Why should you heat the oil in the pan before adding onions? Are fresh vegetables better than frozen? And what’s so special about a shallot? You have lots of burning questions about recipes, ingredients, and food science, and this week, we get some answers. Daniel Holzman and Matt Rodbard, authors of Food IQ: 100 Questions, Answers, and Recipes to Raise Your Cooking Smarts, bring their culinary smarts to The Sporkful, and take your calls. They reveal the secret ingredient for the best baked mac and cheese, explain when to start worrying about the color of ground beef, and separate fact from fiction around salting your pasta water.
The Sporkful production team includes Dan Pashman, Emma Morgenstern, Andres O'Hara, Johanna Mayer, Tracey Samuelson, and Jared O'Connell. This week's episode was mixed by Marina Paiz.
Interstitial music in this episode by Black Label Music:
- "Lucky Strike" by Erick Anderson
- "Get Your Shoes On" by Will Van de Crommert
- "Dreamin' Long Instrumental" by Black Label Music
- "Comin' For A Change" by Stephen Sullivan
- "The Huxtables" by Ken Brahmstedt
- "New Old" by JT Bates
Image courtesy of Harper Wave, illustration by Miguel Villalobos.
Dan Pashman: What would you say is your biggest area of disagreement food ... food related?
Daniel Holzman: Wow. That's such a great question. What's your —
Matt Rodbard: Hamburgers. Hamburgers.
Dan Pashman: Burgers?
Daniel Holzman: You think hamburgers is our biggest area of disagreement? What?
Matt Rodbard: Sorry, we're disagreeing about the disagreements.
Daniel Holzman: How do you disagree?
Dan Pashman: I know. You're now arguing over what you disagree most about.
Daniel Holzman: Well, what do you think?
Matt Rodbard: I'm thinking ...
Dan H: I'm just trying to understand what you think is wrong about what I think about hamburgers. What could you possibly think?
Dan Pashman: This is The Sporkful, it's not for foodies, it's for eaters. I'm Dan Pashman each week on our show, we obsess about food to learn more about people. Why do you have to heat oil in a pan before adding the onions? I feel like I'm an Andy Rooney voice right now. I remember Andy Rooney from 60 Minutes? Why do you have to heat oil in a pan before adding the onions? Do you really need a mortar and pestle to grind up your spices? Where's the line between a simmer and a boil? Where I ask you?
Dan Pashman: these are the kinds of questions that keep me, and I know some of you, up at night. Today, we're going to get answers with the authors of the new book, Food IQ: 100 Questions, Answers, and Recipes to Raise Your Cooking Smarts.
Daniel Holzman: Dan, glad to share a name with you. Thanks for having us.
Dan Pashman: And so for clarity sake, you'll continue to go by Daniel. You’re chef Daniel. I'll be Dan.
Daniel Holzman: if — actually, if you would just do the Andy Rooney voice the whole time, that would be easier for listeners to differentiate us.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS] That's right. And then of course, we have Matt Rodbard, a food writer. He's the founder and editor of Taste Magazine, and author, along with Deuki Hong of Koreatown: A Cookbook. Hey, Matt.
Matt Rodbard: Pleasure to be here, Dan.
Dan Pashman: So Matt you’re the food writer. Daniel you’re the chef. And you met — Matt, you were going to interview Daniel for something you were writing, and you two became fast friends.
Matt Rodbard: 10 years ago, I met him at the opening of The Meatball Shop. He’s an extremely passionate food guy, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of not just food, but things like flying planes, building grills. Like the guy has a lot of traits and talents and I got to know that 10 years ago. And I’ve gotten to know it more now through Food IQ.
Dan Pashman: And Daniel, question to you. Let’s say I was one of your chef buddies and I said, “Oh that guy Matt Rodbard from Taste, the food writer, he came to interview you? What’s he like? What’s his deal?”
Daniel Holzman: I would say that Matt is kindhearted, intelligent. I was interested in learning about writing and I talked to some folks about that and everybody kinda ... kinda shooed me away. And Matt said, "Well, if you're interested, let's work together." And he has this generosity that's very unique and special.
Dan Pashman: Aw, well, that's nice.
Matt Rodbard: I'd say, too, Daniel's a really nice guy.
