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Initially I was told that al dente meant that the pasta was cooked but still firm, definitely not soggy or overcooked. Later, someone told me that it meant not quite cooked all the way through. Actually many people began telling me this. In addition, they would also tell me that it was silly to make such a request because no one in their right mind would eat pasta this way.

So what does al dente really mean?

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See cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/11929/… –  TFD Sep 14 '12 at 23:43

3 Answers 3

up vote 12 down vote accepted

"Al dente" is used to refer to food cooked so it is still "firm to bite" but not soft

This is very important to pasta which should be removed from the cooking liquid just before it has fully cooked through, as like most foods, it will continue to cook after being removed from the heat source

Always gently stir your pasta every minute or so while cooking to ensure it cooks evenly. Then near the end of the cooking time, bite into a piece of paste every 15 seconds or so to see if it has nearly cooked through. It should be firm to bite, and not soft all the way through. It should not resist biting though

With some pasta types like Penne etc. you can sometimes actually see the uncooked inner layer (a thin white line) if you carefully slice it in half which a knife, or just bite cleanly with your teeth

section through al dente pasta

If the pasta is going to be mixed into a hot liquid sauce before serving, take the pasta out of the cooking liquid at an even firmer point

The term "al dente" can be used for all cooked foods that should be cooked to just before soft, and then served (fresh greens, thin meat cuts etc.)

The reason for all of this is that there have been many flavour and nutrition benefits noted when cooking to this point. Also for pasta it tends to fall apart if cooked past "al dente"

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I have always been told this as well, but recently I have started to ignore the rule of taking the pasta out when you have a thin layer of uncooked pasta (unless I am cooking it in a sauce for a couple of minutes). I just don't like the consistency of uncooked pasta and it gets stuck between your teeths. That said, good pasta is still al dente when just cooked through – so I wonder if this "al dente" rule is misunderstood. Maybe the only goal is to cook it just done and not a second more. If it means "with a thin layer of uncooked pasta", that would mean you can't cook fresh pasta al dente? –  citizen Sep 12 '12 at 9:05
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@citizen if I'm not mistaken, the idea is that the residual heat will finish cooking that thin line to just barely done after it's pulled from the stove -- much like how you pull a roast out of the oven at a few degrees shy of perfect so while it rests it comes up to perfect temperature. –  Yamikuronue Sep 12 '12 at 12:42
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@Yamikuronue: Yes, but in my experience the short amount of time it takes from draining the water and dressing the pasta with sauce to serving, is not long enough to make the pasta cook done. –  citizen Sep 12 '12 at 19:53
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You cook to al dente when working with FRESH pasta. If working with dry then you need to take it further than the white ring picture showes above. The reasoning is that fresh pasta is soft to begin with and the change from al dente to mush happens very quickly. The majority of the classic Italian recipes I've worked with have assumed the use of fresh pasta, not to say that dried pasta is bad, in fact it is quite good in many cases. Just keep in mind that cooking dried penne takes about 12-15 minutes while cooking fresh penne takes about 3-5 minutes. –  Chef Flambe Sep 14 '12 at 19:16
    
Al dente works for fresh and dried. You can test a little less often with dried, maybe 20 to 25 seconds, but there is still a critical point. I have never had a dried pasta taking longer than 10 minutes, how thick is this Penne? –  TFD Sep 15 '12 at 0:12

"Al dente" means "firm to bite".

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-1: This is a very literal interpretation and does not go into the detail the OP needs. –  rumtscho Jul 15 '13 at 14:02
    
Meh, it answers the Question title. Sure, the other answer is better, but I think this is reasonable (moreso as a comment, maybe). –  hunter2 Jul 16 '13 at 4:27
    
Although, FWIW, literally "dente" is "bite", "firm" is not in there ... –  hunter2 Jul 16 '13 at 4:54

Al dente means the tooth, and if you are cooking fresh pasta there is a moment when the pasta becomes ruined by overcooking, a moment before that it is perfect to eat, but a moment before that it has "a tooth" slightly tougher to bite into, this is "al dente" and is important only if you are cooking fresh pasta because if you take more than a few seconds to remove it from the hot water or you will be adding a hot sause to it, you will lose the pasta into a mushy mess. True al dente is not for eating, it is a stage of cooking.

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