You must/must not salt pasta cooking water
March 30, 2011
Posted by on
Now wait just a minute, how can one statement and its opposite both be false? This is because there are so many divergent opinions about salting pasta water, often strongly held, and none of them is “true” in an absolute sense. Salting does not shorten the cooking time by raising the temperature of the water (it does, actually, but by a tiny amount that makes absolutely no difference). The fact is that salting does one thing and one thing only: it makes the pasta salty (well, duh!). You have to add a good bit of salt to get any real taste effect because most of the salt goes down the drain. There you have it. You want salty pasta, add salt – otherwise, no.
But, there is one situation where I think adding salt is a good idea. For the common tomato-based sauces, the sauce can add the needed degree of saltiness to the dish. With oil-based sauces, however, we face the fact that salt does not dissolve in oil, so the sauce cannot add the needed salt (and the result is often the addition of too much grated cheese to get the desired salt level). Salting the pasta water in these situations can provide a better balance. The same is true of pasta that is destined for a cold mayonnaise-based salad.