Daniel Holzman: Yeah. You got to follow up now that I said all that nice stuff.
Matt Rodbard: I know, right.
Dan Pashman: Daniel, you were in fine dining, right? You were at Le Bernardin, one of the fanciest high-end restaurants in America, and you switched from that to opening up The Meatball Shop.
Daniel Holzman: I worked in fancy restaurants and, you know, most of my, kind of like formal education cooking came from that world. And at some point I recognized that the folks that were eating in those restaurants, weren't representative of my friends, my family, people that I, you know, spend time with. And I want it to kind of share the food that I loved with the people that I love to hang out with. And share it with folks that can afford to eat it.
Dan Pashman: And Matt, I know you, in particular, you've done a lot of work with Korean food. You co-wrote the book Koreatown with chef Deuki Hong. So I'm curious, what's a dish that in Seoul is kind of like everywhere, everyone loves it. It's pretty common, but maybe in Korean restaurants in America isn't as common? If you could be like, this is the dish that everyone needs to be eating, what would it be?
Matt Rodbard: I have two answers. The way Koreans eat fish, raw fish is different than a Japanese sashimi where it's been milded out over time. Hway is, you're pulling fish directly from a tank, you're pulling all sorts of different fish and you're butchering it and you're bringing it to your table within 20 minutes. And you're not putting soy sauce on it. You're putting a crimson sauce called cho jang, which is a gochujang and vinegar.
Dan Pashman: Woah.
Matt Rodbard: And that's the most amazing experience and it's definitely not seen in all Koreatowns around America. My second answer is quickly kongbiji-jjigae, which is so great. It's like a blended tofu stew. I think anyone who has a Korean friend, who is Korean, has had kongbiji-jjigae. It's a very comforting style of jjigae.
Dan Pashman: Ooh, man. So, the two of you are both very curious And so the idea that you would team up for a book called Food IQ, it seems like it makes a lot of sense. Now you say your book is designed for a person that you describe as foodie 2.0. You guys are trying to kind of redefine the word "foodie" a little bit here. Is that right?
Matt Rodbard: Aggrievedly. We're reclaiming the term "foodie". Foodie is not an F word. I will wear it on —
Dan Pashman: Reclaiming it from who? Reclaiming it from like pretentious jerks?
Matt Rodbard: Pretentious journalists like me. I mean ...
Daniel Holzman: It's the idea of somebody who isn't just beginning to cook. Knows knows how to cook, but isn't as confident as they want to be in the kitchen.
Dan Pashman: Matt, hat's something you learned working on this book that really surprised you?
Matt Rodbard: Let's start with frozen vegetables. I mean, for real, I am like … May comes around and like let's buy peas at the green market. And let's like really cherish these peas and let's pick them one pea at a time out of the pod. I'm with Daniel in his apartment. And we're sitting in front of four bags of frozen vegetables, mostly peas and asparagus. And we're cooking risotto and it’s eff — it's delicious. And the point is, I learned at that moment that there are certain vegetables that are great from the farmer's market. But also there are vegetables that really, it doesn't matter. And in fact, freezing them makes for a better experience.
Dan Pashman: Yeah, I'm all about frozen peas. I always have frozen peas in my house. They're like my number one go-to. Like, if I have anything in a pot or a pan and I'm like, hmm, this needs something healthy in it. Dump some frozen peas in.
Daniel Holzman: I remember as a young guy working at Le Bernardin ...
Dan Pashman: Well, all their food is frozen. We know that Daniel.
Daniel Holzman: They had ...
Dan Pashman: Everything at Le Bernadin, right out of a vacuum seal pack. I get it
Daniel Holzman: They had a green giant peas in butter sauce that on one of their dishes, the frozen ones.
Dan Pashman: Really?
Daniel Holzman: And Eric, when, when ...
Dan Pashman: Eric Ripert, who is chef at Le Bernardin …
Daniel Holzman: Yeah. When a French chef would come through that he really respected and loved, he would always kind of like chuckle and bring him to the kitchen tour and show him the green giant peas in the freezer. And then like insist that they open up and taste them because, you know, say what you want but when was the last time you had a pea as delicious as a frozen pea?
Dan Pashman: They’re really, really good. If they're good enough for Le Bernardin, they're good enough for me.
