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So simple I feel stupid for asking...how to prevent sticky pasta?

post #1 of 17
Thread Starter 

I can't believe I'm 37 years old and I still have this stupid problem when cooking one of the most basic things...pasta! No matter what I do, the noodles stick together after they cool down in the refrigerator. They stick together so bad that I've actually broken thick utensils trying to scoop them out! I usually have to resort to just grabbing them with my hands and then what happens is the very top ones I grab break off, leaving the rest in a huge clump! One time I put olive oil over them before putting them in the fridge, and the noodles were all crusty and snapped in half when I tried to get them out! I've tried rinsing them, I've tried not rinsing them, I've tried olive oil, I've tried just putting them in there as is. I've tried using no salt, I've tried using a lot of salt. I've tried leaving the pasta on the stove in room temperature, I've tried putting it in the fridge right away, no matter what I do they stick together so bad I can hardly scoop them out. This goes for spaghetti especially but also macaroni noodles, shells, no matter what shape they are, this happens. No matter what kind of pasta it is, it happens, wheat, white flour, rice noodles, egg noodles, etc.

 

What does everyone else do? I have tried a lot of suggestions already but I'm getting desperate because nothing works!

post #2 of 17

That is the nature of cooled pasta.

 

After cooking, pasta has a lot of free surface starch ready to bond with things.

 

For a sauced dish, you want that starch to help hold the sauce on the pasta.

 

For a dish where you want the pasta cold and distinct, rinse well after cooking to remove extra starch and cool down the pasta. Drain well Toss with oil. Let it sit a minute or two and toss again addinng a bit more oil if needed. You have to keep tossing them frequently until evenly coated with oil to break up any sticking that occurs before it gets too strong. Do not pack them tightly for storage, keep them as loose as possible in a big bowl/tub but covered.

post #3 of 17

Great question, especially for a 37 year old.  A lot of people are similarly perplexed, some of them 38 or 39.  After 39, a great many of us stop counting. 

 

Presumably this is for pasta which will be held for pasta salad?  If you have a different destination in mind, there can be (slightly) different techniques.

 

Some pasta shapes inevitably sticks to themselves.  None of the thin noodles are great candidates.  Doesn't mean it can't be done.  The best shapes are things which have enough structure to not fold up or collapse on themselves.  Things like elbows, wheels, spirals, the smaller tubes (ziti, e.g.), and the smaller shells are very good.  If you ever wondered why 96.1% of all pasta salads are made with one of these, now you now.

 

  • Cook the pasta in LOTS of boiling, salted water.  You can add a little oil to the water or not as your beliefs dictate.  I do, most Americans  with a pro background don't.  Italians are split.   
  • After cooking the pasta, remove the strainer basket from the pot or drain it into a colander -- immedately. 
  • Without any dealy, put it under the cold water tap and rinse the pasta in cold water to get the starch off.  With the collander still under the running tap, as soon as the water has the pasta cool enough, toss the pasta gently with your hands making make sure it's both thoroughly rinsed and cooled. 
  • Turn off the tap, and drain the water from the collander and pasta, tossing the pasta by flipping it in the colander (no hands, preferably). 
  • When it is dry, pour a little oil, preferably evoo over, and toss it in the colander again. 
  • Turn the pasta into a clean bowl, add a little more oil if necessary -- you want the pasta slick, but not swimming in oil -- and toss yet again. 
  • Cover the bowl tightly with cling wrap.

 

Note 1:  Rinsing in cold water serves too purposes.  The water rinses starch from the surface of the pasta, and the quick cooling prevent the pasta from producing more surface starch.  

 

Note 2:  Regarding tossing the pasta to dry it.  Drier is better, because the oil will lube dry pasta better than wet.  But you want to balance that against the need to work as quickly as possible, so the pasta doesn't have a chance to start sticking to itself before you get the oil on.

 

Note 3:  You're probably wondering why I specified hand tossing, then flipping in the collander and bowl.  You can use a spoon if you want, but your hands are better (rough handling brings the starch out), and just tossing it in the bowl without impliments is better still.   

 

Hope this helps,

BDL

 

PS.  H/t to Phil who said the same thing and managed to post after I'd started but before I could hit "submit."


Edited by boar_d_laze - 8/14/10 at 3:12pm
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post #4 of 17

i agree with the above method. i work in italian restuarant and we do it ssimilar. however i have actually done it that way and it still was stuck to each other, som of the brands areent good as other. i used the worng brand of fettuccini when i 1st was training and it stuck to each other but the other one which was in a nest and egg fettuchini worked great. another method i was taught by another cook, who isvery good, did it differently. he cooked it pretty al dente then drained it, and toseed in some olive, into a  sheet pan and into the cooler.  by the time it cools it perfect al dente and they dont stick together. i could see the starch being good cause when u cook it in sauce the starch would help thicken your sauce and making it stick to your pasta. practice makes perfect, dont give up. pasta is my favorite.

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post #5 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by boar_d_laze View Post

Great question, especially for a 37 year old.  A lot of people are similarly perplexed, some of them 38 or 39.  After 39, a great many of us stop counting. 

