Cold Water Method Pasta

Cold Water Method Pasta

Once upon a time, I made a show called Good Eats. And way back in 1999 I made an episode about dry pasta called “Use Your Noodle,” in which I stated that I never cook pasta in anything less than a gallon of boiling water. At that time I had not yet developed the instinct to question the classically held notions that had been pounded into my head by people with tall hats and funny accents. In the years since I’ve learned that the big-pots-of-boiling-water paradigm is quite simply … a myth. Sure, large amounts of water may be necessary for long strands of dry pasta like spaghetti and bucatini, but when it comes to short shapes like farfalle, macaroni and rigatoni, less is definitely more. And although I may be blocked from ever entering Italy again for saying this: I have come to prefer the texture of dry pasta started in cold water.

Cold Water Pasta Method
Serves 4
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  1. 64 ounces cold water
  2. 1 box dry pasta, (farfalle, rigatoni, penne, etc.)
  3. 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  1. Combine all ingredients in a 4 1/2-quart pot, cover and set over medium-high heat.
  2. When water boils, decrease heat to maintain a simmer. Remove the lid, stir and cook for 4 minutes 30 seconds or until al dente.
  3. Remove pasta with spider.
  1. Why not just drain the pasta into a colander and send the water down the sink? Because that hot, starchy water is magical stuff. It can be used to reheat the pasta just before serving or to thicken up a sauce. The secret is the starch which is greatly concentrated when you cook the pasta in small amounts of water. In fact, I often ladle a cup or so into another pan, reduce it by half and pour right into my tomato sauces. But that's another show.


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  1. 2

    I always stir the pasta immediately after putting it in the water to prevent clumping. I would guess that it would be a good idea to do it with this method too. Since I planned on making pasta tonight, seems like a good thing to try!

    Cant wait to see you on November 18th in Little Rock!!!

  2. 3
    J.D. Linderman

    How is this “cold water” if you are still heating the water to a boil and then reducing heat to a simmer? That’s it Alton Brown! You have thrown down a gauntlet and now I must experiment! Challenge accepted good sir! I shall meet you upon the kitchen of battle at high noon! Qapla’!

  3. 4

    If you don’t add dsufficient salt to,pasta water the pasta is totally bland, no flavor at all. I probably add 2 or 3 Tbs to a half gallon of water. If you’re making carbonara you absolutely must save a little of the pasta water to make the sauce creamy so it will coat the pasta

      • 6
        Thaddaeus A Vick

        For those keeping score at home, that’s 38 grams of salt per liter to match the salinity of the Mediterranean (ref. Google). That works out to about 1/2 cup plus 1 teaspoon of table salt per gallon of water.

  4. 8

    This is the only method I use but 64oz is too much water – I use 4 cups for 16 oz and stir frequently while it cooks and use the thick pasta “water” for my sauce – if I’m making a salad = just rinse like you would normally do

  5. 10
    Keith Kadera

    This is almost as cringey as watching you put boxed vanilla puddin’ in pâte à choux on good eats. Granted, this still leaves your batting average super high.

    • 12

      Use the soak method on the front of the package. Boil water add pasta and boil one minute, remove from heat and cover. I start checking it five minutes before time on package to get perfect texure wanted. Have not tried Cold water method yet but will. Have used cold water method for years on regular pasta.

      Ps. I go lighter on salt with brown rice pasta as it seems to absorb more when soaked.

    • 13

      Gluten free pastas tend to disintegrate in cold water, especially rice based ones. Unfortunately, you’ll need the water at a rapid boil to set the pasta before it breaks apart. Start checking it at about half the time the box says, and you can’t really toss your pasta in the sauce. Have your sauce ready though as gf pasta doesn’t hold well. And gluten-free al dente doesn’t really happened

  6. 15

    This efficient method saves time, and importantly, saves the energy required to boil a large pot of water. I am hooked! Toward the end, I sometimes add a generous amount of pesto, or a frozen leftover sauce, vegetables to steam, dried herbs to rehydrate and add flavor, etc. A one frying pan meal (!) and no steamy, dangerous draining of a large pot of scalding water carried from stove to sink and poured into a colander that will also require washing. Spread the good word!

  7. 18

    Alton, are you there? Or anyone who’s tried this with whole wheat pasta? Does it work better than the traditional method? I’m looking for ways to get ww pasta truly al dente.

