The Cooking 'Mistake' You Need To Make For The Best Pasta Salad

Cooking pasta can be tricky business; it's easy to make mistakes when cooking pasta, like using a pot that's too small or forgetting to salt your water. When it comes to making pasta salad though, there are even more mistakes to be had, since it sometimes requires you to break the typical cooking rules. For example, while it's typically not recommended to rinse pasta after it's done cooking, it is recommended to rinse pasta when you'll be using it to make a cold dish like pasta salad.


The biggest mistake you might be making though: Cooking your pasta al dente. In most pasta dishes, slightly firm al denta pasta is the gold standard. When it comes to pasta salad though, you'll want to cook it past al dente until it's just done. This is because when you rinse your pasta with cold water and serve it cold, it will stop cooking and firm up pretty quickly. That combined with the little bit of extra cooking gives it the perfect texture. In fact, if you were to eat the pasta warm with this technique, you would probably think it was a bit overdone.

Why you shouldn't cook pasta al dente for pasta salad

If you've made quite a few pasta salad recipes, you may have heard advice that's a bit contrary to this. For example, some people think it's best to cook to al dente because the pasta will absorb more of the dressing and liquid that way.


However, an easy way to combat this is to make sure you're adding your dressing and liquids while the pasta is still warm. If you have time, it's also helpful to let it sit in the fridge overnight to give all of the dressing and flavors time to soak in. This way, you can stir it up in the morning, check the flavor and moisture content, and add more dressing if necessary. This is also a pretty useful way to have some of your food prep done ahead of time, giving you one less thing to worry about on the day of your picnic or barbecue.

Why you shouldn't overcook your pasta for pasta salad

On the other hand, some people recommend that you overcook your dish when you're making pasta salad. In theory, this makes sense because the pasta will firm up when you eat it cold. The thought is that having soft overcooked pasta might help you achieve the perfect texture. However, it will also probably make for a pretty big mess when you try to mix around your ingredients. Your pasta will probably fall apart or worse, mush up like a paste as you stir it around the bowl.


So how do you know when to stop cooking your pasta? First, check the cooking instructions on the box. Most will list a specific cooking time for al dente pasta. To cook just past al dente, try cooking your pasta for a minute or two longer than the recommended cooking time. Just be sure not to let it cook so long that it gets mushy. Then, rinse and get that dressing on so it can start soaking in.