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Carbonara raw eggs -- do they really cook?

I'm making a carbonara for a group that includes a baby and someone with a compromised immune system. Do the eggs really cook just by being mixed in with the pasta? I mean, to 160 or whatever you need to kill off bacteria?

I'm considering making it more of a cream and cheese sauce and leaving out the eggs, if necessary. It has some other ingredients that might make up for that wonderful carbonara-ness, hopefully.

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  1. As someone who has had a compromised immune system, not in a million years would I have made carbonara during that time. Just too much risk. I am not generally skittish about food, but when you have one lone white blood cell running around trying to keep you healthy it is best not to make that poor cell work any harder.

    4 Replies
    1. re: smtucker

      Thank you so much for your speedy reply. I'm happy to leave the eggs out, which is what I'll do.

      1. re: Clarissa


        I would err on the side of caution....

        Carbonara is one of my favorite pasta dishes and I always made it with raw eggs, Pancetta, onions, fresh flat leaf parsley and Parmigiano Reggiano the very same way for decades without any problems.

        About three years ago I made the dish as I always did....but four hours later I became violently ill and experienced the worst three consecutive days I could ever remember. I do realize any of the ingreidents could have set off my discomfort, but I have to believe it was the eggs.

        Believe me when I tell you I have no food phobias and I always believed I had a iron cast stomach and not afraid to eat most anything.....regardless, I have not made dish or ordered it in any of my favorite Italian restaurants since.

        1. re: fourunder

          "About three years ago I made the dish as I always did....but four hours later I became violently ill and experienced the worst three consecutive days I could ever remember. I do realize any of the ingreidents could have set off my discomfort, but I have to believe it was the eggs."

          Well, bear in mind that depending on the specific little beastie that got you, it's quite possible that you ate the offending food up to three DAYS before you got sick (which is part of the reason it's so hard to pinpoint the source of food poisoning sometimes). I wouldn't make the assumption that it was the egg.

          That said, I'd consider the egg high on the list of potential culprits, and I'd echo the other sentiments that it probably isn't the wisest choice for those who are immunocompromised. Much as I'm an advocate of raw eggs in many, many dishes, there are better choices out there if your immune system isn't up to snuff.

          1. re: Dmnkly

            Yeah, four hours is generally too soon...

    2. I wouldn't feed carbonara to a baby and someone with a compromised immune system. Too risky, in my opinion. I only use yolks in my carbonara and they heat up instantaneously. With whole eggs it would be much different, I'd imagine. Hopefully other hounds can weig in on this.

      1 Reply
      1. re: TatyanaG

        Yes, you should use only the yolk. And they do cook. Using some of the scalding pasta cooking water to thin the emulsified sauce (once it's emulsified) also helps.

      2. you can probably coddle or cook the egg partially -- wont be exactly the same dish, but it could work

        but please dont risk your health on my supposition

        1. Why not use pasturized eggs?Not such an unreasonable trip to the store,I think.

          5 Replies
          1. re: lcool

            Pasteurized eggs are not universally available. I used to buy pasteurized liquid whole eggs in cartons when I lived in Nashville, but have not been able to find them in the Los Angeles area. I have been using NuLaid's Reddi-Egg as a component in my morning scramble; it's not bad at all, and I've also been using it in recipes, so I would think it'd work in carbonara. You would want it to be room temperature, of course.

            1. re: Will Owen

              Sad news indeed.I had no idea about difficulty obtaining pasturized eggs.I
              just take for granted,purchase on the east coast,Montana,Italy(Veneto),
              Western Canada & Alaska means they can be found on the shelf everywhere.
              Will,thank you,I will now think to check before traveling to a new local.
              Instead of just "assuming"to find them on the shelf.

              1. re: lcool

                At the risk of outraging the Ultra-Organics in the crowd, I am longing for the day when they start irradiating those things. They'd get heated up a bit, but not enough to cook'em, and they can do it in the shell. And anyone thinking to suggest I just go ahead and move to Chernobyl can, ummmm, just shut up.

                1. re: Will Owen

                  The sell pasteurized in-shell eggs they go through a series of water baths set at different temperatures so that they kill the bacteria but don't cook the egg. I don't think irradiation would work, that uses UV light (like radiation from the sun not like uranium) so it would clean the outside of the shell but not reach inside. In the end on 1 in 10, 000 eggs are actually contaminated internally with salmonella---they are incredibly sterile on the inside, I would recommend washing the outside though----they were up a hens backside after all. So 1 in 10000 chance---even if I ate a raw egg every morning I'd have 27 years until I hit a bad one. This is due to a stain of bacteria that gets passed straight from the hen to the inside of the egg before the shell ever develops. Again you still need to avoid eggs with cracks, chips, etc.

