Thoughts about food and technology
Thu, 22 Dec 2016 03:41:31 +0000
The Pasta Pot
Thu, 09 Aug 2007 13:00:36 +0000
Contrary to what every cookbook instructs, I’ve frequently cooked pasta in the following unorthodox manner: put the dry pasta and just enough water in the pot, turn on the heat, and turn it off when the liquid is all absorbed. In other words, somewhat like the way you cook rice (though uncovered). No draining, no getting a colander dirty. Add the rest of your ingredients (think: cheese) in the same pot, cook a while longer, and your meal is done.
I didn’t invent this technique as a way of advancing the culinary arts. I started doing it partly just to see what would happen, but mostly because I was lazy. And, for my applications, it worked just fine, with the proviso that one must stir the pasta frequently and watch that evaporation carefully—if you don’t turn off the heat just before the last of the water is gone, the pasta sticks to the pot, which is not what you want. But the bottom line is that I felt I was saving myself a bit of effort and, as far as I could tell, the end result tasted every bit as good as pasta cooked the conventional way. Maybe even better. Yes, I know that a certain amount of starch that would otherwise have gone down the drain went back into the pasta, but I haven’t been able to detect any negative impact from that starch on the pasta’s taste.
Well, it seems that great minds think alike. No less a chef than Alain Ducasse (yes, French, of course) has developed a “new” and revolutionary way of cooking pasta, which is essentially just to do everything in a single pot without any draining. He calls this technique . And, OK, I’m oversimplifying a bit. Using Ducasse’s method, you’d typically start by briefly sweating some aromatics or greens in the pot, then adding your dry pasta and sautéeing for a few minutes, and finally pouring in some stock or other flavorful liquid and cooking, uncovered, until the liquid is gone.
I have no quarrel at all with the method, of course, since it validates what I was already doing all along. But what I do have trouble with is a new piece of Alessi cookware designed expressly for Ducasse: the (eponymous) . It’s this, you know, stainless steel container that sits on your stove and holds ingredients while they cook. It has a removable cover, and a melamine trivet on which you can place it when it’s not on your stove. The only thing that makes the design unique is that its handle doubles as a spoon rest (spoon included). And for this, the retail price is $238. Naturally, they’re currently sold out, but you can be put on a waiting list.
If you have money to burn and style is the most important consideration, hey, knock yourself out. I’m sure it’s as good an all-around pot as you’ll find anywhere else. But you can employ the Pasta Pot method just as well with any $30 pot, too. With the money you save, you can buy yourself an appetizer at one of Ducasse’s restaurants.
To read what another Big Name in Cooking had to say about pasta, see .
Water Freezing and Boiling Myths
Tue, 26 Sep 2006 14:00:40 +0000
When I wrote about
at Interesting Thing of the Day, I had in mind the stories I’d heard about hot water freezing faster than cold water, cold water boiling faster than hot water, and so on. I think I did enough experiments to get to the bottom of what’s going on—or at least, enough to satisfy my curiosity.
What I wasn’t thinking about at the time, though, was cooking-related myths about boiling water. Such as: do you really need to add salt to the water when you’re boiling pasta? I’d always assumed that was essentially useless, because a small quantity of salt doesn’t raise the boiling point of water appreciably and there’s no need to season pasta while it cooks unless you plan to serve it plain—the flavor of any sauce will completely overwhelm whatever meager flavor you’ve added with the salt.
Last year I had the opportunity to pose this question to one of the world’s foremost food scientists, Harold McGee (see ). According to McGee, salt can also help keep pasta from sticking together, which is a sensible reason to use it. But he also said that, especially with thicker noodles, salt can actually increase the cooking time by slowing down the osmotic process that gets water into the center of the pasta. So if speedy cooking is a priority, you might be better off skipping the salt.