When it comes to starch, there are a few things you need to know to make dinner as quick, easy, and successful as possible! In my kitchen, these are the rules to live by when working with rice, pasta, or potatoes on the stovetop.
Rinse your rice before cooking
No matter what type of rice you are cooking with (long grain, short grain, brown, or white), you should always rinse your rice before cooking to avoid a starchy, pudding-like result. Rinsing the rice under a running faucet in a fine mesh sieve removes any dust from production and also sloughs off the small amount of starchiness that rests on the outside of each grain of rice. This helps your rice cook up tender and fluffy and leaves you with lovely individual grains.
The only exception I can think of to this rule is short grain rice (such as Arborio) when it is being used for risotto or rice pudding. That extra bit of starch is needed to create the creamy texture you expect from those dishes.
If cooking brown rice, soak it before use
I think it’s true to say that we are all trying to eat a little healthier and get more whole grains into our diet but, when it comes to rice, white rice is just so much quicker to whip up! Well, with just a little forethought, brown rice can be just as quick as white rice if you just give it a chance to soak before cooking!
Simply combine 1 cup of brown rice with 2 cups of water in a saucepan along with ½ teaspoon of kosher salt before you head to work, cover it with a lid, and pop it in the refrigerator for eight to ten hours. When you get home and are ready to make dinner, remove the lid from the saucepan, place it over high heat, and bring the water and rice to a boil. Reduce the heat to a low simmer, cover the pot, and allow the rice to cook for 20 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and allow the rice to sit, still covered, for 5 to 10 minutes then dig in!
Toast your rice
If you’re looking for extra flavour, try toasting your rice in a little olive oil or butter before adding the water and bringing the mixture to a boil. I usually throw about 2 teaspoons of butter or oil per cup of rice into a saucepot placed over medium heat. Once hot, add in the rice and allow it to toast, stirring frequently, until the rice smells nutty and just starts to turn lightly golden. While this step does add a little time to the cooking process, the flavour is totally worth it!
Try this RICE BOWL recipe
Be Cool with the Cold Water Method
- When cooking smaller or shorter pasta shapes such as farfalle, macaroni, rotini, penne, or rigatoni, skip the step of bringing a massive pot of water to a boil and go for the cold water method!
- Add the pasta of your choice to a large saucepot fitted with a tight-fitting lid. Add in enough water to cover the pasta by about 2-inches and season with a good pinch of kosher salt. Cover the pot with the lid and place it over medium-high heat.
- When the water boils, remove the lid of the pot, reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, give the pasta a stir, and cook for 4 to 4 ½ minutes or until the pasta is al dente. Strain the pasta through a colander or sieve or remove the pasta from the water with a slotted spoon and…
Save that water
- All of that hot, salty, starchy pasta cooking liquid is just the most magical stuff! It can be used to reheat your pasta just before serving (the starchy water adds to the starchiness of pasta as opposed to stripping away all of the good stuff) or used to somehow simultaneously thin and thicken up really any sauce you’re making.
- This cold water method uses less water to cook the pasta therefore leaving you with a super-starchy liquid that is perfect for amping up anything from carbonara, cacio e pepe, alfredo, or just a plain butter sauce.
Never ever rinse those noodles
As briefly mentioned above, starch is so important when making pasta. As you cook pasta, a thin layer of gelatinized starch forms on each noodle, creating a surface that acts almost like a big magnet for any and all things you could ever want on your pasta. If you rinse your noodles with regular old tap water, you are washing away all of that starchy goodness leaving you with noodles that delicious sauce and cheese will struggle to cling to.
Salt the water… then salt it some more
- This is a tip that I think everyone has heard before but few actually try. Sure, you might add a pinch of salt to your pasta cooking water but, when a chef or a recipe instructs you to add a “pinch of salt” to your water, what they mean is a BIG pinch! A two-finger pinch will never be enough. What you want to do is use all of your fingers plus your thumb to grab a big pinch of salt (preferably kosher salt) to add to your water. Basically, you want the water to almost taste like the ocean so go ahead and add that salt!
- And if you’re worried about that amount of salt, don’t worry too much. Most of that water is staying in the pot so you’re really not eating that much of it.
Try this ROTINI AL LIMONE recipe
Always start your potatoes in cold water
Other than their skin, potatoes are pretty much the same texture and density all the way through. This can make them kind of difficult to cook, in particular, boil, evenly. I mean, how do you get the inside of a potato to cook without overcooking the outside?
The answer is to start potatoes in cold salted water. By starting potatoes in cold water, the inside temperature of the potato gradually rises more in line with the temperature of the water and leaves you with evenly cooked, tender boiled potatoes.
Salt the water well
- As with pasta, salting the water you’re cooking potatoes in is so important to imparting flavour into those starchy little spuds. I mean, is there anything worse than an undersalted potato? Well, probably, but a salted potato is about a thousand times more delicious than an unsalted potato!
- By salting the water they are cooking in, you help to season the potatoes more thoroughly and evenly and, as with salted pasta water, most of the salty liquid gets drained away.
- As for that amount of salt to add to the water, I’d go a little lighter than with pasta water but you still want to be able to taste salt in the cooking liquid.
Make sure the potatoes are the same size
Size really does matter when it comes to cooking potatoes evenly. This rule can be applied to anything you are cooking but when it comes to potatoes, it’s especially true. Potatoes have a dense, uniform texture and structure so making sure each potato is the same size is important to ensure a full pot of fluffy and tender potatoes. If you are working with larger potatoes, chop them into relatively evenly sized pieces to boil. If you are boiling up mini potatoes, the smaller ones can go in whole but any larger potatoes should be cut in half or in quarters so that their general size matches that of the little guys.
Try this GREEK-STYLE POTOTO recipe
As with all things, there are definitely exceptions to the rule, but these quick and simple tips and tricks will help ensure that you get the perfect plate every time you make dinner!