Foolproof Spaghetti Carbonara

Published March 1, 2013. From Cook's Illustrated.

Why this recipe works:

Most carbonara pastas are so rich that it’s hard to eat a whole bowlful. We lightened the usual recipe by dismissing additions like cream and butter, cutting any oil, and including only a tablespoon of the rendered bacon fat. Having done so, we had to find other ways to make our sauce smooth… read more

Most carbonara pastas are so rich that it’s hard to eat a whole bowlful. We lightened the usual recipe by dismissing additions like cream and butter, cutting any oil, and including only a tablespoon of the rendered bacon fat. Having done so, we had to find other ways to make our sauce smooth and prevent the eggs from setting into curds and the cheese from melting into lumps. Reducing by half the amount of water typically used to boil pasta gave us a concentrated starchy liquid that we reserved for our sauce. The starch in the water coats the proteins and fats in the cheese and prevents them from separating or clumping together. Starch also works in concert with the egg white proteins to lend viscosity to the sauce. Egg yolks introduce a pleasant custardy richness, but they also have a powerful emulsion and thickening capability that can turn the sauce into glue just minutes after serving if too many are used. Three egg whites and four yolks gave us a sauce with the custard flavor that we were after and an ideal thickness that did not change significantly as it cooled during a 15-minute serving window. Mixing the spaghetti with the sauce in a warm serving bowl rather than a hot skillet or pot allows the residual heat of the pasta to “cook” the sauce without any chance of overcooking the eggs.

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Serves 4

It’s important to work quickly in steps 2 and 3. The heat from the cooking water and the hot spaghetti will “cook” the sauce only if used immediately. Warming the mixing and serving bowls helps the sauce stay creamy. Use a high-quality bacon for this dish; our favorites are Farmland Hickory Smoked Bacon and Vande Rose Farms Artisan Dry Cured Bacon, Applewood Smoked.

Ingredients

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