Throughout the years, one question seems to be asked the most on food shows, by young chefs and those who wish to enhance their culinary know-how:
"Why do you add salt to water before you cook with it?"
One answer heard over and over again:
"To flavor the product that you will be cooking."
While this response is not incorrect, there is a much more scientific reason why chefs throughout time have added salt to their boiling pots … it raises the temperature of the cooking liquid.
Now, this may seem unimportant to most non-commercial cooks, but it actually serves a very important purpose when you are staring at 20-30 covers and the majority of those have some sort of pasta included with the meal. When you raise the boiling point of the water, you actually cut your cooking time by a significant amount, and you also ensure that you will not be left with a pasta log or raft when plating your guest's meal.
Adding salt to the un-boiled water will raise the temperature at which the water boils from 212 degrees Fahrenheit to 216 - 220 degrees, depending on the concentration, which will in turn leave you with a higher temperature to cook your pasta with, which will cut your cooking time and leave you with precious minutes to spare to plate your dish.
Every well seasoned chef knows that time is money and turning your covers around as quickly as possible can mean the difference between a great night in the business and a night that may leave you wondering if the end is near. In today's ever-evolving and cutthroat markets, satisfying your guests with an experience that is not only memorable but efficient can be the key factor for your business's success.
So the real answer to the age-old question is … both flavor and efficiency--two of the most important elements to every cooking operation from four-star restaurants to family mealtimes. Eighty-Six the plain water when cooking. For even more dynamic flavor, try adding some chicken stock or beef stock to your pasta water. The flavor of the stock helps to add a hint of flavor and contains enough natural salts to raise the boiling point without leaving your guests wondering if they have been whisked away to an Oceanside bistro.
Richard Kellermeyer is a 16 year veteran of the food service industry. He has prepared dishes for the Princess of Saudi Arabia and Jack Hanna, as well as many other celebrities and officials.