toss.
- Put the pasta onto the plate and garnish with a bit of basil leaves.
In a good, fast pasta place, a spaghetti pomodoro order can be ready in as little as six seconds flat.
So, what does the pasta water have anything to do with how good your pasta tastes?
What the pasta water does is add a little of the starch back into the pasta dish. It gives it a restaurant style sheen that you can’t get at home.
So, how do we do this at home?
When I am cooking at home I don’t use a colander for pasta. Instead I set myself up with a spider. This way I can use the pasta water to finish my dishes. This method perfectly recreates the water we use in restaurants to finish a pasta dish.
What is your pasta setup? Let me know in the comments below!