Whether you love a hearty marinara or a creamy Alfredo, sauce is a key component in any pasta dish — but a common mistake can cause the ingredients to not bind together well enough for the tastiest bites. Luckily, all it takes is a simple restaurant trick of adding some butter while the sauce is still in the pot to make it cling to the pasta better.
We’re all probably familiar with the cooking tip of using leftover pasta water to help thicken our sauce. The starchy water allows things to blend much easier and adds some extra saltiness to keep the dish well-seasoned (no wonder it’s considered liquid gold!). However, according to Cook’s Illustrated, we should also be adding a small amount of butter during this mixing step to prevent the sauce from separating and to help create a glossy finish.
This is all thanks to its high fat to water ratio (80 percent butterfat to 16-18 percent water) which creates a more stable emulsion when added to sauces. For the best results, it’s important to make sure the butter is fridge-cold because it’ll gradually melt into sauce and dissolve the butterfat. If it were room temperature, it would cause the sauce to “break” and not come together as easily.
The experts at MyRecipes recommend stirring in a half a tablespoon of butter into the pasta and sauce mixture to start, then gradually adding more cubes. How much butter you add will depend on how thick you want it to be, but it shouldn’t be more than two tablespoons — otherwise you’ll end up with a very greasy sauce.
For this cooking tip, the butter’s job is to act as an additional binding agent for the pasta and sauce to come together more cohesively without overpowering the dish. A little can go a long way!
Andrew Carmellini, chef and author of Urban Italian (Buy on Amazon, $25.30), shares his tips for properly saucing pasta with Chowhound. Before you strain the pasta, reserve about one to two cups of pasta water and set it aside. Then add the pasta to the pot where your sauce is cooking. He suggests spooning a ladleful of the starchy cooking liquid over the pasta then letting it cook over a gentle flame for one minute before turning off the heat.
Next, start adding in some of the knobs of cold butter. Give this mixture a toss with a wooden spoon or tongs and adjust as needed: If the sauce is too thick, add more of the water; if it’s not coming together, another cube of butter might be needed (but remember that two tablespoon rule of thumb!).
He also chose to drizzle in some olive oil and sprinkle freshly grated parmesan cheese to add extra creaminess to the dish. Any fresh herbs like chopped basil or parsley should go in right before serving so that they don’t wilt too much. To get more of Chef Andrew’s pasta expertise, watch the video below:
The pasta should be all sauced up and well-coated at this point, so there’s nothing else to do but serve it in a plate or bowl, shave some more cheese over the top if you’d like, and enjoy.
This cooking trick goes to show that you don’t need anything fancy to recreate some of your favorite restaurant dishes at home. Keep this handy butter tip in mind the next you make pasta and you’ll be stunned at the delicious and creamy results!
This article originally appeared on our sister site, First For Women.
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