  8. 19
    Marcia Gaudet

    I drain pasta in a colander but I save a few TB of the starchy cooking water in the warm pan, put the pasta back in the pan and stir it around. It gives it a perfect glossy finish. It also re-warms the pasta.

  9. 21
    no faxing payday loans

    Hi there i am kavin, its my first time to commenting anywhere, when i read this article i thought i could also make comment due to this good article.|

  10. 25

    1 box of pasta. Now how specific is that? Boxes come in different sizes! Judging by the picture, I think you mean to just cover the pasta with water. We shall see!

  11. 27

    I have always done it this way because I am too impatient for water to boil. To keep pasta from sticking, stir 2-3 times. Comes out perfectly every time, even with spaghetti, with a bit more water of course.

  12. 28

    I have always done it this way because I am too impatient to wait for water to boil. Anyway, to keep pasta from sticking, stir 2-3 times.

  13. 29
    Bev Rousch

    Trying it, but I’m scared that a new cook or a foreigner will think you mean to remove the pasta with an actual spider. I need a cartoon image of a spider removing pasta from a pot.

    • 30

      OMG how on earth would anyone think that an ACTUAL living arachnid would be used to scoop pasta… I know some pretty dense people and still none of them would ever think that … You do not have much faith in the human race… wow.

  14. 31

    I’ve been using this method since I read a cooking tip by a chef in the “Reader’s Digest” magazine… always works for me :D. I took the tip to heart because my first try in cooking pasta ended with the pasta sticking to each other.. (interestingly, I experimented the same method with a type of dried chinese noodles and it failed – should’ve followed the instruction to use boiling water). Got the same tip about the pasta water so I always mix it with the sauce.. oh but I never knew I can use it to reheat the pasta before serving – thanks for the tip!

  15. 32

    have been using cold water method for 50 years. Very successfully I might add. So much quicker and easier than waiting for water to boil. ( especially on an electric stove !)

  16. 33

    I disagree with this method. While I am willing to admit that using enough water to cover the pasta makes sense, throwing a bunch of dry pasta into a pot of cold water, covering it and setting it on a medium high stove will only lead to hardened mound of pasta welded to the bottom of your pot. No, much better to bring the water to a boil, toss the pasta in, get it back up to a boil while stirring it to keep it from clumping together, then turning it down to a slow biol and covering it up while it cooks is the only thing that makes sense. You need the agitation of the boiling water to keep the pasta from melding itself into clumps.

    • 34

      And yet other people have done it successfully for decades…I’m not sure what makes you think disagreeing with a proven method of cooking pasta is constructive or in the least bit helpful.

  17. 35

    Dang… I’ve actually had, ahem, “heated” discussions (forgive the pun) with my wife over this. I swore that we needed a gallon of water after watching your show, and she always put just enough water in to cover the pasta. Now I face the moral issue of letting her now that she was right. I’m in a tough spot, Alton.

    • 36

      Tell her, dude. Then the next time she barks at you about something you’re right about, you can say, “Dear, you were right about the pasta. And I’m right about this.” 🙂

  18. 39

    I was just wondering if this would work well for corn pasta, too. I hate when the pasta is either too crunch or too soggy, but there doesn’t seem to be an in between. Since being diagnosed with celiac disease, I found its the only pasta that I really like in the gluten free variety. Thanks!

  19. 40

    Alton, I like this idea and plan to use it, but I have a question — it serves 4, so if I only want to make it for myself, and I make 1/4 of the box, do I still need the 64 oz of water or can I go with 16? And if so, I assume I can go with 1/4 T of salt. And can use a smaller pot…… Thanks!!!

    • 41

      If you’re making something that doesn’t store/reheat well (like carbonara since you would risk scrambling the egg or eggs when reheating), I say make up a full batch and use 1/4 for your recipe, and store the rest for something else.

      My recommendation: Rinse the other 3/4 after separating and make up a cold pasta salad for tomorrow’s lunch and/or dinner. It would be a little more work, but it’s better than tossing the rest of the pasta in the trash.

  20. 43

    For all of you who want to watch Good Eats it is on the Cooking Channel on Sunday Mornings. They are old ones but review and repeat is a good way of learning. They even just did the episode on how the different “stunts” are done, like looking into the chill chest from behind and how they built that cow, etc.

