Experiment: Spaghetti Carbonara with Pork Belly

Spaghetti Carbonara is a pasta classic and one of my favorites. After having one of the worst examples of it ever served to me at the Medusa Restaurant in Montreal recently, I decided that I would have a go at making it again.

A Carbonara is basically pasta with sautéed bacon to which eggs and cheese are added to make a rich sauce. This alone makes this dish something of a ‘heart attack special’ but heavy cream is also frequently added for a truly decadent deliciousness. Traditionally, either Italian pancetta or guanciale are used as the pork component but in American versions, regular bacon is often substituted. I have made it many times with regular smoked bacon and I actually prefer it to pancetta, but guanciale (or cured hog-jowls) is truly excellent. I have no chance of finding that locally at present but it struck me that uncured pork belly might go very well instead … 

The Ingredients:

  • Spaghetti for two
  • 6 or 7 rashers of partially cooked pork belly (see my Foodstuffs post)
  • 1/3-cup heavy cream
  • 1/3-cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1 – ½ tbsp. coarsely ground pepper
  • 1 ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs
  • Parsley for garnish

….

A few word about the ingredients before we continue ….

Spaghetti is the most traditional variety of pasta for this dish but you can use any type you like. I would, however stick to the longer, thinner sorts like fettuccine or linguini, as these are especially suited to this sort of sauce.

In this experiment, I have used a commercial pre-grated Parmesan cheese. I know a lot of people turn their noses up at this but it was all I had at the moment and I have used it many times in the past for this dish and it has been perfectly acceptable.

Finally, the amount of pepper used here may seem to be quite a lot for such a small meal but a heavy hand with the black pepper is pretty much de rigeur for this dish. Use more or less as suits your own taste.

The Execution

Mix Eggs, Chees and cream in a bowl large enough to accommodate the pasta once it is cooked.  You can now put on a big pot of salted water, bring it to the boil and add your pasta.

Slice the pork belly rashers into thick matchstick size pieces.  Add a tiny bit of oil to a large frying pan and when it is medium hot, add your pork. To speed things up a bit, splash in a tablespoon or two of the pasta water and cover the pan.

Once the fat has begun to render from the pork belly, uncover and keep stirring until it is all nicely browned. You don’t want to overdo this – the idea is to have each piece ever so slightly crispy on the outside but with a nice soft interior. When pasta is done, drain it and toss it in with pork. Sprinkle on the salt and toss until all the spaghettis strands are coated nicely coated with the cooking fat.

The next part is really important… Do NOT add the egg and cheese mixture to the frying pan. If you do this, the egg proteins will quickly coagulate and you will get little bits of cooked egg rather a nice smooth sauce. Instead, take the frying pan from the heat and slide the contents into the bowl containing the egg mixture. Toss everything until the sauce forms and then plate, garnish, and serve.

The Verdict

Well, my wife and I both enjoyed this dish. I don’t think I would go so far as to say that this is the best Spaghetti Carbonara I have ever made, but it was certainly close. One thing I thought could be improved was the size of the pork belly pieces. Biting into this size of crispy chunk had a nice mouth feel but I think it detracted from the visual appeal a bit. Also, the dish would be better with a bit of pork in every mouthful instead of only getting one here and there.  The sauce was nice and creamy and generally flavorful, but I actually think that a bit more pepper might have made it even better.

7 thoughts on “Experiment: Spaghetti Carbonara with Pork Belly”

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