Everyone has heard the saying that pasta water is liquid gold. It might not be obvious at first glance that leftover pasta water is key to making a dreamy top-tier sauce, but fans of Italian cuisine know it to be true. Despite pasta water’s undeniable star status, other ingredients can certainly help make this murky liquid sparkle like the gold it claims to be.
A generous portion of pasta water rich in starches and salt can add some much-needed flavor to any noodle dish. But adding some fat elevates the dish into a whole new dimension. This essential process is called emulsification, and it produces a smooth and luxurious sauce every time. Moreover, it prevents pooling and helps the sauce effortlessly adhere to the pasta.
While many home cooks still opt for olive oil as their go-to binding agent, many are switching to butter for even better results.
Butter Is The Real Secret To A Better Sauce
While olive oil is a fine emulsifier, due to its 100 percent fat content it takes more elbow grease to achieve a velvety sauce. By contrast, butter is considered to be more stable due to its emulsion of water in butterfat (16 to 18 percent water to 80 percent butterfat). As a result, the butter will blend in much more smoothly, imparting a velvety emulsion that will cling to the pasta better.
And, if that’s not enough to make you team butter, know that it also boosts flavor. Adding butter offers up rich buttery notes, without the texture associated with olive oil. But, while butter can make your sauce 10 times better, it shouldn’t be blindly thrown in without thought.
How To Add Butter To Pasta The Right Way
To make a showstopping sauce, it’s best to add butter when it is cold, rather than room temperature. As a result, the emulsion is more stable, enabling fats to be introduced slowly, allowing the butterfat to dissolve completely.
Andrew Carmellini, former chef and coauthor of Urban Italian, demonstrates the right way to sauce your pasta using butter. With the help of a spider strainer, chef Carmellini transfers the pasta to a pot of hot tomato-based sauce. He then cooks it for approximately one minute. “That way the pasta can absorb some of the sauce and it can become a great tasting stew together,” he explains.
Next, he adds some leftover pasta water. “We’re going to add some of that water to the sauce to give it that shiny yummy flavor,” he adds. Then, he turns off the heat, adds two tablespoons of cold butter, a little olive oil, and parmesan cheese.
According to Chef Carmellini, adding butter to the pasta sauce is known as Mantecare, which means to smooth or cream. Consider this tasty pasta sauce hack the next time you’re preparing dinner. After all, adding butter to pasta sauce is an Italian tradition.