There are lots of tricks for making pasta. But many theories about how to keep pasta from sticking are the culinary equivalent of old wives” tales. In other words, doing things like adding oil to your pasta water is a lot like trying to feed a fever or starve a cold: It might make you feel like you”re doing something, but the outcome is going to be the same.
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So what is the one thing you should really be doing to keep your pasta from sticking together? Stir it. Frequently.
“Pasta should be stirred often while cooking—especially in the first few minutes of cooking,” says Ethan McKee, executive chef at Urbana in Washington, D.C. Agitating it keeps them from settling in one spot and sticking.
And if you”re using fresh noodles, rather than dry ones, there”s an extra step you should take.
“If you are going the fresh pasta route, then drying out the sheets for 20 minutes before you cut them helps a lot, as does an extra dusting of semolina flour in order to prevent sticking as the noodles release moisture,” says chef Matt Sigler of Il Solito in Portland. “If you are using dry noodles, stirring the noodles after you drop them in boiling water is the best bet to reduce clumping.”
Here are all of the pasta-sticking tricks that chefs swear by—and one pasta mistake that you should skip.
Stir the pasta water.
Not only will this not keep pasta from sticking together, but it will also make your sauce less effective.
“Adding olive oil to boiling water with pasta is not a good use of oil,” says McKee. Instead, it will only coat the noodles in oil as you drain them, which prevents the sauce from adhering later.
And if you”re not tossing your noodles in the sauce right away, or you plan to reheat your pasta later, adding olive oil after you take them out of the pot can help prevent sticking. “After you take the noodles out of the water, coating with some olive oil is an effective measure to prevent sticking,” Sigler says. Pisano also suggests tossing the cooked noodles in butter for a richer flavor.
Now that you know these tricks about how to keep pasta from sticking, you”ll never end up with a sad bowl of noodles again.