This Pasta Boiling Trick Goes Against Everything You Know (But Really Works!)

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pasta boiling in water
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Ben Weiner

For me, cooking pasta is almost a reflexive action. More than many other cooking techniques — like cooking rice, for example, which can be fraught with conflicting opinions on which method is “correct” — cooking pasta is something we all mostly agree on. Get out a large-ish pot, fill it with water, bring it to a rolling boil, add salt, then your pasta. Cook for as long as the package indicates. Easy. 

But what if I told you there’s a better way? Cook’s Illustrated opened my eyes to a method that is both contrary to my cooking instincts and counter to everything I’ve ever been told about the proper way to cook pasta. There is a method that is easier and faster: Starting your pasta in cold water. 

Why It Works

Starting pasta in cold water cuts a two-step cooking process down to one. Instead of first waiting for the water to boil and then waiting for the pasta to cook, those two things are happening simultaneously. Plus, cooking in a smaller amount of water cuts down on the cooking time overall.

In our testing, one pound of pasta cooked in 22 minutes from start to finish, as opposed to the 28 minutes it took to cook the same amount of pasta in the traditional method. And arguably the best bonus of this method is that it leaves you with ultra-starchy pasta water, which is a boon for creating a silky sauce that clings to pasta.

Credit: Patty Catalano

How to Cook Pasta in Cold Water

1. Choose the right pot. 

Following the advice of technique technicians Alton Brown and J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, I cook my pasta in a smaller vessel than your typical large pot. Depending on the amount of pasta I’m cooking, a medium saucepan usually does the trick.

2. Use less water.

Add your pasta to the pot and cover it with cold water by about an inch. You want the pasta to be completely submerged, and have some excess to allow for some evaporation during the cooking process. 

3. Bring to a boil. 

Add some kosher salt to the pot (1 tablespoon for 1 pound of pasta is a good benchmark). Set the pot over medium-high heat and give it an occasional stir as it’s coming to a boil, to prevent it from sticking together.

4. Simmer. 

When it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until the pasta is al dente. The timing will vary depending on the type of pasta you’re cooking, but an additional 4 to 5 minutes is usually plenty.

5. Strain. 

When the pasta is done, drain it just like you normally would, but don’t forget to save that precious starchy pasta water for your sauce!

This article originally published on The Kitchn. See it there: This Pasta Boiling Trick Goes Against Everything You Know (But Really Works!)