Dan Pashman: So we've established that you both have a lot of strong opinions and passionate about food and curiosity. And in your book, Food IQ, you take questions and you seek to really deeply research the questions, find answers, and then you have recipes that sort of give the reader an opportunity to kind of learn or sort of review what you've just learned and see that lesson in action. So we reached out to some of our listeners, who have questions, and we got them ready for you. We got them lined up. Are you ready to answer some questions?
Matt Rodbard: Sure.
Daniel Holzman: Hundred percent ready.
Dan Pashman: All right, let's hear the first listener.
Miriam: Hi, Dan, Matt, and Dan. This is Miriam from Somerville, Massachusetts, the home of Dan Pashman's alma mater. My question today is about mac and cheese. I can make a really good stove top pot mac and cheese, you know, with a bechamel sauce and you just serve it hot. But I have a lot of trouble with baked mac and cheese. It always gets really dry. Is this my cheese blend? What's going on here? How can I have a baked mac and cheese with a crumb top, but is still gooey and cheesy under that topping?
Daniel Holzman: This is just such a great question. This is like the holy grail of American cookery is how do you make a great baked mac and cheese? For a baked mac and cheese, we use an egg-based rather than a bechamel-based sauce. And by using an egg based sauce, it will bake, maintain its creaminess without breaking. The bechamel sauce, the problem with that is when it gets hot, when you bake it in the oven over time, the fat separates. And so the cheese kind of coagulates into little curdly chunks, and then you get this grease on the bottom and the pasta tastes dry.
Matt Rodbard: And we spoke with Thérèse Nelson, who runs Black Culinary History. She's talks about mac and cheese in its place. Its very important place in Black food. And she also agreed with Daniel's assessment about the egg being a necessity for baked mac and cheese.
Dan Pashman: That's interesting. I — that's news to me and I'm excited to try that. My — the way I do it is make a stove top mac and cheese, get it nice and saucy and gooey. Then put it in the baking pan, top it with bread crumbs and broil it for just a couple of minutes so that you crisp the breadcrumb topping without drying out the inside.
Daniel Holzman: So that’s what I’ve always done. And I'm like, I was all for it, but then, you know, the reality is that if you want to make a mac and cheese in an environment like a Thanksgiving dinner where it’s going to be cooked, brought somewhere, and reheated, or you need it to sit for a long time? You run into this question, you know, when I go to like Arnold’s meat and three in Nashville has this mac and cheese that sits in these, you know, these steam table pans and it’s like heaven. How do they make it?
Matt Rodbard: Eggs. It’s eggs, man.
Daniel P: [LAUGHS] All right, let's keep it moving. Up next, 4we have 14-year-old Elliot in Seattle.
Elliot: If lukewarm means room temperature, why do people say room temperature and not lukewarm, or vice versa? Also, what is lukewarm? Who is this Luke? And why is he warm? And what is the significance of this?
Daniel Holzman: Genius.
Matt Rodbard: Give him a TV show. Get him a radio show. Get him a podcast. Love this kid.
Dan Pashman: Yeah.
Matt Rodbard: Room temperature water and lukewarm water, I think a 15 degree difference. That's what I think of. Daniel and I actually debate about a temperature of water sometimes, but I think you've got room temp and 15 plus is luke.
Daniel Holzman: Ultimately, I think Elliot is touching on something that in cooking is really important. A recipe can be written very, very specifically to tell you exactly what to do. And then there are some terms that, you know, are not scientifically defined that have a little bit more leeway. And when a writer says, or chef, and uses a term like "lukewarm", what that really means is, it doesn't exactly matter what exactly the temperature is. If I wanted it to be 105 or 107 degrees, I'd say that. But you know, the real difference is lukewarm means if you're run your hand under the faucet, it's a little bit warm to the touch. SO it's like, room temperature, you shouldn't really feel the temperature of the water. Maybe it should be slightly cool. And then lukewarm is slightly warm.
