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Carbonara - cream or no cream?

Have never made carbonara at home before...and really never order it out.

But I have some leftover salmon and all the makings for carbonara so I thought I'd try making a salmon version tonight.

Looking around on line I see lots of recipes...with or without cream? Is one or the other better? I thought the traditional version did not include cream?

Also for a half pound of spaghetti...how many eggs(or egg yolks and eggs)?


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  1. No cream. I'd say 2 egg yolks.

    1. I agree, 2 eggs. But isn't everything better with cream? I'd definitely go for cream.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Gluten Free Girl

        I have to dissent - no cream in carbonara.

      2. 2 whole eggs or 2 egg yolks? Or a combinatino of whole and yolks?

        2 Replies
          1. re: ziggylu

            It depends how rich/thick you want it. If you want it super rich use just the yolks.

          2. Salmon in Carbonara? Blasphemy. Your only ingredients should be pasta, eggs, pancetta, minced parsley, black pepper, salt, parmigiano (or grana padano) and pecorino. No cream. Some would even argue that there shouldn't be parmigiano or parsley. Grill the salmon as a secondo.

            15 Replies
            1. re: mangiatore

              I agree about the salmon, but have also been known to commit blasphemy myself - I'm sure it would be tasty.

              1. re: MMRuth

                The flavors might be ok together, but it sounds like a big mess to me.

                Also, eggs, cheese, and salmon...good lord that's a heavy dish.

                1. re: mangiatore

                  good thing I didn't invite you for dinner then?

                  The salmon is leftover...already grilled. Just looking for soemthing different to do with it.

                  Thanks for the tips on the method.

                  1. re: ziggylu

                    Hmm, in that case (if it were me), I'd make a salmon pasta. Ingredients that might go well with your salmon include cream, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, parsley, garlic and olive oil. :)

                    1. re: mangiatore

                      Actually I have a couple salmon and pea pasta recipes I make a lot...one iwth cream and lemon and another with leeks, white wine and orange zest. Both are quite nice...

                      Just looking for something a little different...didn't think this would explode like this...I never had any intention of using cheese for what it's worth...i have some peas and bacon on hand and thought maybe trying something along the lines of carbonara might be interesting...haven't used the technique and was just trying to get my question across regarding cream - which I didnt' think was traditional or necessary - and the proporiton of egg to pasta in the easiest way ...obviously I should have called it something else.

                      1. re: ziggylu

                        No worries. You use the wrong word and everyone goes crazy. Btw, the flavor combinations in those salmon recipes sound legit.

                        1. re: mangiatore

                          They are quite tasty...and I will humbly submit better than what I made tonight. It wasn't bad at all but probably not something I'd go out of my way to make again. My husband though has never had true carbonara and is now dying to try it...so now that I have the technique in hand I"ll have to whip some up for him next week.

                          As for the bacon and salmon together...a few have mentioned that not being good. I will say if you haven't tried Molly Steven's Pinot Noir Braised Salmon from the All About Braising book to give it a try. This a favorite recipe in our house, both for ourselves and guests...and uses a fair amount of bacon both in the braise and as garnish.

                        2. re: ziggylu

                          By any chance, ziggylu, might you be able to post your leek-white wine-orange zest-salmon pasta recipe? It sounds like just the lighter salmon pasta recipe I've been looking for!

                      2. re: ziggylu

                        Interesting, I was sure it was smoked salmon. One of my daughter's faves is pasta with smoked salmon and sour cream. Grownups would probably like a little fresh dill, too.
                        The smoked-salmon-and-pasta could be renamed "kosher carbonara."
                        For me, spaghetti alla carbonara has eggs, cream, and grated parmesan, and you cook the eggs slowly, stirring, to thicken the sauce. Then I guess you crumble your pancetta (I use lardons fumés).

                  2. re: mangiatore

                    At the risk of starting another argument, some would say authentic carbonara uses guanciale, not pancetta.


                    1. re: kandagawa

                      In this day and age no one really makes that argument, but it's true that the recipe began with guanciale. We're splitting hairs at that point though...

                      1. re: mangiatore

                        That's why I love chowhound! Where else can we split hairs about food?

                    2. re: mangiatore

                      Drop the pancetta, cheese and parsley, add some dill, salmon and cream and you have a nice (but heavy) meal. It isn't carbonara, but it is darn tasty.

                      I've never used cream in carbonara, and never seen a recipe from a chef I'd trust that did. Nothing against cream sauces, I like them too, but they are a whole different thing.

                      1. re: mangiatore

                        I concur whole heartedly. No parm or parsley but pecorino. Coarsely freshly grated black pepper.

