What Causes Carbonara Sauce to Curdle?

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Spaghetti carbonara is a traditional Roman dish featuring bacon, grated hard cheese and eggs. The term “carbonara” refers to the charcoallike texture of the bacon and the dish's historical origin in coal-mining communities. When you make it correctly, the carbonara sauce has a rich, creamy texture with no lumps. Overheating can cause the sauce to curdle and become unappealing, however.

Ingredients

  • Classic Italian carbonara sauce relies on only eggs, Parmesan cheese and nonsmoked Italian bacon, such as guanciale or pancetta. In northern Italy and much of the U.S., cooks sometimes add cream to enhance the texture of the sauce and reduce the risk of curdling. Some American recipes also include peas, onions or other vegetables, but these are unusual in Italian carbonara pastas.

Traditional Technique

  • To make carbonara sauce the traditional way, boil spaghetti and fry matchstick-size pieces of bacon until crisp. Beat the eggs vigorously with the cheese and pepper according to your recipe. Transfer the spaghetti and some of its cooking water to the pan used to fry the bacon and cook until the spaghetti is just tender. Make sure that the pan contains one to two teaspoons of water to keep the eggs from scrambling. Remove the skillet from the heat and pour the eggs over the pasta, tossing continuously for about a minute. If you allow the eggs to rest in the pan or if you leave the pan on the heat, the sauce might curdle.

Off-Stove Mixing

  • The traditional method of making carbonara sauce requires fast work and a deft hand to avoid the risk of curdling. You can decrease the chance that your carbonara sauce will curdle by performing the final steps in a separate container. Instead of mixing in the pan, add the hot pasta directly to the egg mixture. Toss until the pasta develops a thorough coating, then mix in the crisped bacon and its fat. If the mixture seems dry, moisten it with pasta water. The hot noodles will safely cook the egg without risking curdled sauce.

Tips

  • No matter which method you use, there are a few special tricks that can help you reduce the danger of curdling. Consider freezing and thawing the eggs before making this dish. Ensure that the eggs and cheese are at room temperature before combining them with the other ingredients, since temperature shock can make them become firmer and more prone to curdle.

References

  • Photo Credit Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images
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