There is a heated debate out there about whether or not you should be rinsing your cooked pasta. For some, this is just what you do: strain, rinse, and serve. For others, rinsing pasta is pure sacrilege.
I myself fall on the latter scale: Why waste all of that amazing starch that will emulsify with some fat into a gorgeous, glossy sauce? When I externed at Soho’s Osteria Morini in New York City after culinary school, pasta was always prepared à la minute (cooked to order) and placed directly from its hot starchy bath right into a pan for saucing.
While I may have a go-to technique, I decided to reach out to some lifelong pasta experts to get a sense if rinsing pasta is quite as detrimental as anti-rinsers say, or if there are some cases where it’s perfectly acceptable.
Italian Pasta: Never Rinse
Beatrice Ughi, founder of beloved Italian-goods purveyor Gustiamo, has never rinsed pasta in her life. In fact, when I asked her about it, she said she has never even heard of the practice.
When she polled her Italian friends, she said, “You can feel the horror on the other side of the world on the telephone. They told me that it has happened, but very rarely in their lives. It’s always due to a mistake, like oversalting the pasta water, or because they’re in a hurry.”
Sergio Faella—the grand-nephew of Gaetano Faella, who opened Pastificio Faella in 1907— responded to the query with a passionate, “No way!”
While some may rinse pasta for a cold pasta salad, he recommends this instead: Cook the pasta in a large amount of water to reduce the starch content, then strain it, wait a few minutes, add some EVOO, then wait a few more minutes. “Good pasta doesn’t do well with those who are in a hurry.”
I also chatted with Vicky Bennison, the producer of viral videos for Pasta Grannies. She said she’s never filmed a Pasta Granny rinse pasta. “I think they’d regard it as a waste of water. Pasta water used to be used for rinsing dishes—that’s how frugal these ladies are.”
So is there a situation where rinsing pasta is actually essential?
Asian Noodles: Rinse Sometimes
I recognize that not all noodles are created equal. That’s why I reached out to my former Serious Eats colleague Sho Spaeth. He’s now an editor at ChefSteps and is working on a ramen cookbook that’s coming out in the fall of 2024.
His rationale for not rinsing noodles is a bit different than the Italians. “Generally speaking,” he said, “you avoid rinsing ramen noodles because it’ll make the noodles cold, and if you add cold noodles to hot soup, the soup becomes tepid.”
That being said, Sho told me that there are circumstances where you do want to rinse your noodles, like for tsukemen (dipping noodles). “With tsukemen, you have to rinse away all the starch on the noodles so they don’t stick together when you serve them.”
So Should I Rinse Pasta or Not?
So when it comes to rinsing pasta, in general, don’t waste those precious starches—the Italians sure don’t. If you want to make a cold pasta salad, you could rinse the noodles, sure, but instead, take your time and let them cool naturally with a bit of olive oil. And don’t forget that every rule has its exceptions. Let’s consider this fiery debate settled.
Now go forth and noodle.