                        1. re: mangiatore

                          Some would say that parmigiano is blasphemy - its a Lazio recipe, thus romano is the only cheese used.

                        2. This is a version of (IIRC) Jill St John's version, appeared in a magazine in the late 70s/early 80s, it has been modified from the magazine version.

                          ½ lb bacon
                          Olive Oil
                          ¼ lb sliced onion
                          1/3 lb sliced mushrooms
                          ¼ cup whipping cream
                          ¼ cup chopped parsley
                          2 eggs
                          1/8 cup grated parmesan cheese
                          ½ lb spaghetti

                          cook bacon, drain, remove,
                          sauté onions until clear, remove,
                          Saute mushrooms in butter, add bacon and onions mix.
                          Mix parsley, pepper, eggs, cream and cheese.
                          Add spaghetti to large bowl, add bacon/mushroom/onion mixture on top,
                          Pour egg mixture over and toss.

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: Alan408

                            The above version might be good, but it is not Carbonara. I will rename it Pasta Complicata Eccessiva.

                            Oh, no cream, pasta water is all you need.

                            1. re: stevuchan

                              Thanks...I was suspecting a bit of pasta water would be a good thing to include.

                                1. re: stevuchan

                                  And that is not even addressing the issue of the source! ;)

                                2. re: Alan408

                                  okay, that's a HUGE mess then!

                                  i'd do the salmon as a fish course and a basic carbonera: pasta, pancetta (or okay, bacon), whole eggs, black pepper, sea salt, grating cheese. add too much stuff to the recipe and the technique's not going to work, and i think that tossing the salmon with pasta would just shred it and detract from the appearance of the dish.

                                  no cream, no butter, no evoo

                                  1. re: Alan408

                                    Half a pound of bacon??!!! This will throw off a LOT of bacon fat! Since this is a carbonara, where - by carbonara logic - the hot pork fat is the main thing cooking the raw eggs, this will be a cholesterol disaster. Especially with the OO, butter, and whipping cream boosting the fat content.

                                  2. There are a lot of purists who will decry any variation on carbonara, but since you are using salmon it sounds like you are not among them. (I can understand, to a point: It seems lots of places use "carbonara" to describe anything with cream and bacon.)

                                    A little cream or 1/2 and 1/2 can help make the dish more creamy (duh) and prevent the eggs from clumping. I'd say two whole eggs and a 1/4 cup or so of cream, enough to smooth it out a bit but preserve the wonderful eggy flavor. Also, consider throwing in some fresh corn kernals when you toss the hot pasta in the egg/cream mixture, and garnishing with fresh basil. Screw the purists, the combination of basil, corn, pancetta and salmon sounds really good to me!

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: Grubbjunkie

                                      Corn and basil? Are you trying to start a riot grubbjunkie? (though I do have both in the fridge!)

                                      OK look..I LIVED in Italy for some years for goodness sakes...I know salmon doesn't go in "carbonara" and in some parts of the country peas don't either. I"m just looking to make a dish using the carbonara technique which I have never myself made. Call it what you will.

                                      Maybe I should just make salmon cakes again. LOL

                                      1. re: ziggylu

                                        Maybe you should call it something else...actually, I think pasta with a sauce of salmon, cream and some fresh peas with a little dill sounds nice.

                                        1. re: whs

                                          see i agree that an herbed salmon cream sauce on pasta sounds really good

                                          and a carbonera w/o salmon is good. . .

                                          but i'm sticking a bit on salmon WITH pork product on pasta, using carbonera technique-- i just think it does sound overly heavy and that the dish might be disappointing. i wouldn't order it off of a menu, for sure.

                                        2. re: ziggylu

                                          corn and basil is one of my favorite flavor combos :)

                                      2. I'll weigh in here, in complete agreement with mangiatore - NO CREAM. I use whole eggs because it's lighter. If you add the salmon (a mistake, IMHO), enjoy it, but do not call it carbonara. I have in a pinch (forgive me, mangiatore), used prociutto in lieu of pancetta - but you have to do it differently. I heat a stainless steel bowl in the oven, ca 225F, and once hot, add ca 1-2tsp olive oil, and once hot again, add shredded prociutto - just hot enough to render some of the fat from the prociutto. Then proceed as you would normally, but using the heated bowl. And, no cream. I have found this method foolproof in avoiding overly cooked eggs - nice 'n creamy every time.

                                        Mea culpa on the charge of blasphemy - as an experiment (a Friulan influence, here), I occasionally add the barest pinch of nutmeg. It has elicited positive responses. Speak to me, mangiatore - what is the state of my immortal soul?

