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Cooking Tips

Oh No, You Accidentally Drained Your Pasta Water. Now What?

This mistake doesn’t have to be recipe-killer anymore.
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Published June 24, 2022.

We’ve all been there. Your recipe tells you to reserve some pasta water. You constantly remind yourself in your head as you cook. Then, you go to drain your pasta, and poof. All of your pasta water is heading down the drain. You forgot to reserve it.

It’s such an easy but unfortunate mistake to make. Starchy pasta water is an essential ingredient in many recipes when it comes to creating a creamy sauce, such as cacio e pepe, spaghetti carbonara, and pasta alla gricia. 

But if you did make this crucial mistake, don't panic. You can easily make a replacement, and it only requires two ingredients: cornstarch and water.

How to Make an Emergency Pasta Water Replacement

Mix together ¼ teaspoon of cornstarch with 1 cup of water and microwave for 1 to 2 minutes until hot. Use this mixture as you would use pasta water to create a sauce with a silky consistency.

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So, now that that crisis is averted, how do you avoid making that mistake again? Here are some tips on how to do just that.

  • Give yourself an extra reminder. As your pasta is cooking, put your colander in the sink and place a measuring cup inside the colander. This will help jog your memory before you pour all that liquid gold down the drain.
  • Place a bowl under your colander before you drain. By placing your serving bowl underneath your colander, this will capture all of your pasta water if you forget to grab some before straining. Plus, this helps warm up the bowl to keep your pasta from getting cold as it sits on your table.
  • Plan ahead! Keep some in your fridge. Another option to always have some on hand, especially if you need it on a regular basis, is to save all of it the next time you make pasta. Senior Editor Joe Gitter recommends keeping it in your fridge for up to a week.
  • Really plan ahead and keep some in your freezer. If you don’t need pasta water on as regular of a basis, or just want to stock up in bulk, try pulling out the ice cube tray. (Just like we do with herb ice cubes!) Simply pour your pasta water into the tray, freeze, and then transfer to a zipper-lock bag. (Gitter says they should be good in your freezer for up to a year.) When you need to use them, transfer them to a liquid measuring cup and melt in your microwave, then add as many splashes as needed to your pasta dish.

Now that you’re loaded with these tips, you never have to bend your head back in anger at the kitchen sink ever again.

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