The Biggest Mistake You're Making When Draining Pasta

One of the reasons pasta is so popular is that it's a quick and easy meal that just about anyone can make. Turns out, it's a lot more difficult to make pasta well, as there are a lot of mistakes you need to avoid when making pasta, at least, if you don't want pasta that's sticky and all clumped together, which requires vigilance throughout the entire cooking process.

If you use a pot that is too small, or don't use enough water (about six to eight quarts of water per pound of pasta is a good rule of thumb, recommends The Spruce Eats), your pasta will end up clumped together from not having enough space and water for enough starch to wash off the pasta. If you don't stir your pasta thoroughly as soon as you add it to the water (or at least within the first two minutes), all the starch on the surface of the pasta will cause the pasta pieces that are touching to clump together into an unappetizing mass. Even after your pasta is cooked properly, how you strain it can affect how it turns out

Don't let pasta sit in the strainer for too long

As soon as your pasta is done cooking, you should remove it from the hot water, as it will continue to cook otherwise. Many people use a colander or strainer to drain their cooked pasta (ideally after reserving a bit of the leftover pasta water to add to the sauce for thickening purposes), which is fine, particularly for shorter pasta like penne, fusili, or macaroni. What you don't want to do is let the pasta sit in the strainer together for any length of time, as the starch on the surface of the pasta will cause the pasta to stick together, warns Smithsonian Magazine. Not only that, but hot pasta also absorbs sauce better. 

Instead, add the pasta to your sauce immediately after straining. Alternatively, if you are cooking long pasta like spaghetti, linguini, or angel hair, try using tongs instead to remove the pasta from the cooking water and into the sauce. What you don't want to do is rinse the pasta in water (unless you're making pasta salad or other cold noodle salad, per Allrecipes).  As The Spruce Eats explains, rinsing your pasta in water will remove the remaining starch on the pasta that not only helps the sauce stick to the pasta better, but also helps to thicken the sauce, which are both good things when it comes to pasta.