In terms of the culinary world, Alton Brown is no joke. A celebrity chef, bestselling author, and a regular on Food Network programs such as Iron Chef America, Cutthroat Kitchen, and Good Eats, Brown is what you’d call a food guru.
Brown is known for having an undeniable knack for perfecting comfort foods. Among his most renowned dishes are his baked macaroni and cheese, chewy chocolate chip cookies, and buttery soft southern biscuits. But his unusual method for preparing pasta sets him apart from his peers.
Home cooks are generally aware of a few golden rules for making the perfect al dente pasta. Many, including myself, would agree that the essential first step in preparing uncooked pasta is boiling water. Furthermore, you should heavily salt the water if you’re extra savvy. While these common tips will help you make the perfect pasta, one thing is certain, cooking pasta like a pro requires patience… or so I thought.
Alton Brown’s Cold Water Pasta Method
To be honest, waiting for water to boil is a pain. Resisting the urge to toss the pasta in too soon takes a toll on my mental health. However, there is that golden rule, which states that if you cook pasta in water beneath anything scorching hot, it will inevitably be doomed. We can’t have that.
However, Brown’s cold water pasta method is changing the pasta preparation game. The cardinal rule doesn’t apply to Brown, who recommended adding cold, uncooked noodles to salted, cold water rather than waiting for the water to boil.
In Brown’s view, after years of not challenging classically held notions, “the big-pots-of-boiling-water paradigm is quite simply a myth.” Even though starting pasta in cold water is unconventional, it does have many benefits.
“It takes less energy to heat, it takes less time since the noodles come to a boil with the water, and you end up with concentrated starchy cooking water that gives a silky, creamy finish to pasta sauces. Just be sure to remove your pasta with a spider strainer rather than draining it into the sink.” Brown shared.
While his unconventional method for cooking pasta may not be up to traditional Italian standards, Brown admitted he now prefers the texture of pasta started in cold water.
I decided to give this cold pasta method a try myself. Also, I found it particularly intriguing that his instructions stated that pasta would cook in under five minutes. Quite impressive considering the cold water start. I was eager to see how it turned out.
Does Alton Brown’s Cold Water Pasta Method Actually Work?
I’m all for any tips that help me save time and perfect my skills in the kitchen, and Brown’s pasta-cooking hack does just that. Does it work, though? I decided to put that question to the test by trying out the recipe for myself.
According to Brown’s recipe, you’ll use a 4 1/2-quart pot and add your preferred pasta. In the next step, his recipe called for adding cold water (about 64 ounces of water, I used enough to cover the pasta), and 1 tablespoon of kosher salt. Lastly, the recipe said to cover the pot and heat it over medium-high heat.
Meanwhile, I waited for the water to start boiling so I could reduce the heat to a simmer and remove the lid. At this point, the celebrity chef boldly suggested you set your timer for 4 minutes 30 seconds or until the pasta is al dente. While I’m no pasta expert, my Barilla box instructions indicated that Mr. Brown was way off the mark.
Despite a little hesitation, I followed Brown’s recipe. After I removed the lid, I gave the pasta a good stir and allowed it to cook for a little over four minutes. Having half expected my rigatoni to be more crunchy than firm, I found it surprisingly al dente upon tasting a piece.
As Brown suggested I used a spider strainer rather than straining into the sink. However, I did this because it made it much more convenient to transfer the noodles into the sauté pan to toss in the sauce. Moreover, there was plenty of starchy pasta water at my side. Yet, if I opted to use a colander I don’t see that being an issue.
Let me conclude by saying, I am absolutely shaken that this bizarre hack for a lazy girl’s faster dinner managed to succeed. I’m also questioning everything and anything I’ve ever learned about preparing dry pasta.
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