Published March 1, 2013.
An overload of fat makes a smooth, stable sauce for this classic Roman pasta. But could we dial back the fat and still have a velvety consistency?
Despite its minimal ingredient list, spaghetti alla carbonara can be tricky to make perfectly—either the egg-based sauce scrambles from too much heat or, as it cools, thickens and turns gluey. The few recipes that reliably deliver a successfully creamy, velvety sauce depend on goodly amounts of heavy cream and rendered bacon fat. Delicious as it was, we couldn’t handle more than a couple of forkfuls.
We wanted to make a classic carbonara that was foolproof but not so rich that eating a full serving was impossible.
A sauce made with whole eggs didn’t seem to have much staying power (or rich flavor), so we decided to try changing course. We’d ditch the whites and revisit the idea of an entirely yolk-based sauce, minus all the extra fat. The fat and emulsifiers in the yolks made for a sauce with velvety body, not to mention superbly eggy flavor. But our success was short-lived, as the sauce tightened up into a tacky glue.
We realized that we had another liquid source we could use to loosen the sauce: the pasta cooking water. Reserving some of the starchy liquid and adding it to dressed spaghetti is a common trick that Italians use to loosen over-thickened sauces. We halved the amount of water that we used to cook the spaghetti and then whisked 1/2 cup of this super-starchy liquid into the eggs and cheese before combining the sauce with the pasta. It was a huge success.
What the dish lacked was the true egg flavor of the all-yolk sauce. Since yolks were the key to eggy richness, we added an extra one to our three-whole-egg formula. We then cooked the bacon with a little water, which we recently discovered produces tender-chewy—not crumbly—pieces. Second, we caved on our resolution not to add extra fat—but just a little. Whisking a mere tablespoon of bacon fat into the sauce before tossing it with the pasta brought bacon flavor to every bite.list of recipes