Tag Archives: salt

It’s the salt, stupid

18 Apr

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I am about to boil some pasta.

Hell no, that is not a lot of salt.

Don’t ask me how much salt I use to boil pasta either, because I couldn’t tell you. If you’re really that curious then swing by the house one of these days and measure the capacity of the palm of my left hand. That’s my left hand right there, see, and some of the pile of salt it is holding has already escaped into the water.

Look, it makes no difference to me how much salt you use in your pasta water. As long as you are not serving the finished product to me. If you are serving it to me and you are not using a big old pile of salt in the water, then I am afraid we are going to have ourselves a problem.

I may eat your ill-prepared pasta, out of friendship, or good-mannered civility. But I am not going to like it.

Chill, all right. I’m only being straight with you.

Some years back I made the mistake of allowing a couple of dinner guests, aquaintances really, to observe while I prepared a simple pasta dish from start to finish. When it came time to getting the water going one of them actually gasped at seeing the amount of salt in my hand.

“Oh my God, you’re not actually going to use all that, are you?” she huffed. “Please, tell me you aren’t.”

I paused, but only for a nanosecond.

“Uh,” I said emptying my usual palm’s worth into the pot. “Of course I am.”

Since then, and to avoid such conflicts from recurring, I have made certain to pre-salt pasta water whenever unfamiliar guests will be arriving for dinner. I know, I know. It’s best to add the salt after the water has boiled, blah blah. But I am not a man who sweats that type of detail.

There are two reasons why pasta water must be well salted. The most obvious one is that this flavors the pasta itself, as it will absorb the salted water during boiling. This is crucially important because otherwise the pasta will be bland bland bland. I don’t care how much flavor your sauce has; it won’t do a thing to make the actual pasta taste good.

The other reason is that pasta water is an ingredient all by itself. More often than not some of it is added to the hot pan where a sauce and a pasta are mixed together in final preparation. If the water doesn’t have any flavor then all you’re doing by adding it is diluting the flavor of the entire dish.

And why would you want to do that?