  21. 44

    Alton…this household LOVES everything you do but why in hell did they take Good Eats off the air? You are so much fun to watch and so creative but more than that I actually learned things from that show…little things that I would not have found anywhere else. We were just “ruminating” about some of the shows that drove us to watch Food Network that aren’t around anymore…very sad so we find we don’t watch as much. Beat Bobby Flay…nearly impossible; I want to watch an Iron Chef pulverize someone!!

  22. 45

    I have been making Mac & Cheese in my electric pressure cooker for years, and it’s the most “comfort” type ever. It essentially uses the cold water method.

    2 cup pasta, 2 cup water, seasoning (salt, garlic, cayenne, mustard and parsley), then 5 minutes on high, and quick release. Stir in 8 oz of cubed cheese (4 oz. American + 4 oz. anything else) and a can of evaporated milk, simmer a few minutes and you will have the absolute best and easiest creamy mac & cheese ever!

    I have never gone on to bake it afterwards, but I bet it would be amazing!

  23. 47

    NYTimes recently had an article about saving water used to cook pasta for the final sauce with a little cheese added. That water is thickened with starch-old French cooks would save it to start a soup base according to my mother in law in Alsace.

  24. 49

    Here’s another mind-blower in a similar vein: start fries in cold oil. Done this way, by the time the oil is hot enough to brown the fries they will be cooked through and not needing the second fry.

    • 50
      Todd Sharp

      …and completely saturated with oil. Frying in hot oil prevents the oil from penetrating the food because the steam from the water inside pushes outward thus preventing the oil from entering the food.

      It’s like you didn’t even listen to Shirley…

      • 51

        America’s test kitchen once started yukon golds cut in 1/4 inch matchsticks in cold oil, untouched til rolling fry for 15 minutes, then stir til brown, steam still pushes out the oil, I use this religiously, least greasy fries ever

  25. 53

    The tablespoon is because the water should taste like it came from the sea. I wonder if there is some correlation between Alton’s decision to start the water cold and how rice in a cooker is often started with cold water. Granted, the amount of water is different, but the end result is interestingly similar… I would guess the box is the standard size you would find in the grocery aisle. I also wonder if there was any tests with the tall pasta pots (I think you may have said that they were also good for cooking whole asparagus, but I could totally be making that up) to see if there was any shot at that working. Or, perhaps there are more tests to come yet!

  26. 54
    Gregg Park

    I can’t wait to try this method, but a TABLESPOON of Kosher salt? I’m not trying to second guess the master here, but that seems like it would result in inedible salty pasta, and I like salt.

    • 55

      I use a large handful of salt, probably near a quarter cup, when I cook pasta. A tablespoon doesn’t seem like much at all, to be honest.

  27. 56

    So, Alton… you didn’t say WHY you prefer this method. It’s a little faster. You use less water. Is that all? You said that you prefer the texture. Can you describe the difference?

  28. 58

    Sven – AB specifically references dry pasta, where is the confusion to give you pause.? What one does with fresh or frozen is not applicable here. I’ll give this a try.

  29. 59

    The last step calls for a spider, can I use any kind of spider? like a large patio spider? or so I need to get a specially trained spider from

    • 60

      The spider this refers to is a utensil that resembles a wire strainer on a long handle. Handy device. Google pasta spider to see one…and some clever dishes too!

  30. 62

    Wait a minute….when dealing with FRESH or frozen pasta you really need water quantity to get things back to a boil ASAP before things get ugly, sticky and mushy.

    It’s really a matter of what you’re dealing with. Dry pasta is super forgiving and for the most part could care less what temp water it’s dropped into (i prefer well salted, just enough to cover the pasta and boiling with just a splash of meat fat from the sauce). Fresh and frozen, if you want pasta not paste, you need at the very least to get them to boiling quickly.

    • 65

      64 oz. is two quarts, not a gallon. A tablespoon of salt for 2 quarts of water sounds about right, but when it doubt, just taste it. Water for cooking pasta or potatoes should be about as salty as seawater.

  31. 66

    I am all about finishing pastas in the sauce they are served with…i think 1-2 min. before al dente and toss with sauce to enhance flavor, coat then noodles, & thicken sauce with said starches….is that wrong?!

  32. 70

    Similar to the current thing of just boiling the pasta and all the sauce ingredients together in one pan. How does this not turn out to be just starch flavored?

  33. 71

    I am going to try this and if it work, I love al dente pasta, you remain my food idol Mr Brown!! Ii hate waiting for that pot to boil!

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