Pasta carbonara is one of the most authentic and traditional Roman pasta dishes that you can make at home. Because it requires a specific set of cooking techniques, it’s also one of the hardest ones to get right.
As regular readers of this blog know, I’ve made it my mission to answer the Internet’s top questions when it comes to the cuisines and recipes that I like to cook at home. Italian cuisine and Pasta alla Carbonara are definitely one of them.
Today, I’m going to help you troubleshoot goopy carbonara.
Before I begin, let me make sure that we’re talking about the same thing. When I say that your pasta carbonara came out “goopy,” I mean the sauce is overly viscous (too thick and too sticky).
If that’s the case, keep on reading. If that isn’t quite the case, keep on reading nevertheless. There are many ways that carbonara can go wrong.
In this post, I’ve done my best to cover as many of them as I can. My goal is to help you make the perfect plate of pasta alla carbonara every single time.
Here’s the long story short… Why did your carbonara come out goopy?
If your Pasta alla Carbonara is coming out too goopy, you probably added too much egg whites. Fix this by grating some more hard cheese on the sauce. If the sauce becomes too thick, add a little pasta water to liquify it.
Next time, make your carbonara sauce with more egg yolks and fewer egg whites.
Through much reading and experimentation, I’ve come to the conclusion that you should add twice as much egg yolk as you’re adding egg white. For example, if you’re making carbonara sauce with 2 eggs, be sure to also add 4 egg yolks.
Adding more grated cheese will fix the excessive “egginess” of the carbonara sauce. It can also make the sauce too thick and sticky. If the sauce becomes too thick, you can counter the thickness by adding ¼ soup ladle of pasta water.
A lesser-known reason why your carbonara sauce came out overly goopy could be that the eggs are too fresh. This is especially true if you’re using pasture-raised eggs.
The fresher the egg, the thicker the egg white (and firmer the yolk). The natural but goopy texture of fresh eggs tends to surprise many home cooks who are simply not used to it (examples here and here).
You probably won’t notice the difference when you make an omelet or boil eggs. Pasta alla carbonara is kind of different. Along with the Guanciale, the eggs are the co-stars of the show.
The perfect plate of Pasta alla Carbonara consists of pasta noodles cooked al dente and a decadent and silky sauce.
It has only seven ingredients: water, pasta, sea salt, cured pork (Guanciale or Pancetta), eggs, hard cheese (Pecorino Romano and/or Parmigiano-Reggiano), and freshly cracked black pepper.
No heavy cream, please. The creaminess comes from the eggs, cheese, and starchiness of the pasta water.
Here’s how it goes.
How to Make the Perfect Pasta Carbonara
At the beginning of this post, I promised you that I’d help you make the perfect plate of pasta alla carbonara every single time.
Well, now is a good time to live up to my promise.
Below is my technique for getting pasta carbonara right. Check it out, try it out, and let me—and the rest of this post’s readers—know how it worked for you by coming back and leaving a comment.
First, you make the sauce by whisking together eggs, yolks, Pecorino Romano, and/or Parmigiano-Reggiano. Season it generously with black pepper.
Cook the pasta noodles in salted water. As Italian chefs like to say, the water should taste like the sea. Dried pasta noodles soak up water as they cook. When you season the pasta water, you effectively season the noodles—and they come out tasting better as a result.
I usually achieve this by adding a hefty pinch of sea salt to my pasta water. If you like to be more precise in your home cooking, follow the pasta ratio: cook 1 lb pasta with 1 tbsp salt in 4 quarts of water.
The noodles are cooked al dente, or 2-3 minutes less than the recommended cooking time in the instructions on the package. “Al dente” translates as “to the tooth” and is how they like their pasta in Rome: cooked through on the inside, but still firm and with a slight crunch on the outside.
While the noodles cook, pan-fry thick cubes of Guanciale (cured pork cheek) or Pancetta (cured pork belly) over medium heat. You don’t really need any olive oil or butter; plenty of fat will drip down from the cured pork as you bring it up to heat and stir it.
As a last resort, you could use bacon. But keep in mind that it doesn’t have the rich aroma and deep flavor of Guanciale or Pancetta.
Notice that you only add salt to the pasta water when you make pasta alla carbonara. The fat that renders in the pan as you cook the Guanciale or Pancetta comes pre-seasoned as it drips down from salt-cured meat. Plus, the grated Pecorino Romano and/or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese that you added to the sauce is already pretty salty.
We’re getting close to the culmination of this recipe.
Remove the pan from the heat, letting it rest for 15-30 seconds on a colder surface like a wood cutting board. Don’t do anything else with it; you’ll be making the rest of this recipe using the residual heat from the pan and the pasta noodles.
Strain the pasta noodles from the cooking water and add them, stirring and/or tossing them with the guanciale bits and melted fat, into the frying pan. Don’t throw away the cooking water just yet. You’ll be using some of it to liquify the sauce.
Add ½ soup ladle of salty and starchy pasta water to your pan. Now tip the egg and cheese mixture in and start tossing it as it slowly but surely thickens in the residual heat of the pan and the pasta.
If you feel like the sauce is coming out too thick and sticky, add some more pasta water to your pan. But don’t add too much or you’ll make it too runny. I’m very careful at this step, only adding ¼ ladle of water at a time.
Serve immediately, grating a little extra Pecorino Romano and/or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese on top and seasoning with more freshly cracked black pepper.
Top Pasta Carbonara Mistakes to Avoid
Don’t toss the sauce with the pasta in a frying pan that’s too hot. The eggs will cook and harden, and your pasta alla carbonara dish will end up like an omelet. Before tossing the pasta with the sauce, take the pan away from the heat and let it rest on a colder surface for 15-30 seconds.
They don’t add garlic, butter, olive oil, or heavy cream to pasta carbonara in Rome. If you want to keep your pasta dish authentic, don’t add garlic, render fat from the Guanciale or Pancetta bits, and whisk your own sauce from a mix of Pecorino Romano, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and 2 whole eggs and 4 egg yolks (generously seasoned with black pepper).
The trick is in cooking the carbonara sauce just enough. If you undercook the eggs, your pasta carbonara will come out runny. If you overcook them, you’ll whip up an omelet. The key to the perfect pasta alla carbonara is in using the residual heat of the frying pan and the hot pasta noodles that leads to a creamy and silky sauce. The salty and starchy pasta water helps you achieve that consistently.
Where Does Pasta Carbonara Come From?
Pasta carbonara comes from 20th century Italy.
The name comes from the Italian word “carbonaro” for charcoal burner. Like most other Italian dishes, tracing back the full history of pasta alla carbonara is no easy feat.
Still, food historians are pretty confident that pasta alla carbonara is named after a pasta dish that was first made as a hearty meal for charcoal workers in Rome and its surrounding villages in the Lazio region of Italy.
To learn more about the origins and history of pasta carbonara, check out “The 10 Italian Pasta Terms You Need to Know.”
Your pasta carbonara is probably goopy because you added too much egg white and too few egg yolks. To fix this, grate some more hard cheese into your sauce.
To prevent this from happening the next time you make carbonara, put twice the egg yolks as you do egg whites in your sauce. For every 1 egg, add 2 egg yolks.
Did this trick work out for you? What are your top tips for making pasta carbonara? Share them with Home Cook World’s reader community by leaving a comment below.