Dan Pashman: All right, now I have a question for you. This is one that really — I really struggle with. When I get a recipe that says something like, simmer a soup or a sauce, or maybe they'll say a low boil. And I don't know exactly where the line is between a simmer and a boil. And it stresses me out. You know, let's say it says to simmer for a half an hour? I walk away from the stove and I come back and there's like 12 different bubble areas, bubbling all over! Oh no, it's gone from simmer to boil! You know, like I crossed the line. Turn the flame down a tiny bit, walk away. Come back five minutes later, there's just one little bubble. Bloop, bloop. Oh no, it's not simmering now. Turn it back up, leave and come back. It's boiling again! This is my life. So, where's the line? Please help me. [LAUGHING]
Daniel Holzman: Ultimately, look. Cooking is supposed to be fun. Does it matter exactly what the temperature of the water is? Or is this a recipe where, you know, if it's boiling a little faster or slower — like if I'm boiling a potato, it doesn't necessarily matter. But again, there's — they're not scientifically defined terms, so like you can disagree with me and you'd be right, except I'd still be right.
Dan Pashman: All right, we going to take a quick break. When we come back, we got a bunch more listener questions lined up for you. We're gonna throw those your way. You guys ready?
Matt Rodbard: As ever.
+++ BREAK +++
Dan Pashman: Welcome back to The Sporkful. Hey, if you missed our last episode, there was some huge news from the pasta world. I have partnered with Banza to make a version of cascatelli from chickpeas. So not only is it gluten-free, it’s also higher in protein and fiber, and let me tell you — it is delicious.
Dan Pashman: But making this version of cascatelli was not easy. I had to get a crash course in the science of gluten-free pasta. Then we had to overcome manufacturing issues to get it done in time for a very tight deadline.
CLIP (MEG MARCUK): We have some work to do. So we’re under a bit of a time crunch.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): It’s exciting though.
CLIP (MEG MARCUK): Yeah.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): Nothing like a deadline. I mean, easy for me to say. I’m here in my basement. I’m like you guys keep on rocking. [LAUGHS]
CLIP (MEG MARCUK): Yeah. Appreciate the support from afar.
Dan Pashman: Hear that whole story in last week’s episode, which is Mission: ImPASTAble part 8. And get Banza’s cascatelli made from chickpeas, exclusively at your local Whole Foods, or order it direct from Banza and get it shipped to your door with free shipping! For that, go to EatBanza.com.
Dan Pashman: All right, I'm joined once again by Matt Rodbard and Daniel Holtzman, authors of the new book, Food IQ: 100 Questions, Answers, and Recipes to Raise Your Cooking Smarts. Hello again, guys.
Matt Rodbard: Hey, there.
Daniel Holzman: Glad to be here.
Dan Pashman: All right. Let's go back to our listeners. Who's up next.
Samantha: Hi Sporkful. This is Samantha Bailey from Greensboro, North Carolina. And my question that I've always wondered is what is a shallot and not necessarily, what is it. Like, I know it's those little onion things, but when you see in a recipe that it requires two shallots, is that two bulbs of the shallot or like the pieces that peel off of the bulb? If you can answer that for me, that'd be fantastic, cause either I'm putting too much shallot in my recipes or not enough. Thanks.
Dan Pashman: I love this question and I would like to add my own question, which is, aren't shallots just bullshit?
Dan Pashman: They're just onions that are more expensive and smaller and harder to find.
Matt Rodbard: I mean, are they bullshit? I wish I could say yes. I wish it could be like, they are bullshit, Dan. But to me they're mild. They're more — they're more mild. I think there's less astringency with shallots. And I think it offers home cooks some wiggle room. Especially, when cooking with raw shallots. You see raw shallots a lot in salad dressings. I think that’s because you just don’t want a super astringent yellow Spanish onion in that salad dressing or in that salad.
Dan Pashman: Fair. And as someone who generally does not — I don't love raw
onions because of that sharp onion flavor. It's just too much. And the — I feel like once you eat one piece of raw onion, it's all you're tasting for the next two days. So in that case, I could agree that shallots could be better. But is it fair to say, like in a pinch, you can pretty much always substitute onions for shallots ...
Daniel Holzman: Yes, in a pinch, you could pretty much always substitute onions for shallots.
Dan Pashman: All right, but what about Samantha’s question —what, actually, is a shallot?
Daniel Holzman: This is definitely a food writer question, because I think it speaks to the heart of the like, you know, is this a — is this a good question or is this a poorly written recipe?
