Skip to main content
Menu
Search
Menu
Close

We make mistakes so you don’t have to.

Try CooksIllustrated.com Free for 14 Days

Email is required
How we use your email address

How to Tell When Pasta Is Al Dente

By Annie Petito Published

Al dente pasta will look dry at the very core.

Pasta recipes almost always call for cooking noodles al dente, meaning they are tender but still have a somewhat firm texture (“al dente” is Italian for “to the tooth”). But what exactly happens to dried pasta as it reaches the al dente stage?

Dried pasta is a complex of starch granules held together by protein.

When pasta is boiled, the starch granules on the surface of the pasta absorb water and swell, and some eventually burst, releasing starch into the cooking water. The granules just beneath the pasta’s surface don’t become as hydrated and merely swell without bursting.

Finally, the starch at the very center of the pasta becomes only partially hydrated, so the center retains a slightly firm bite and a faint white core that means it’s been cooked al dente.

Cook Pasta Al Dente When Making These Recipes

Recipe Spaghetti with Pecorino Romano and Black Pepper (Cacio e Pepe)

With just three main ingredients (cheese, pepper, and pasta), this Roman dish would be the best quick meal we ever tasted. As long as we could keep the sauce from clumping.

Recipe Penne Arrabbiata

What’s the trick to making this classic Italian sauce spicy but balanced? More chiles.

Recipe Pasta with Garlic and Oil—Aglio E Olio

The marriage of cooked and raw garlic as well as a generous splash of extra-virgin olive oil just before serving make this simple dish shout with flavor.

Recipe Pasta alla Gricia (Rigatoni with Pancetta and Pecorino Romano)

The porky-peppery flavors of pasta alla gricia deserve big recognition.

Leave a comment and join the conversation!

0 Comments
Read & post comments with a free account
Join the conversation with our community of home cooks, test cooks, and editors.
First Name is Required
Last Name is Required
Email Address is Required
How we use your email?
Password is Required
JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.