I Worked as a Line Cook and This $15 Tool Is My Secret for Perfect Pasta

published Apr 5, 2022
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Andrea Surette and husband in kitchen.
Credit: Jennifer Chase

One of my biggest takeaways from working in one of the top Italian restaurants in NYC was to never discard pasta water. On the line, large pasta baskets are used to transfer pasta out of boiling water directly into a saucy skillet, but bulky baskets aren’t ideal for home cooking. That’s why I am letting you in on my secret to making restaurant-quality pasta at home: the handheld strainer, also known as a spider.

Working as a line cook, I’d use a spider every day to blanch cases of broccoli and swiss chard. The tool was so essential to my daily prep I made sure to equip my home kitchen with a spider, too. I’d often come home late at night, likely starving, and at my request, my boyfriend would have a pot of boiling water already rumbling. Fresh pasta was a frequent midnight snack — I’d reach for my spider to transfer my pasta into a quick butter sauce, and to my relief, it’d perform just as well as the pasta baskets at work.

If you’ve ever been splashed by boiling hot water while dropping food into the pot, then you know how helpful this spider will be. I use it to ease ravioli, pierogis, broccoli florets, and more into the pot. And just like that, no splash! I love the Cuisinart Stainless Steel Spider Strainer in particular because the circular wiring catches all the floating crispy bits that can sometimes be left behind when you pull out your fried fritters and onion rings.

As for the perfect bowl of pasta, I repeat: Never discard the pasta water. Starchy pasta water should be incorporated into the sauce little by little. It adheres to the pasta for an evenly coated, glossy final dish. That’s why lots of recipes instruct cooks to reserve pasta water, but catching pasta water in a measuring cup isn’t as easy as it sounds… I’ve scorched my hand quite a few times on hot boiling water. I’m happy to report that those days are well behind me thanks to my spider strainer.

Rather than draining pasta into a colander, I turn to my spider to easily scoop out all of the noodles and transfer them directly into the pot or skillet of sauce. There’s need to “reserve” the pasta water anymore because I have my ladle nearby to spoon it in.

As a professionally trained cook and self-proclaimed pasta pro (if it wasn’t clear, I make so much pasta), take it from me: This handheld spider strainer is an absolute must-have. Frankly, I’m not sure how I went so many years cooking without one! Once you have a spider in your utensil crock, I’m certain you’ll feel the same way.

Buy: Cuisinart Stainless Steel Spider Strainer, $14.99