Matt Rodbard: I think, when I say two shallots, I do mean two shallots. Like, to be honest. Like it's not the —
Dan Pashman: Whole. So the whole, the whole shallot?
Matt Rodbard: Yeah, of course.
Dan Pashman: All right. Before we get to the next listener question, I have a question. Actually, this one comes from my mother-in-law, who emailed me this question by chance last night. And I was like, I don't know the answer to that, but I'm talking to two guys tomorrow who probably do. So almost every recipe you see that begins with sauteeing onions, it always says heat the oil in the pan. Then add the onions. My mother-in-law, Alice, asks, "Why? Why can't you just put the onions and oil in the pan and then turn the heat off? Within a few minutes, it will start sizzling and it will end up the same, won't it? Like, is there really a difference? Why does the oil need to be heated in advance?"
Daniel Holzman: Alice, you're right.
Dan Pashman: Boom! Next question.
Daniel Holzman: That's just it. Like, I just put the onions right in the pan with the oil and I turn it on. It heats up fine.
Matt Rodbard: I will say, I was working with a chef like 10 years ago on a story. I was in his kitchen, in his restaurant, and like he did — he just combined it all at once and just walked away. And I was like, what! And for real, like to Daniel's point, it was like, it doesn't matter.
Dan Pashman: Another question I want to ask you guys, this one's in the book and this actually recently caused debate on our local town Facebook group. Someone posted a picture of some ground beef from the local supermarket, and in its plastic package, it wasn't bright red. It was kind of — it was brownish. And someone was saying, “Look, can you believe that they're trying to sell this meat in the supermarket that's gone bad?”
Daniel Holzman: Hmm.
Dan Pashman: And I posted and said, “Actually, don't talk ill of a local supermarket. That meat hasn't necessarily gone bad.” Uh, but I kind of started to get in over my head in terms of the science of like, when has meat gone bad? And what can you tell by the color of it? So when do you know meat has gone bad? What does the color tell you about it?
Matt Rodbard: I feel like the meat has not gone bad. We tend to overreact as a culture tour in, Americans in particular, about funky smells and throwing away meat.
Daniel Holzman: Ultimately, generally speaking, a little bit brown means that it's oxidized. The bright red color is actually unnatural. If you ever cut yourself and bleed, you'll notice that the blood turns brown quite quickly. They work hard in supermarkets to package things in a way that keeps them looking good. But ultimately —
Dan Pashman: Right. That's what I was trying to say. Like they pumped some kind of gas into those packages to keep the meat bright red.
Daniel Holzman: Yeah, to keep it red.
Dan Pashman: Right. And so, the fact that the meat had turned dark brown ...
Daniel Holzman: Doesn't make a difference. I mean, I'm an old school guy, who grew up poking holes in the plastic wrap and smell and stuff because your nose knows and it doesn't lie, like ...
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHs] That's not old school, Daniel. That never goes out of style.
Daniel Holzman: So I think poke a hole in there and your nose should
be your ultimate decider. When something has really gone bad, it lets you know. I mean, you would never accidentally eat a piece of rancid meat. I worked at a fancy restaurant, Le Bernardin, and one of my first jobs was shucking oysters. When you open a bad oyster? I mean, an oyster that has gone bad? The smell is so extraordinary that it will fill the entire room with a putrid stench that is unmistakable. I mean, it's like you got to put the trash out and then throw the throw the trash can away and pray your neighbors don't find it. You're never going to accidentally eat a bad oyster people. When people get sick, they get sick cause they eat salad. Not oysters.
Dan Pashman: More more commonly. Right. It's more often raw vegetables because you don’t cook them.
Daniel Holzman: Every time. It's always the salad. Stop eating salad, people.
Dan Pashman: All right, we got more cooking questions for you. Who's next?
Cole: Hi, Dan, this is Cole from San Jose, California. When I make potato salad, I peel and cut the potato first, then boil them. My partner boils the potatoes whole, then peels and cuts them after they're cooked. Which way is better?
Dan Pashman: Curveball.
Daniel Holzman: Peeling and cutting the potato — I have not found any difference. When you boil them whole, you're less likely to over cook them. And so it is a little bit easier. And if you overcook a pre-cut and pre-peeled potato, it does tend to get soggy. What I would say is if you're confident in the kitchen and you don't over cook your potatoes, then peeling them is a better, a better method because it's faster. But it's definitely safer and easier to cook them whole.
