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So I've seen a few cooking styles when it comes to cooking things in high temperature water. You have people that blast heat at max and get the water to roiling boil, you have people that bring the water to a boil and keep it at the same temperature so it's constantly boiling, or ones that get it to boil and then turn it down to simmer so it's just barely below boil. Does either approach make any difference?

My thinking is that once you hit 100C, adding more heat just makes you boild off water faster rather than do anything that meaningfully changes the environment in which you are cooking. If you are just boiling off water, might as well save electricity and reduce the input heat.

The argument came up over cooking pasta specifically.

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My thinking is that once you hit 100C, adding more heat just makes you boild off water faster

That's mostly correct. Water can't be heated past the boiling point (at least not for long). Simmering vs slow boiling vs roiling boil is mostly the about how much energy you put into the water. This will NOT affect the temperature but it does affect

  1. How fast the water evaporates
  2. How agitated the water is
  3. How uniform you have 100C everywhere in the pot (at a low simmer, you can have spots that are less than 100C)

Does either approach make any difference?

Pasta works either way but there are few nuances to consider.

  1. Heating the water faster is typically more energy efficient.
  2. Heating clean water to a roiling boil can "superheat" it. If there are no vapor nucleation points in the water, vaporization kicks in fairly slowly and you can temporarily drive the water above 100C.
  3. When you drop in pasta (or anything else) into the water the temperature will drop. It'll come back quicker to the boiling point if the water is at a roiling boil or slightly super heated.

My pasta method

  1. Heat clean water at high with a lid on (quickest and most energy efficient)
  2. Once it's roiling, remove lid and CAREFULLY throw in salt and pasta (and oil if desired). The water will foam up quite a bit the first time you throw something in, since that set's off evaporation for real.
  3. Stir in, put the lid back on and wait until it starts boiling again. Simmer is fine at this point.
  4. Reduce heat to keep it there stirring occasionally until it's done.

This IMO the most energy efficient way to do it. Keep the lid on as much as possible will reduce heat loss and also results in a slightly elevated pressure which increases the boiling temperature a bit.

The downside is that there is natural agitation so you have to stir occasionally to prevent the past from sticking to each other and you need dial in the heat carefully. Too little and it stops boiling, too much it may foam up and make a mess on the stove. It's a bit easier to keep the lid a bit open (slightly offset it to the side) and use a bit more heat.

CAUTION Superheated water is dangerous can foam up violently. Proceed with caution. Do not overfill a pot and do not use distilled water.

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    Specifically trying to superheat water in order to make pasta seems unlikely to work; is this something you've actually done yourself, including temperature measurements? It would mean, for example, that you didn't put any salt in the water, as salt would create nucleation points for vaporization (bubbles). Without all the text about superheating, this would be a good reference answer.
    – FuzzyChef
    Commented Dec 10, 2023 at 19:57

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