How to Make Sauce Cling to Your Pasta

This Cooking Tip Will Give You Enjoyable Restaurant-Style Results

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith

Cooking pasta with the  emulsion method.
Cooking pasta with the emulsion method
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This article was updated on 04/29/21.

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Who doesn’t like pasta? Spaghetti Carbonara, ravioli, elbow, penne, and so much more. It’s comfort food, just like tater tots and cheeseburgers. But have you ever wondered why the sauce clings so well to restaurant pasta but when you make it at home it slides right off and puddles on you plate? The secret is the concept of emulsion. The good news is that you can easily make it happen in your own kitchen!

What is this emulsion anyway? In a nutshell, it’s when two or more liquids that normally won’t mix are forced to come together. For example, mayonnaise is an oil in water emulsion that is stabilized by the lecithin in egg yolk. That’s why you don’t have to stir it up. Peanut butter is another good example (except for the kind that you do need to stir). Now let’s learn how to apply emulsion to home-cooked pasta.

Easy Steps to Making Sauce-Clinging Pasta

  • Bring heavily salted water to a boil in an appropriately-sized pot. I like using “pink” or Himalayan salt. Regular table salt has all the minerals stripped out of it.
  • Add the pasta.
  • Do not cook it to the al dente stage; leave it a bit undercooked because it will finish in the sauce.
  • When you go to drain the pasta, reserve a cup of the water. Set the pasta aside.
  • Add your sauce to the now-empty pot. For every 3 ounces of dry pasta that you cooked, use 1/2 cup of sauce.
  • Heat the sauce to a simmer.
  • Add in any extra vegetables that you enjoy.
  • Toss in 1/2 tablespoon of butter (I like Kerrygold Irish butter but it’s your call). Stir in until it melts. Repeat until you can run a spoon through it and see all the way to the bottom of the pot without the sauce quickly seeping back to fill the gap.
  • Add the drained pasta directly to the pot. Mix vigorously. This will further emulsify and thicken your sauce by grabbing bits of starch from the pasta; mixing your pasta and sauce directly in your pot instead of pouring sauce over the pasta is the key finishing step to achieve that restaurant quality. Different kinds of pasta interact with different sauces differently. Some soak up more liquid than others. If your sauce is too thick, this is where you can mix some of your reserved pasta water back in, just a wee bit at a time.
  • Serve and enjoy!

I like to serve it with a side of Tuscan kale salad. Go ahead and experiment with making sauce cling to your pasta. Different kinds of pasta, different kinds of sauce; it’s an adventure. Of course, it also works in low-carb noodles recipes.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at Considered Opinions Blog where he muses on many different topics.

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