Dan Pashman: That makes sense. All right, let's keep it rolling. Another question from a listener.
Kate: Hi, Sporkful. This is Kate in Indianapolis with ...
Kate: That's my husband. And we have a longstanding food dispute over the best way to mix powder into a viscous liquid. Now, if you have a liquidy thing, a whisk is obviously the best. But when we have something more viscous like brownie batter, I think that a spoon is the best way to mix it because it creates a lot of momentum, which makes everything smushed together and mixes all the little bits in.
Steve: But I think a fork is the superior implement because the gaps between the tines provide, like, little tiny micro perturbations to mix all the little parts into the liquid.
Kate: Yeah, I think that's just nonsense.
Steve: I don't know. Micro perturbations has a nice ring to it.
Kate: It's still bullshit.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Matt Rodbard: Spicy.
Daniel Holzman: I get it. A + for the perturbation.
Dan Pashman: But does it actually — is he actually right? Like when you're mixing something thick, like brownie batter, does it matter whether you use a spoon or a fork or is there a third better option?
Matt Rodbard: I feel like there is not a right answer. I think it's about personal tastes and how you combine these ingredients. Daniel, what do you think?
Daniel Holzman: Yeah. I don't think — I like a rubber spatula a lot. And I think in general, this is a case by case basis.
Dan Pashman: If it's a case by case basis, Daniel, how do you know if whatever you chosen is the correct choice? What could you look for when mixing something?
Daniel Holzman: For something like a brownie batter, a whisk becomes inefficient because the brownie batter gets stuck in there and it's a pain in the butt to clean and it's wasteful. So like, you know, a rubber spatula or wooden spoon might be the best implement. But a fork would work fine. Thin liquid whisk. Thick liquid wooden spoon. End of story.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS] All right, let’s do one more question from a listener question.
Arwen and Kieran: Hi, Dan.
Arwen: This is Arwen.
Kieran: And Kieren.
Arwen: We live in England in a city called Leicester, and we'd like you to weigh in, please, on this debate we've been having about whether or not you have to salt the water when you cook pasta.
Dan Pashman: They went on for a while. I'm gonna jump in and summarize. Arwen says, the internet tells us to salt our pasta water. The salt seasons the pasta and it increases the boiling point of the water and makes your pasta cook faster. Kieren says, look, I’m a scientist. I can tell you, the salt in the water is not gonna increase the boiling point and you can just season the pasta with salt after it’s cooked. That way you don’t waste a bunch of salt that stays in pasta water and gets poured down the drain. Now, I want to hear from you two, but I should say that we did actually bring part of this question to Bill Nye, the science guy a couple of years ago here on this show. And he did confirm part of what Kieran says, which is, to change the boiling point of your water you would have to have a ton of salt — like it would have to be 10 or 20 percent salt. The ocean is 3 percent, okay? So you're not going to add enough salt to your pasta water to make a difference in how it boils.
Daniel Holzman: I’m going to disagree with Bill Nye.
Dan Pashman: Oh, wow.
Daniel Holzman: Sorry. Sorry, science guy. I know you’re a genius.
Dan Pashman: Wow.
Daniel Holzman: I think it's not so much that it makes it boil faster, so much as that it makes it boil hotter. I never salt the water until the water comes to a boil. If you wait until it's already boiling and then salt the water, it remains at a boil, and it allows it to absorb more heat in its boil, raising the temperature —
Dan Pashman: Is this something you've tested Daniel?
Daniel Holzman: Yeah, I have …
Dan Pashman: With the thermometer?
Daniel Holzman: I mean, I'm not Bill Nye, the science guy, but you know, if you add salt to water it, ionizes, and, you know, freezes, colder and boils hotter —
Dan Pashman: I asked Bill — cause I said to Bill, I said, look, bill, I hear what you're saying, but it feels to me like when — like when the water is already kind of boiling and then I take a bunch of salt and drop it into the pot, all of a sudden ... [FIZZY SOUNDS]
Daniel Holzman: it goes — boils faster.
Dan Pashman: Exactly. Like all of a sudden, you know, the boil goes bananas. And so what's happening there, if it's not ...