BDL - huge laughter here - I too have stopped counting.  Can't remember how many years ago and not telling :p

 

 

Back OT - totally agree with Phil and BDL.  Pasta will sieze together with its best mates as soon as you let it chill without any oil/dressing, and loose packing is desirable.  Only your hands will tell you when the past is coated all over to be able to keep separate - a spoon/tongs etc won't.  Use the tools you were given at birth  - I truly dislike the idea of people veering away from touching food.  This is one (but not the only!) time it needs doing.

 

 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

 
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 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
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post #6 of 17

You can either store it in enough water to just cover it, or you can rinse it with water when you use it. Either way works. If you rinse it with water it will come right apart. Oil will not keep it from sticking together.

post #7 of 17
Thread Starter 

Thanks for all the replies everyone!

 

Boar d laze, no this is not for pasta salad exactly (you mean the kind you eat cold?) It's warm pasta dishes, like spaghetti (I don't like to mix the sauce and the noodles until I'm ready to eat them otherwise it dries out).

 

I have rinsed my noodles, I thought good enough but maybe not. I've done the oil thing but like I said, it got crusty. Does that happen to you guys, when you put oil on it?

 

I just tried Greyeaglem's suggestion of rinsing with cold water, I did that and broke it apart with a fork while I was rinsing it in the colander and that worked good!! I will keep doing that for sure!!

post #8 of 17

Well I never rinse pasta ...not even for pasta salad.I boil  pasta for hot dishes until close to al dente then throw into my sauce to finish cooking so sauce absorbs into pasta

For pasta salad I boil until 1 minute past al dente so it is still a bit chewy , lay pasta on an oiled pan toss around every few minutes...even put it in the fridge covered with a towel....I never rinse ...never have...or if I have I can't remember being reprimanded by my Chef

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post #9 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by heroine26 View Post

Thanks for all the replies everyone!

 

Boar d laze, no this is not for pasta salad exactly (you mean the kind you eat cold?) It's warm pasta dishes, like spaghetti (I don't like to mix the sauce and the noodles until I'm ready to eat them otherwise it dries out).

 

I have rinsed my noodles, I thought good enough but maybe not. I've done the oil thing but like I said, it got crusty. Does that happen to you guys, when you put oil on it?

 

I just tried Greyeaglem's suggestion of rinsing with cold water, I did that and broke it apart with a fork while I was rinsing it in the colander and that worked good!! I will keep doing that for sure!!


Hmmm I thought we had done our job to convert american spaghetti eaters to tossing their pasta in the sauce.  The dilemma of mixing the sauce with the noodles later poses not only the problem for which you have sought help, but also disregards the basic prinicples of italian pasta.  It has been accepted for centuries that the best way to serve pasta is to boil it in boiling water until it is al dente and then to transfer it without pause into the sauce where they will marry beautifully.  Doing it this way also ensures that when you store the remaining pasta in the fridge it doesn't stick or clump.

 

I'm not too much of a cookbook reader but plenty of good folks here are.  Can someone suggest a good pasta book that will explain all the characteristics of a good serving of pasta?  Off the top of my head here are a few pointers on the principles of pasta.

 

- Boil in lots of water, pasta needs room to swim and not clump in the pot.

- the boiling water must be "as salty as the Mediterranean."  The noodles are the most important part of the dish after all and they need their flavor to be enhanced.

- Cook the pasta until al dente and then transfer immediately into your pot of sauce to continue cooking in the sauce.  This way the pasta will absorb the flavor of the sauce and get beautifully coated.

- Rather than strain the noodles pick them up with tongs from the water and drop them into the sauce dripping wet.  The water they bring with them helps thin the sauce which can be very pleasant depending on the sauce.  Also, there's no time to stick and clump.

- Once you have married your pasta and sauce then turn off the heat and toss in a handful of fresh herb like parsley or finely chopped scallion, or basil.  It brings a dimension of freshness and color that is astonishing.

- Remember than the noodles and the sauce are evenly distributed.  A big clump of sauce on sticky noodles is neither appetizing nor necessary.  When I was in Italy I was amazed at how little sauce there was in my pasta yet how flavorful the dishes were.

- When serving, drizzle the slightest amount of extra virgin olive oil on the plate of pasta.  As soon as the oil hits the warm pasta and herbs the aroma it releases is intoxicating.

 

Right Siduri?
 

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post #10 of 17

I agree with BDL if it is used in a cold dish. In hot however I handle different. I cook in at least a gallon of water a pound. Stir frequently when cooking as raw pasta sinks and will stick to bottom of pot.Cook Al Dente  Then rinse and drain well in cold water toss in salad oil, olive oil makes it smell. I pre-portion in plastic bags and refrigerate. Some say by putting oil you later repel  sauce. I have experimented with Penne pasta and found that when dipped back in boiling water to heat most of oil comes off.

Thin spaghetti, vermicelli,spaghettini, angel hair should not be cooked ahead as they take only minutes to cook  anyway.

Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

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      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

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post #11 of 17



 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ed Buchanan View Post

I agree with BDL if it is used in a cold dish. In hot however I handle different. I cook in at least a gallon of water a pound. Stir frequently when cooking as raw pasta sinks and will stick to bottom of pot.Cook Al Dente  Then rinse and drain well in cold water toss in salad oil, olive oil makes it smell. I pre-portion in plastic bags and refrigerate. Some say by putting oil you later repel  sauce. I have experimented with Penne pasta and found that when dipped back in boiling water to heat most of oil comes off.

Thin spaghetti, vermicelli,spaghettini, angel hair should not be cooked ahead as they take only minutes to cook  anyway.



Isn't olive oil THE salad oil?  It is in my book anyway.  And the question was about hot pasta dishes, not cold.

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post #12 of 17
Thread Starter 

Well I guess I don't mix my noodles and my sauce right away is because my mom never did that and neither did my grandma, so whenever you went to eat some more, it was like eating it fresh rather than all dried up from a few days ago. When I store spaghetti already mixed then eat it again later, it always goes dry and clumpy, and doesn't have much flavor anymore.

 

Ed you just gave me a really good idea...rather than cooking an entire box of pasta at once, I should just cook a single serving size, and then whenever I want more just make another serving! I can't believe I never thought of that!

post #13 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ed Buchanan View Post

I agree with BDL if it is used in a cold dish. In hot however I handle different. I cook in at least a gallon of water a pound. Stir frequently when cooking as raw pasta sinks and will stick to bottom of pot.Cook Al Dente  Then rinse and drain well in cold water toss in salad oil, olive oil makes it smell. I pre-portion in plastic bags and refrigerate. Some say by putting oil you later repel  sauce. I have experimented with Penne pasta and found that when dipped back in boiling water to heat most of oil comes off.

Thin spaghetti, vermicelli,spaghettini, angel hair should not be cooked ahead as they take only minutes to cook  anyway.



Mama Mia!   Plastic Bags.......no oil on hot pasta ....just a little for pasta salad ...I think there has been a hot/ cold pasta confusion

 

 

 

I am still curious about these plastic bags.....

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post #14 of 17

With a very few catering type exceptions like "no burners on site," or when baking is an important part of the process, there aren't many (any?) good enough reasons to pre-cook pasta as a prep for hot service.  Holding noodles for any length of time, no matter how artfully done, will mess up their texture something fierce and should be avoided if at all possible.

 

Noodles in whatever quantity is immediately desired should be boiled to al dente, drained, and immediately (a) turned into a skillet already prepped with hot sauce, and tossed so that the sauce finishes the pasta; or (b) turned into a bowl and tossed with the sauce ingredients so the reserved heat from the pasta cooks the sauce.  

 

Sacrificing that much quality isn't worth the gains in time or convenience. 

 

Just another %!@#ing opinion,

BDL

 

PS.  There are no absolutes, but Mom and Gram were mostly wrong. Pasta should not only be tossed in the sauce before seriving, but briefly cooking the pasta and sauce together -- along with a bit of the pasta's cooking water -- is a critical step, far more often than not.  A plate of white noodles, covered with a rich, red sauce may look great on a magazine cover or in a movie; but is a poor second place when it comes to taste.  Toss the darn noodles in the darn sauce.

 

BDL

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post #15 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by heroine26 View Post

Well I guess I don't mix my noodles and my sauce right away is because my mom never did that and neither did my grandma, so whenever you went to eat some more, it was like eating it fresh rather than all dried up from a few days ago. When I store spaghetti already mixed then eat it again later, it always goes dry and clumpy, and doesn't have much flavor anymore.

 

 



My Mom and Grandma didn't do it either growing up.  Luckily they know better now.  I haven't really noticed the dry clumpiness you are referring to because pasta doesn't stick around our house for more than a day or 2... unless you're talking cream sauce which in that case yea it's pretty inedible as leftovers unless you know how to reheat it (which I do not - HELP!)  But other pasta with sauces I typically stick in the microwave, then drizzle with a little fresh olive oil and they're good as new.  Now sticking plain noodles in a fridge?  Yeah that's sticky clump city with little hope of ressurection I'm afraid.

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post #16 of 17

Portioned in plastic bags.. The reason is so everyone working the line gives the same amount to the portion. They can't stand there and weigh it out on the line when busy.It  is not for done a cost sake, it is done so each patron gets same amounts(consistancy) I am talking hot pasta only not cold salad. . And for service pasta SHOULD  be tossed in it's accompanying sauce, with a dash of its cooking water. And if I do put oil in the pasta, I do not use olive oil to coat it as it gives it an off flavor when refrigerated

Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

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Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

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post #17 of 17
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ed Buchanan View Post

Portioned in plastic bags.. The reason is so everyone working the line gives the same amount to the portion. They can't stand there and weigh it out on the line when busy.It  is not for done a cost sake, it is done so each patron gets same amounts(consistancy) I am talking hot pasta only not cold salad. . And for service pasta SHOULD  be tossed in it's accompanying sauce, with a dash of its cooking water. And if I do put oil in the pasta, I do not use olive oil to coat it as it gives it an off flavor when refrigerated

 

Thank-you for the explanation ....

just needed to know about those plastic bags....

 

cool

 

Gypsy

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