How can I keep pasta from sticking to itself?

  • Whenever I boil pasta (specifically spaghetti), it always sticks to itself before I'm ready to use it. What can I do to avoid this without it becoming mushy (which happens if I keep it in the water)?

    Of course, if I happen to have the sauce done by the time the pasta is ready and am ready to serve it, I can immediately add the sauce and it's a moot point. But I inevitably screw up the timing and have the pasta sitting there cooling, and then it becomes impossible to separate...

    @hobodave, not sure it's a duplicate of that question as this is specifically aimed at adding oil to the water to prevent it from sticking, not just how to prevent it from sticking, by whatever means. Not sure I'm that into it as a question though...

    yea, just think it's close enough. this question is answered in that one.

    This is *really* hard to choose an answer. I am one of the few Americans who do understand al dente, so my particular problem was actually solved by getting higher quality pasta. It turns out it really makes a difference! But, in the interest of spreading the knowledge of how long to properly cook pasta, I will accept @tunnuz's answer as it is probably the correct solution for most people.

    You can just rinse it with cold water to keep it from sticking

  • tunnuz

    tunnuz Correct answer

    10 years ago

    Italian here :) I know that the oil is a well known trick everywhere ... but Italy. The main problem about pasta is that people just tend to cook it too much. The cooking time for pasta should be between 8 and 12 minutes, above this number it will be sticky. Spaghetti is the quickest kind of pasta to get ready, so just cook it around 8-9 minutes and it won't stick.

    Angelhair (Capellini d'Angelo) is even quicker, for the matter :)

    Yes. The average American is pretty clueless about cooking pasta properly. Most don't know what _al dente_ means either. Yes, I'm American, but neither of those apply to me :)

    A decent rule of thumb is to start tasting two minutes before the smaller number on the box, and taste every minute until it's a little more toothsome than you prefer. By the time you get the pot off the stove and the pasta into the drainer, it'll be just right!

    This is the best answer. Indeed, the pasta should not even get to the point where you need to add oil - it naturally should not stick (as long as it is fresh).

    With a little practice, you can tell when pasta is done by stirring it with a wood spoon. (Not so much with ravioli or tortellini.) Nothing beats the taste test, though.

    I agree with @Neil. Stir often and also taste. I like to stir my pasta occasionally and I can tell when it's close to getting done, at which point I start tasting :)

  • Don't add oil, it's unnecessary and just adds fat to your pasta.

    A better solution is to fix your timing issues by cooking the pasta later. Put the water on to boil before your sauce is done, but don't actually put the pasta in until the sauce is ready to go. Then, lower the heat on the sauce to keep it warm as the pasta cooks (which is only about 8 to 12 minutes, depending on the thickness and cut).

    I also add a small amount of sauce to the pasta before serving it, which helps keep things loose once I've plated.

    Additionally, as with most things, price makes a difference. Getting higher quality pasta will have an effect on the stickiness of the end product.

    The pasta does not wait. +1

  • You really don't need oil to keep your pasta from sticking.

    The water that you used to cook in has a lot of starch in it from the pasta. When you go to drain your pasta, you can reserve a small bit of the water you cooked your pasta in. When the time comes to serve, simply pour and stir the reserved water over the sitting pasta. Not only does this help prevent stickiness, but it also warms your pasta again after sitting for 5-6 minutes, or however long you wait to serve your meal.

    Yes, it's the starch. The canteen i used to work "washed out" the starch using plain water from the pasta and they didn't stick at all. After drying and cooling them in a cooling room over night, they could be warmed up the day after and served to hundreds of guests.

  • Just follow these recommendations (Italian here):

    1. Choose a well-known brand of Pasta.
    2. Use a big pot with a lot of water, this is really important.
    3. Stir pasta for a couple of minutes after pouring it in the hot water.
    4. DO NOT put lemon juice please.
    5. DO NOT put oil please.
    6. Cook it with the proper timing (ex: 8 minutes for spaghetti).
    7. Don't go blindly, use your tooth to feel the "al dente" thing.
    8. Drain your pasta.
    9. Please, DO NOT put your pasta under hot water.
    10. Don't drain your pasta dry, but leave a little bit of hot water when you drain it.
    11. Add virgin oil or sauces (not mandatory but I recommend it).
    12. Add Parmesan (not mandatory but I recommend it, not for all kind of sauces though).
    13. Pasta is ready and looks pretty yummy.

    Bonus advice:
    If you need to add sauces that need to be warmed, you could cook your pasta "al dente" and finish its cooking with your sauces inside a big pan.

    +1 for the Big Pot advice. Simple but often overlooked.

    +1 for Dont' drain your pasta dry, but leave a little little bit of hot water when you drain it. This works.

    Wait... isn't parmesan going to suck water, and make it sticky? Also, virgin oil is oil too! That's cheating.

  • After draining it, mix in a little oil, that should prevent it from sticking.

    This is what I do and it works great

    I'd recommend always using olive oil for this.

    Olive oil is definitely good, as long as the flavor works with your dish (and its normally what I'd use). Any oil should work, and some like canola will avoid adding much any flavor (other than fat, of course)

    A small chunk of butter can do the trick as well.

    Oil is not really the correct thing to prevent sticking pasta! Read the other comments about starch

    Oil will make your sauce not stick.

  • twist the bunch of spaghetti slightly before putting it into the boiling the water. This way they will fall apart and do not stick together.

    Also stir the pasta in the first two minutes of cooking (see).

    I always wondered why my mom did that.

  • If my spaghetti has been sitting in the colander (usually in the sink) and has begun to stick, I just turn the hot tap on a bit and stir it up. Seems to unstick it easily enough.

  • Cooks Illustrated ran an article on this a long time ago. Their trick, which I used regularly with great success for fresh pasta is to use lots of water. For a pound of pasta they used four quarts of water. They also added salt to the water, but no oil. Oil changes nothing but the flavor. Stir during cooking also to help prevent any sticking.

    If you are working with fresh pasta that has been coated with flour while making it to prevent the fresh pasta from sticking to itself, make sure to rinse your pasta after cooking while in the colander to prevent it from becoming a gluey mass.

  • I usually add just a tablespoon of my sauce to the pasta.

    Agreed -- you want the sauce waiting for the pasta, not the other way around if at all possible. You can also pull the pasta early and finish it in the sauce.

  • The problem of adding oil is that you want your pasta to absorb the sauce so that each mouthful has the full flavor. Adding oil coats the pasta with the oil and prevents the sauce from being absorbed. In addition to the previous answer of using quality pasta, I would recommend adding a ladle of the sauce to the pasta as soon as possible, then stirring to coat as much pasta as possible. You can also try reserving a cup or two of the pasta water when you drain it and adding it to the pasta when you see it's starting to clump.

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Content dated before 6/26/2020 9:53 AM