                  1. re: Sally599

                    No, the kind of irradiation I'm talking about involves low-level gamma rays - what the USDA just approved for spinach.

          2. At a restaurant in Rome I ate pasta carbonara that was gently cooked through. Tiny clumps clung to the pasta instead of the creamy result I expected. My Italian friend explained that it wasn't traditional, but that they served it that way in the interest of the public health.

            1. If you add the pasta to the sauce along with the eggs and heat it all together for 1-2 min. you should be fine. Yes the eggs do cook. Just make sure to incorporate them well. You can make the dish without eggs, it just won't be as rich.

              1. I think you ask the people involved. Inquire directly of the immunocompromised person and the mother of the baby if coddled eggs are acceptable.

                1 Reply
                1. re: maria lorraine

                  I think some may be underestimating the human immune system (even with 1 lone WBC careening about)

                  Disclaimer: these thoughts are not intended as instructions to be followed. What you decide to feed your guests is between you and your guests.

                  Having said that, the inside of an egg is supposedly sterile - way back in the day scientists cultured other organisms inside eggs for this reason. In many countries, eggs are never refrigerated/pasteurized/processed and not even thought of as a source of infection. Rotten eggs are disposed of as necessary as it is quite evident when an egg has gone bad.

                  For immunocompromised patients, consumption of undercooked eggs is not usually included among things to be avoided. A child visitor with chickenpox is a different story. The carbonara recipe I make uses egg yolks which end up getting kind of cooked if added to piping hot pasta. If eggs posed such danger, then immunocompromised patients would also be at risk by just stepping out their front door, given the gazillion microbes we encounter in everyday lives. Yes, some people are severely compromised and need to live in special environments - I don't know if your guest(s) fall into that category. If they do, they shouldn't be coming over to your house in the first place - too many unknown variables.

                  If the baby is >12 moths old, the carbonara probably won't do him/her any harm. According to most pediatricians, eggs should not be fed to babies less than a year old.

                  What would I do? Substitute the egg with parmesan or make a small quantity of alfredo sauce, just to give the pasta some richness and creaminess so the egg is not missed. I think I would sleep better at night, plus I would be able to focus more on having a good time with my guests :) And Maria's suggestion above is an excellent way to approach the issue.

                2. Multiple thoughts. First, If you do it right, yes, it cooks, same as if you make congee and toss in the egg when the congee is boiling hot, that egg cooks too. Things to consider: Have egg at room tempature. Break egg into a bowl and whip it up to break up the whites before you toss it with the pasta---breaking them up makes them cook more evenly. Add a little warm cream to the egg to thin it a bit and make it still warmer. And don't rinse the pasta--that cools it off. Put all back in the still hot pan and stir like a fiend. Works fine for me.

                  Second, the person who posted about eggs typically being sterile on the inside is correct. Typically, germs are on the outside so wash your eggs off before you break them but wait until right before you need to use them. Also, if you buy your eggs from a good source---as in NOT a factory farmed egg which has a higher liklihood of disease in the egg shell because the birds are living in feces, you decrease even further your chance of any problem.

                  Third, re the person who believes they got sick from carbonara, if you were sick for that many days, I suspect you had some bug that built up in your system--not saying it wasn't food related but just don't think the carbonera was the likely culprit. In my humble experience, food poisoning that lasts that long doesn't happen that quickly. A colleague and I got food poisoning from dining on grilled chicken salad at a fast food restaurant. We ate lunch at 2 pm and both got wretchedly violently ill at 3:30 am that morning. We determined it was food poisoning from lunch when we both called into work at the same time and compared notes. Was sick for about 2 days. Contrast the time I ate a tuna empanada and thought to myself as it went down, tasty but offish. About an hour later, I was tossing my cookies. Once done, I felt just fine.

                  That said, when I know people have food "issues" I always give a choice. If you have only two people from a large group who can't eat a dish, make the dish and make something else for them to eat if they don't want the main dish. I have to say, I think its up to the immune compromised person to decide for self if they want to eat the dish. Not being that person's mom, I don't think I have the right to decide for them.

                  1. Instead of carbonara, make pasta alla gricia with just the guanciale or pancetta and cheese (freshly grated pecorino romano). It's every bit as authentic -- more even, given how far people are willing to go in varying carbonara -- and uses no eggs. I like it better. Cacio e pepe (no meat, no eggs) could be an idea, though the baby would not like the pepper probably. And finally, spaghetti all'amatriciana, also no eggs, same family of pastas, which I call the Gang of Four.