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

  • 64 ounces cold water
  • 1 box dry pasta ((farfalle, rigatoni, penne, etc.))
  • 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.

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. 1

    This did not work with gluten free or veggie pasta. The “coagulants” that take the place of gluten turn into a gum-like glob.

  2. 3
    Reading is Fundamental

    Note that Step 1 is “Combine all ingredients in a 4 1/2-quart pot, cover and set over medium-high heat.” You don’t apply heat until everything (water, salt, pasta) is in the pot, as opposed to the normal way of boiling your water first, salting, and adding pasta.

  3. 12

    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!!!

  4. 13
    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’!

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