Dan Pashman: I’m jumping in here. Daniel, Matt, and I went back and forth on this for a while. What Bill Nye explained is this. When your water is very hot and you put salt in and it bubbles up, the temperature of the water or the boiling point of the water, none of that is actually changing.
Dan Pashman: What's happening is the salt crystals make what's called nucleation sites. Basically, the salt crystals cause more bubbles to form. Also, it’s possible the temperature contrast between the salt and the water makes the water fizz up. Either way, your water’s not actually boiling more, it’s just bubbling more.
Daniel Holzman: It has to do with the sea level — that makes perfect sense. I think that makes sense, so I scratch my earlier answer. It turns out Bill Nye is not wrong. Shucks.
Dan Pashman: All that being said, there's a very good culinary reason to salt your water before you make pasta. Isn't that, right, Daniel? Like Kieran says, just sprinkle some salt on top of your pasta when it’s finished cooking. But what do we say to Kieran?
Daniel Holzman: Unequivocally, adding the salt to the water is going to season the pasta, which takes time for the salt to absorb into the hard pasta. And that's a full-stop important, done. You know, you don't need more than that. Whether or not there are other scientific benefits to it, we can leave to the scientists.
Dan Pashman: The bottom line is you guys agree either way, just in terms of making your pasta taste good, you need to salt the water to season the pasta. And because that salty, starchy pasta water has special properties, right, Matt?
Matt Rodbard: Well, we, actually debated this at length and we talk about the myth of pasta water. And to me as a food writer —
Dan Pashman: It's a myth now? Oh, man.
Matt Rodbard: Daniel and I debated at length about this idea of the starchy water being gold. And we came to the conclusion that reserving that water potentially burning your hand while putting into a smaller vessel, which often happens at splashing. And then adding that back to your pasta. It doesn't yield of anything more than what you could do with hot water.
Daniel Holzman: I think the argument that people make is that the starch in the pasta water is helping to bind and emulsify the oils in the sauce or the fats and the sauce, and helps it to therefore thicken up and stick to your pasta better. But the question that we have is, you know, is there really enough starch in the water to make a difference significantly? And like Bill Nye, from a scientific perspective, we think no, there isn't actually an advantage. And the concern is that if you've properly salted your pasta cooking water by adding it to your finished dish, you often oversalt it.
Matt Rodbard: Yeah.
Daniel Holzman: And so you're better served to just have some hot water on the side, right from the faucet and use that to cook your pasta in the pan.
Dan P: All right, I think we've made a lot of good progress on the pasta water salting front here today. Bottom line, even though Kieran was right about how the salt doesn’t change the boiling point …. I say, overall, Arwen was right. Because at the end of the day, scientific explanations, boiling points, all that stuff aside, the bottom line is you still want to salt your pasta water — not just sprinkle it on afterwards, because the salt takes time to absorb into the pasta. It will make your pasta taste better. End of the day, you gotta salt the pasta water. Period. I won't accept any other explanation.
Dan Pashman: Well, Daniel Holzman, chef and founder of The Meatball Shop in New York, Matt Rodbard, founder and editor of Taste Magazine, together, you are the authors of the new book, Food IQ: 100 Questions, Answers, and Recipes to Taise Your Cooking Smarts. Congrats on the book. Thank you guys so much for joining us.
Daniel Holzman: What an extraordinary experience. I'm leaving this with a huge wide genuine smile on my face.
Matt Rodbard: Yeah, Dan. Much thanks.
Dan Pashman: Aww. You guys, too. this is a lot of fun. This is the highlight of my day.
Matt Rodbard: Aw. Thanks, Dan.
Daniel H: All downhill from here folks.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: Next week on the show, I talk with Andre Mack — a sommelier who owns a wine shop, a ham bar, a breakfast taco joint, and more. He’s got a great story, and it all started when he watched the TV show Frasier. That’s next week.
Dan Pashman: Meanwhile, don’t forget, you can now get cascatelli made from chickpeas. It's gluten-free, high in protein, high in fiber. It’s made by Banza. Get it at Whole Foods or through the Banza website, EatBanza.com. And hear the whole story of how we made it in last week’s Mission: ImPASTAble | Part 8.