                                        BTW - has anyone else noticed a trend in Italian cuisine in North America with more and more cream sneaking in? I just about threw my glass of dolcetto d'Alba at the tv one night when I saw David Rocco adding cream to a risotto "to make it creamy", or some such bilge. The starch from the rice gives the creamy texture!

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: hungry_pangolin

                                          Granted, i live in the land of very bad Italian, but there is often cream in every single pasta dish on menus around here. Even in real cities I have a hard time finding pasta without a "creamy" sauce. "Creamy pesto" "creamy pomodoro" Ick.

                                          Cream in risotto? Now I have something else to worry about in restaurants. I don't even think risotto should have butter (in any significant amount). Cheese. that's it.

                                          1. re: danna

                                            ugh. no cream in risotto. the creaminess comes from the rice and the technique. as for butter, i might put i little nob in when i start the leeks and the onions sweating, but that's it. i usually don't finish with more.

                                        2. Cream won't help a good carbonara and it won't save a bad one.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: inuksuk

                                            It's all a matter of opinion. My opinion is that it's silly and purist to forbid the use of a little cream in a unique dish inspired by carbonara. And a little cream or 1/2 and 1/2 can actually give the dish a lighter texture, which to me makes sense with the salmon...to each his or her own.

                                            And dang, now I really want carbonara.

                                          2. The flakiness of the salmon may be problem in a carbonara style dish. Since the hot pasta melts the cheese, and sets the egg, carbonara (at least as I make it) tends have a thick sauce. Also it needs a good final stirring at the end. The chewy bits of bacon make a nice texture contrast.

                                            I'm afraid though that the salmon would not survive the mixing, and would disappear (texture wise). I think a lighter cream sauce that allows the salmon to retain its integrity would work better.


                                            3 Replies
                                              1. re: paulj

                                                Also, cheese and fish make for a foul, sour taste.

                                                1. re: mangiatore

                                                  Yeah, hence the unpopularity of tuna melts, right?

                                              2. No cream in carbonara.

                                                That said, since you're using salmon, it seems to me that you're not overly concerned with tradition (which is fine), so go ahead and add cream if you want to. Whatever tastes good.

                                                1. Long long ago when I was a small boy, we spent our summers in Naples. My dad taught a summer seminar there. Perhaps my fire for delicious food was first kindled there. We had an Italian friend who was rich enough to eat at the fanciest places but he preferred to seek out cheap rustic places in tiny off-the-beaten-track villages. We once ate pizza in a hamlet whose streets were so narrow that our car got stuck between two houses. I loved the pizza but my favorite thing was spaghetti carbonara.

                                                  I never order it in the U.S. because I'm afraid it wouldn't be the same. A few years ago, an old man, then about eighty, emailed me a recipe he had got in Naples 25 years before. It used cream and American bacon and I figured it would be totally inauthentic. (The authentic kind, I believe, uses raw eggs which cook by the heat of the spaghetti after the burner has been turned off.) So I put it aside. One of my friends made it for me a few months ago and it was wonderful! Just like I remembered. I've had it about ten times since then and it's always a winner.

                                                  Here's the recipe: www.chowhound.com/topics/365590

                                                  1. no cream. and for me, i love salmon. but i don't mix fish and cheese. so i'd do em separate. but the french do it all the time. so c'est la vie. let us know what you ended up doing!

                                                    7 Replies
                                                    1. re: eLizard

                                                      No cream. No salmon. elizard, I caught a lot of heat on CH a few months ago when I brought up mixing fish and cheese (i don't like it either) good luck.

                                                      1. re: eLizard

                                                        I don't like fish and cheese together either actually. Really I don't and never intended to combine them as I mentioned above. Really really I promise that was never the intention. LOL

                                                        It turned out OK not spectacular but OK...did toss in some basil instead of the parsley I'd originally intended to use. It was just a bit of bacon, a little bit of leek, some salmon(which didn't flake apart actually), the eggs, basil, and pepper. A decent quick weeknight dinner but not something I'd throw together for guests.

                                                        1. re: ziggylu

                                                          When you have recovered from this onslaught of advice, you really should try making a classic spaghetti a la carbonara. It's a beautiful thing.

                                                          1. re: whs

                                                            Actually my husband has never had true carbonara so I promised him after dinner I'd make the real thing for him next week since he actually liked what I made last night alot.

                                                            1. re: ziggylu

                                                              Another thing. Make sure NOT to mix the pasta with the other inredients in the pot -- it will overcook the egg. Instead, whip the other ingredients together in a separate, room-temperature bowl. The pasta provides just enough heat to cook the egg properly.

