Most pasta recipes call for water or broth as a boiling liquid. Using milk is a more expensive option that provides a rich, creamy texture. It works best for recipes that already contain dairy, and it can be used as a shortcut to create creamy sauces.
The fat and protein in milk and other dairy products present a few challenges, which you can overcome with some extra attention during the cooking process.
Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams
The biggest reason to use milk as a pasta cooking liquid is to increase richness. As the pasta absorbs the milk, it becomes more tender and develops a richer, creamy surface texture. This is ideal for dishes like macaroni and cheese, where any additional creaminess improves the finished recipe. It’s essential to use milk with at least some fat for this purpose, however. Skim and 1 percent milks have less effect on the final texture of the pasta. Two percent and whole milk work best as a pasta cooking liquid.
Secret to Simple Sauces
You may choose to cook pasta in milk to reduce the amount of labor involved in creating a sauce. The professional food photographers at White on Rice Couple recommend adding cheese directly to pasta that has been cooked in milk to produce one-pot macaroni and cheese. You can also parboil pastas like spaghetti in water, then finish the process in a milk-based sauce to reduce the need for oven baking or multiple pots.
How to Cut Out Curdling
Pasta cooks best in water when the liquid reaches its boiling pot, but you should never boil milk. The high temperatures encourage the milk to separate and curdle, producing a lumpy texture. Instead, simmer the pasta in milk over low heat until it absorbs most of the liquid. If your recipe calls for acidic ingredients, such as tomatoes, add them slowly to the milk while stirring continuously. This further reduces the risk of curdling.
Growing a Thick Skin
If you heat milk on the stove, you might notice that it develops a thick, protein-rich skin. This material is harmless, but it can be chewy and unpleasant. When cooking pasta in milk, remove the skin before serving the dish or stir periodically to break up the protein clumps. Hot milk also sometimes forms a skin while it’s cooling. To keep this from happening, press waxed paper or plastic wrap against the surface of the disk to reduce evaporation.
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