The Right Way to Sauce Pasta | Serious Eats
The right way to sauce pasta!
Here's how to properly sauce your pasta, step by step.
Step 1: heat your sauce separately
Step 2: cook your pasta al dente (really)
Remember: you do not want your pasta water as salty as the sea.
One to two percent salinity is what you should aim for, which translates to around 1 or 2 tablespoons of kosher salt per quart or liter.
You also don't need a huge amount of water—just enough to be able to keep the pasta moving.
With small shapes, like penne or fusilli, I use a saucepan or a saucier.
With long, skinny shapes, like spaghetti or bucatini, I use a 24 cm skillet.
Whatever you do, don't toss cooked pasta with oil—it makes it much more difficult to get sauce to cling to it down the line.
Step 3: transfer cooked pasta to sauce.
Step 4: add pasta water.
Once the pasta is in the sauce, add pasta water. This is the most vital step in the process.
Step 5: add fat!
If you have a very low-fat sauce (like a tomato sauce, for instance), now is the time to add extra fat. A small amount of fat—extra-virgin olive oil or butter—is essential to good pasta sauce texture.
Step 6: cook hard and fast.
Once everything is in the pan together—cooked pasta, hot sauce, pasta water, and extra fat—it's time to simmer it. Simmering not only reduces liquid (and thereby thickens the sauce), but also contributes to mechanical stirring, helping that starchy pasta water do its job of emulsifying the sauce with the fat and getting it to coat the pasta. The hotter your pan, the more vigorously the sauce will bubble, and the better the emulsion you'll form.
Step 7: stir in cheese and herbs off heat.
Once the pasta and sauce are where you want them, remove the pan from the heat and stir in any cheese or chopped herbs you may be using.
Step 8: adjust consistency
You thought you were done with that pasta water? Not quite yet! You're just about to serve the pasta, which means that now is your last chance to adjust texture.
Step 9: garnish as necessary.
Transfer the cooked, sauced pasta to a warmed serving bowl or individual plates, then add the final garnishes, if you're using any.
These can be anything from chopped fresh herbs to grated cheese to a big grind of black pepper.
Step 10: serve immediately.
Pasta don't wait around for nobody. Once the pasta is in the sauce, there's a countdown timer that's automatically started and cannot be paused.
Pasta will continue to cook and soften as it sits.
The sauce will start to cool down and thicken.
The only solution is to serve it immediately and to eat it with gusto.
If you've done everything right, that shouldn't be a problem!