                                                          2. re: ziggylu

                                                            Don't worry, after the lambasting I got for stating my dislike of fish and cheese together I would never begrudge another Chowhound their personal preference.

                                                            It sounds good with the bacon and leek.


                                                            1. re: chigirl71

                                                              Yes, no reason to begrudge, but fish and cheese are an awful combination.

                                                        2. This is one of my favorite Chowhound arguments. I've been attempting to perfect my Carbonara recipe for a couple of years now. I've tried it with Cream and without cream. I've tried it with 1/2 & 1/2 and even evaporated skim milk. And....I prefer it with cream.

                                                          Now, some may say you can't call this Carbonara - but it's my kitchen and I can call it whatever I want to call it!

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: Mushroom

                                                            Call it Carbonara con panna. It's not Carbonara.

                                                            1. re: mangiatore

                                                              As I said above, the only recipe I've ever found that tastes like what I got in Naples as a kid uses cream.

                                                          2. Ruth Reichl in Garlic & Saphhires includes her recipe in the book, she uses good quality bacon, the rest is true to the original, according to her, and since she is the editor of Gourmet, I will believe. plus it's delicious, kids love it, it's like bacon and eggs with pasta instead of toast. Here's a link for the recipe...

                                                            7 Replies
                                                            1. re: archangelcat

                                                              As good as Ruth's recipe is, I ate several plates of Carbonara in Rome and NONE used cream. If you like it, add it, just say it is your version of carbonara. No bacon, pancetta.

                                                              1. re: itryalot

                                                                Ruth's version does not use cream, (the link I included was misleading/altered recipe). Guanciale (smoked pigs jowls) was the original meat used, but pancetta is used generally because it is more readily available, so good quality bacon is acceptable since both are substituions for the original.here's the true recipe.
                                                                Spaghetti Carbonara

                                                                1 pound spaghetti

                                                                1/4 to 1/2 pound thickly sliced bacon

                                                                2 cloves garlic, peeled

                                                                2 large eggs

                                                                Black pepper

                                                                1/2 cup grated Parmigiano cheese, plus extra for the table

                                                                1. Cut the bacon crosswise into pieces 1/2 inch wide. Put them in the skillet and cook for about 2 minutes until the fat begins to render. Add the whole cloves of garlic and cook about another 5 minutes, until the edges of the bacon just begin to get crisp. Do not get too crisp, otherwise they will not meld with the pasta.

                                                                2. Beat the eggs in the serving bowl, and add pepper.

                                                                3. Remove the garlic from the pan. If it looks like too much fat to you, discard some, but you're going to toss the bacon with most of its fat into the the pasta. (I am only telling you what Ruth says. I myself would dispense with the bacon fat.)

                                                                4. When it is cooked, drain the pasta and immediately throw it into the beaten eggs. Mix thoroughly. The heat of the spaghetti cooks the eggs and turns them into a sauce. Add the bacon with its fat and toss again. Add cheese and serve.

                                                                Serves 3

                                                                1. re: archangelcat

                                                                  yup, that's basically my recipe too-- & you need some of the bacon fat, or it won't work! basic carbonera is delicious but already very rich, which is why the idea of adding cream and/or another protein just sounds gross to me.

                                                                  i always warm the huge pasta serving bowl well before beating the eggs in the bottom. super-easy dinner when everyone's hungry & your feet already hurt.

                                                                  1. re: soupkitten

                                                                    Agree about needing more rich ingredients, anymore and it's heart attack on a plate! I kind of cringed at first at putting in bacon grease, but with nice quality bacon it's so good, I warm the bowl too and use free range org. local eggs for best taste.

                                                                    1. re: archangelcat

                                                                      Carbonara doesn't exist without pecorino. Parmigiano was a later addition to the original. Remember, this is a dish hailing from in and around Rome. Parmigiano is a northern ingredient that made its way south.

                                                                      1. re: mangiatore

                                                                        Yes Pecorino, and some believe that American bacon was used in the original (trading with American GI's during the WWII). The dish is a simple peasant food and I my opinon should be left simple.


                                                                  2. re: archangelcat

                                                                    Thanks to my parents, I get to use guanciale and wow - what a difference. Totally the authentic way to make it. Great!

                                                              2. Egg yolks and cream here ... although classically I believe there is no cream.

                                                                I use Biba Caggiano's recipe and it is wonderful.

                                                                1. Funny coincidence. Watched a tivo'd copy of Nigella Feasts and she used cream. I made carbonara on friday night from the recipe on the pancetta special on chowhound and thought it came out very well. For all of you talking about discarding all the bacon fat I say why of why would you not include such delicious pork fat? :)

                                                                  4 Replies
                                                                  1. re: eternalX

                                                                    If you discard the bacon fat it's no longer an Italian dish as far as I'm concerned. This is precisely the kind of thing Americans often do to ruin Italian food.

