Pasta Carbonara The best carbonara recipe you'll ever see learned everything it could from a bowl of ramen. Photo: Anthony Smith

Carbonara is a self-defeating pasta. It’s your ex calling you at midnight and promising you things will be better, this time. It’s the bartender buying you another round because you’ve been drinking with her all night and she won’t let you leave till she does. It’s biking without a helmet because you want to parade your windswept, new haircut through what’s left of Dumbo’s cobblestones.

There are so many ways carbonara can go wrong — and when it goes wrong, its sinewy swirls of spaghetti evoke cigarettes and snot — and really only one way carbonara can go right.  

But when it goes right.

And even if carbonara goes right, it still wants nothing to do with you and your young professional life. It ruins diets; you literally cannot spell carbonara without carb. It keeps infamously poorly — somehow managing to both curdle and crisp in your fridge before you’ll have a chance to cram it into a tupperware for work — which means you’ll have to eat it all at once. And as you eat a pound of pasta and a pound of bacon and four eggs in one sitting, you’ll realize that this is exactly what it’s like to dine and duel with darkness. This is why Joseph Conrad wrote all those books. 

All this being said, just one bite of a good carbonara and you’ll be absolutely certain that this is what God eats on #CheatDay.

A perfect carbonara is a holy carbonara. A carbonara with even one imperfection belongs in the garbage. I don’t mean to suggest that it’s a difficult dish to cook — although it’s significantly trickier than opening a jar of pasta sauce and pouring — but disaster does lurk around every corner. 

But this is the best carbonara recipe you’ll ever read, and we’ll show you how to navigate carbonara’s mean streets with a little help from a Japanese secret weapon: onsen eggs. 

If you’ve never had an onsen egg, you’ve never been happy in the morning. It’s a softer-than-soft boiled egg that flops out of its shell, its yellows and whites strolling gleefully to the edges of the plate. You’ll most likely see them served atop hot bowls of ramen, broken immediately with chopsticks to add body and balance to the broth, but they’re even better served above buttered toast, so you can taste every single nuance of what a low, slow cook does to even a factory-farmed egg.

Our best carbonara recipe takes onsen eggs’ Japanese application and brings it into the gustatory spotlight. Most carbonara recipes use the heat of cooked pasta to temper its eggs just before serving, and this is where everything goes south. Different raw eggs misbehave differently. Some rarely cook at all and run like noses through your dish. Some curdle at the slightest breath, leaving you with the most ungainly omelette you’ll ever see.

No more. Onsen eggs are a standardized, dependable culinary marvel. They come with a body already built, but still run like a sauce should. It’s a bicultural match made in heaven, but the taste is still so distinctly Italian that no one will accuse you of fusion.

Onsen eggs are traditionally cooked in the hot-to-the-touch spring waters of Mt. Fuji. If you’re an American home cook, you probably don't have access to Mt. Fuji's hot springs, so you’ll be recreating this naturally occurring effect on your stove with this ridiculously simple cheat. If you’ve ever made onsen eggs before, you’ll see the inherent flaw in this shortcut: it won’t produce an onsen egg that holds its shape every single time. But since we’ll be breaking the egg before serving it, this isn’t a problem at all for our purposes. 

However, if you live for the sight of a perfectly cooked onsen egg, break out your sous vide wand (I use a Nomiku, 9”, phoenix feather) and set it to 62 degrees celsius. Cook your eggs for no less than 45 minutes, and no more than 90 minutes. While this is happening, do everything else.  

If you don’t have any sous vide witchcraft in your house, read on for the best carbonara recipe you’ll ever see in your entire life. 

1. Let’s start with our pots of boiling water. In a large pot, boil enough water to cook a pound of spaghetti. Salt it, but don’t go for that “ocean taste” you’ve probably read about. Consider your end product, which is a tarted up breakfast sandwich. Those don’t need any extra salt and neither does your water. In a medium sauce pan, bring enough water to a boil to cover four eggs.

2. While that’s happening, heat five tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan over medium-low heat. Use the best olive oil you can find, but don’t worry if it’s not top of the line. To this, add four cloves of garlic (no more!) finely minced and cook till it just turns gold. 

3. Strain the garlic from the olive oil and discard the garlic, saving the olive oil. You’ll be left with a garlic-infused olive oil with a beautiful fragrance that will make your roommates jealous. 

If any of the garlic burned, or became too golden brown, start over. This is one of the places carbonara goes horribly wrong. This oil will be the dominant flavor of the dish once it’s been completed. You cannot mess this part up.

4. Return the garlic-infused olive oil to the pan and cook over medium-low heat. Add 8 ounces of your cured, fatty meat of choice. Carbonara is traditionally prepared with guanciale, or cured pork jowls. Guanciale is hard to find in most places, so feel free to substitute for pancetta, cubed. Both of these are more authentic avenues than my favorite way of preparing carbonara, which is with bacon sliced into quarter-inch thick pieces. This is significantly more low-brow than the other two, but its taste is more comforting. 

5. Cook your cured, fatty meat of choice until the edges start to brown and the fat starts to render, then add a splash of dry white wine. The dry white wine stops the crisping process in its tracks, and slows down the cook, turning it into more of a braise that preserves the tenderness at the center of the meat. The dry white wine also provides a vital touch of acid that this dish is sorely lacking. 

6. Once all the wine evaporates, add another splash of dry white wine to the pan. By the time this second round of wine evaporates, the pan should be bubbling and frothing with garlicy olive oil, pork that’s crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, and just a whisper of wine. The fatty half of your carbonara is complete.

Again, this isn’t breakfast (unless it is, in which case, pretend it isn’t), so burned bits in the pan aren’t okay because they’ll make your whole dish taste like burned bacon. If you burn your bacon, start over from Step 2. If I’ve made you sufficiently paranoid, cook everything on low heat. You probably won’t get that crisp around the edges of your meat, but this dish is wonderful even without it.

7. Add four eggs to the saucepan of boiling water and remove from heat. Time that pan for 14 minutes. Or, if you have a sous vide machine, pretend this is Step 0 and cook those four eggs for 45 minutes at 62 degrees celsius.

8. Cook 12 ounces of spaghetti according to the box.

9. Here’s where it all comes together. Strain the cooked spaghetti, and place it in a pan or bowl large enough to hold it all. Add two handfuls of grated parmesan cheese. Top it with the entire contents of the pork-rendered pork fat-white wine-garlic olive oil pan. Break open the four onsen eggs over the top of the noodles, in the four quadrants of the pan. Mix everything together. Top with black pepper.

Eat this immediately and privately.  

In preparation for this article, Digital Strategist and Pulse Editor Anthony Smith has eaten one carbonara every two days for the last three weeks. Please wish him a hasty recovery.

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