The Real Reason You Should Never Drain Your Pasta In The Sink

What do you do when your pasta has finally reached al dente perfection? If your answer is to drain it — in the sink — you've been making a grievous error. That murky, starchy water, also called "liquid gold" by many chefs, still has a job to do. Pouring it down the sink means you're missing out on a golden opportunity. 

As you probably know, pasta is a starchy food. Turns out, when you cook it, some of that starchiness seeps out into the water — that's why it looks so cloudy by the time your pasta has cooked. That starchy, salty water is the perfect emulsifier and thickener for making a spectacular, silky sauce. And trust us — even if you think your amazing sauce needs no added emulsifier, chances are, you're wrong.

How many times have you plated a beautiful serving of pasta, only to end up with a red, watery pool on the outside of your plate? It's not very appetizing, right? It also ruins any Insta-worthy plate pictures you were hoping for once dinner is served. That watery mess is what happens when the water in your pasta separates from the oil in your sauce, and an emulsifier stops that from happening. It helps the two to combine and hold together, thickening your sauce to smooth, restaurant-worthy deliciousness. 

So how are you supposed to remove your cooked pasta from the water without wasting a single drop? It's easier than you might think — no kitchen ninja moves required. To start, use less water when boiling your pasta than you probably are. You may have been told that you need tons of water to properly boil pasta, but all that water is unnecessary, and it dilutes the starch you're left with in the end, which makes it a lot less useful. Just use enough water to cover your pasta, and make sure to stir it frequently as it cooks to keep it from sticking together. 

If you're cooking your sauce while simultaneously cooking your pasta (and let's face it, you probably are), it's easy enough to scoop out a few tablespoons at a time of the starchy water and stir it into your sauce. It'll thin out at first, but don't panic — it will thicken back up like magic as the starch is absorbed into your sauce. But that perfect pot of sauce doesn't mean you should dump the rest of your liquid gold down the drain! Either cook your pasta in a pot with a built-in strainer, or remove the pasta from the water using tongs or a pasta fork. If you simply must use a colander, place it over a large pot first, that way your pasta water avoids the drain.

Once you've salvaged all that starchy water and let it cool, save it and freeze it in small batches using an ice cube tray. You can add it to gravy, soups, stews, future sauces, and anything else that needs a little more emulsification. 

And one more tip for pasta night perfection: Don't rinse your pasta once you've removed it from the water! The starch on the surface of the noodles works in the same way as the starch you've added to the sauce — it helps the sauce stick to the pasta. If you rinse your pasta, you're rinsing away that helpful starch — and erasing all the effort you've just made to harmonize your plate.