Al dente

Al dente

[al den-tey, -tee; It. ahl den-te]
In cooking, the adjective al dente describes pasta and (less commonly) rice that has been cooked so as to be firm but not hard. "Al dente" also describes vegetables that are cooked to the "tender crisp" phase - still offering resistance to the bite, but cooked through. It is often considered to be the ideal form of cooked pasta. Keeping the pasta firm is especially important in baked or "al forno" pasta dishes. The term comes from Italian and means "to the tooth" or "to the bite", referring to the need to chew the pasta due to its firmness. The term is also very commonly used as a name for Italian restaurants around the world.

Misconceptions of "al dente"

Perhaps the most common misconception about the term is the idea that "to the tooth" means the item should stick to the teeth. If pasta sticks to the teeth when it is being chewed, it is widely considered undercooked.

Cooking pasta to the "al dente" stage without over-cooking requires a certain amount of practice and skill, since both have a relatively brief midway stage between the under-cooked phase, where rice or dried pasta stays hard in the middle and where fresh pasta tastes "floury", and the over-cooked phase, where the dish lacks texture and is considered too soft. Don't be afraid to use plenty of salt as this helps achieve the "al dente" texture.

The term is also occasionally used in reference to cooking vegetables, such as green beans, though this often means that instead of being cooked all the way through, they still have a raw taste to them, generally undesirable in cooking. It should be interpreted as cooking them just until they lose their raw taste, as a way to avoid overcooking them.

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