Overcooked Noodles Are The Key To Perfect Pasta Salad

Every summer we find ourselves craving mostly cold dishes that will help us beat the heat, and that means that we eventually start wondering if there are ways to improve upon the meals we have in constant rotation, like our basic macaroni salad recipe. And if you've been looking for reasons your pasta salad sucks even though you're using a recipe, it might come down to one thing: how long you cook your pasta.

The biggest mistake you're making with your pasta salad isn't just that you probably aren't adding enough seasoning — chances are, you're also undercooking the pasta. Anyone who's watched a Giada De Laurentiis show over the past 15 years knows that in general, pasta should be cooked just until al dente. But for pasta salad, you actually want to overcook your noodles. That's because when the noodles go into the fridge, they have a tendency to dry out, thanks to a process called starch retrogradation, which makes the texture of cooked pasta tough and chewy when it gets cold. Overcooked pasta, on the other hand, firms up to a just-right texture.

Pasta salad cooking time

The amount of time required to cook pasta to al dente varies based on the pasta shape you're working with, but the pasta packaging usually gives you a time range to work with. For the perfect pasta salad, you'll want to cook the pasta for several minutes past al dente, for about 2-3 minutes, depending on your tastes. The pasta shouldn't be so mushy it's falling apart, but it also shouldn't have that signature al dente bite in the middle.

As TikTok user @CJ.Eats explains in their Hawaiian macaroni salad recipe video, "We actually want this pasta overcooked until soft so once cooled it's the optimal texture," neither chewy and tough, nor mushy and waterlogged. Some theorize that the softer pasta even soaks up more dressing, which gives it more flavor. Of course, if you just can't wrap your head around overcooking pasta, or find yourself enjoying the slightly chewy texture of chilled al dente pasta, then by all means cook it to your liking. But if you've ever wondered why your macaroni salad isn't as creamy and silky as the kind you can get at the deli, try overcooking your noodles next time, and see what a difference an extra minute or two can make.