The Simple Reason Pasta Water Is So Important, According To Rachael Ray

For as long as most of us can probably remember, we've been cooking pasta, making sure a colander or strainer is within arm's reach, and when the pasta is ready, just draining the water away before tossing the pasta in the sauce.

Not so fast, says TV cooking queen Rachael Ray, who used TikTok to tell fans exactly what to do with that cooking water — and it had nothing to do with pouring all of it down the drain. Calling it "the secret ingredient to perfect pasta every time," the culinary superstar tells her social media followers that it is "essential ... to grab a coffee cup, a mug, a measuring cup and reserve some of that salty, starchy cooking water." 

The reason? Ray regards the cooking water as "an ingredient in the dish." For starters, the water is pre-seasoned with the salt we use to cook the pasta with. From there, the liquid is mixed into the sauce, which is then used "to wrap the sauce that you've prepared so they're literally married together, and that's what gives you that great coating."

Foodies and chefs swear by pasta water

Rachael Ray wouldn't be the first chef to tell us to dispense with the colander and make an effort to save your pasta water. It seems that just about every chef and foodie out there, including Alex Delaney of Bon Appetit, considers pasta water to be an indispensable part of any dish, and promises that the "murky liquid ... filled with plenty of salt and leftover starch" is the secret ingredient that elevates your pasta dish, with plenty of help from science and chemistry.

When we boil pasta, we also give the noodles the opportunity to release some of their extra starch into the water (via Martha Stewart). That starch meets the fat in your sauce and turns into an ingredient that can bind all the sauce elements together and thicken the liquid at the same time, which allows the sauce to blanket the noodles. The trick works best when you "make thick, pasty type sauces," as Ray put it on TikTok. The Martha Stewart blog suggests the trick comes in handy when you add pasta water to sauce made in a pan, such as a creamy carbonara. 

But we'd like to sound is a note of caution before you dive into this hack. Because pasta water is salted, it's wise not to use too much, as Serious Eats points out — or you could end up with a dish that is much saltier than you bargained for.