                                                                    1. re: mangiatore

                                                                      Speaking of bacon, is streaky Canadian bacon an acceptable substitute for pancetta? I ask because, as I noted in the "Cod and avocado?" thread, I'm defrosting the fridge and pasta alla carbonara seems a good way to use up some ingredients.

                                                                      1. re: mrbozo

                                                                        Don't worry about what people consider acceptable or not. Make it, and if you like it, it is acceptable. I doubt if the charcoal sellers (or coal miner wives) of half a century ago worried about whether they were using the right type of meat in this dish - they must have been using a common bacon-like meat, without worrying about whether it was from the head or belly, or whether it was smoked or not. In principle this is a rustic dish, made with common ingredients; pasta bound with eggs and cheese, and highlighted with some sort of curred meat.


                                                                        1. re: paulj

                                                                          I agree....although I personally love using guanciale or pancetta, the fact is I don't always have it on hand. I do however, always have bacon, prosciutto, spek (smoked prosciutto, pretty much)and several types of cured meats that my father makes, such as coppa, and I have tried them all in carbonara! And they are alllll great. But I do stick to the traditional recipe for everything else. I find that a tiny bit of cooking water mixed into the egg yolk helps me to temper them, making it easier for me to blend them into a nice sauce with the parmigiano. I don't add cream, but I have heard of some italians (in Italy) that add about a teaspoon or tablespoon a person, just for some added richness if they prefer to use less egg yolks.

                                                                  2. I just made the best carbonara of my life from a David Rosengarten recipe. My only changes was to throw in a handful if frozen peas (I enjoy the sweetness) and leave out the parsley. You'll need to save a cup of pasta water to thin the sauce.

                                                                    Spaghetti Carbonara
                                                                    ½ lb. Pancetta piece
                                                                    4 cloves Garlic
                                                                    3 tablespoons Extra-virgin olive oil
                                                                    ¼ cup Dry white wine
                                                                    2 large Eggs
                                                                    ¼ cup Freshly-grated Romano
                                                                    ½ cup Freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
                                                                    A liberal grinding of black pepper
                                                                    2 tablespoons Chopped parsley
                                                                    1 lb. Cooked spaghetti, drained, hot
                                                                    Cut a 1/2 pound piece of pancetta. Crush and peel the garlic. Put the garlic in a small saute pan with the extra-virgin olive oil and saute until it turns deep gold. Remove the garlic from the pan and put in the strips of pancetta. Cook them until they begin to crisp on the edges. Add the wine. Cook the wine down for 2 minutes.
                                                                    Break the eggs into a pasta serving bowl. Beat them lightly with a fork. Then add the Romano, Parmigiano-Reggiano, pepper and parsley. Mix thoroughly. Add drained, hot pasta to the bowl and toss rapidly to coat the strands well. Add the Pancetta and wine. Toss again and serve immediately.
                                                                    This recipe yields 4 servings.

                                                                    1. carbonara recipe
                                                                      serves 4

                                                                      1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
                                                                      5 oz pancetta cut into 1/4" (dice)
                                                                      2 eggs plus 2 egg yolks
                                                                      1 lb spaghetti
                                                                      1/2 c. freshly grated parm-reggiano
                                                                      1/2 c. fresh grated pecorino romano

                                                                      1. heat oil in skillet medium high heat add pancetta and fry til crisp and brown (5-6 min)
                                                                      2. put eggs, egg yolks, and 1/2 c.water into sm. bowl, beat with fork, set aside
                                                                      3. cook spaghetti in lage pot of boiling salt water, al dente (10-12 min)
                                                                      4. drain in colander
                                                                      5. mix eggs, pancetta (including all the grease), and 1/4 cup of each cheese, into the spaghetti.
                                                                      6. serve with remaining 1/4 cup of each cheese sprinkled on top.

                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                      1. re: luvgdfd

                                                                        luvgdfd -- between #4 & 5, do you return the spaghetti to the empty, but still warm, pot? (I don't think you mix everything in the colander.)

                                                                        1. re: luvgdfd

                                                                          Just out of curiosity - when you say this serves 4, do you mean in one meal? Because a pound of pasta is a lot to eat all at once, even split four ways.

                                                                        2. Absolutely no cream, and be sure to mix the grated cheese with the eggs before adding the pasta. And don't throw out that bacon fat, you need it to get the right unctuous texture!