procrastination pasta carbonara and follow-up fried rice
Because I am very pleased with my kitchen prowess right now, and also because I'm not terribly eager to do the writing task I'm supposed to be doing, you get some food blogging outta me. (Not that blogging isn't also something I'm supposed to be doing. But I'm not supposed to do it before the other stuff. Nevertheless, here we are.)
We begin with pasta carbonara.
Up until recently, I'd only ever done the mock carbonara thing involving heavy whipping cream. This is due to a long-standing horror of egg sauce failure. My last attempt at cooking eggs low and slow over direct heat with the aim of a thick sauce/broth was TNH's bacon and egg soup recipe, which attempt resulted, despite my doing everything right I swear, in something better described as bacon and egg-drop soup.
But I had a bunch of bacon ends from Lucky's and I was determined to give proper carbonara a try for once.
I was emboldened by this recipe, which calls for egg yolks and not whole eggs. That right there lowered both the perceived difficulty level and the psychological barrier for me. I mean, I know I've done OK low-and-slowing egg yolks. Witness my favorite eggnog recipe. Witness my success with lemon curd. Of course, neither of those was a direct heat situation; I put the egg yolks in one of my big chunky porcelain tea mugs and set that inside a sauce pan: instant double boiler. Nevertheless, I felt this might work.
But I noped right the hell out of attempting to cook the egg yolks via the residual heat of the cooked pasta alone. That was raising the stakes way too high. I absolutely do not need to choose between "oh no, the egg yolks aren't cooked enough" and "oh no, the pasta's getting over cooked." So here is what I did instead. It took longer than the vaunted 30 minutes, but it was foolproof, and I value foolproof when I am the fool in question.
- Crack open your favorite variety of Annie's Macaroni and Cheese. I favor Shells & Alfredo for this, but any of 'em'll do. (Yes, I know I said "proper carbonara." Shush.) Set the cheese packet aside for later. You will use it.
- Cook the noodles al slightly more dente than you usually would. This gives you some wiggle room at the end of the recipe. It also means you don't have to worry about "stopping the cook." You might reserve some of the pasta water when you drain the noodles, as per the Dinner Then Dessert recipe linked above. I admit I always forget to do this. It's OK. The starch in the Annie's cheese packet makes up for it.
- Take that pot you used to cook the pasta and stick some sort of smoked/preserved pork product in it. I've been using the half-pound package of bacon ends you can get from Lucky's, which I only discovered when I began shopping their catalog online for curbside pick-up. (Thanks, pandemic!) Several slices of fatty bacon would work well too. Cook it over medium-low heat until it's crispy and has given up the grease.
- While you're waiting for your pork fat to render, separate three eggs. Set the whites aside for other uses. (I will give you a suggestion for this. See below.) Whisk the yolks together with the cheese package from your Annie's box, another good handful of grated parmesan, salt and pepper and whatever else you like along those lines (nutmeg? mmmaybe! cayenne? most definitely!), and I guess that's it. I tried to get away with two egg yolks; they got lost in the powder. Three egg yolks still gave me more of a thick paste then I wanted, so I splashed in some sherry just to make sure.
- Bacon done? Great! Take that pan off the fire. Scoop out the bacon with a slotted spoon and set it aside to cool; eventually, when it's cool enough to handle, you'll dice it up. For now, take your quantity of frozen peas and dump them into the grease. Stand back. It'll spit. It'll also cool down your bacon grease, making it safe for egg yolk. Slowly combine the egg yolk mixture with the bacon grease and peas mess, whisking all the while. With luck, this should form a sauce, and not that dreaded soup of fried egg lumps that terrifies us so. Add back the diced bacon.
- Now here's the heresy: Put that mixture back on the stove. Cook it over very low heat. (The pasta is not involved in this step. The pasta is sitting patiently in the colander, waiting its turn.) Stir the sauce a lot. Watch over it closely until you're confident it's thickening and not turning into particles. If it's too thick, add reserved pasta water, or more sherry, or milk, or cream, or any combination that suits your tastes, to loosen it up. Over time, as you move out of the danger zone, you can cautiously increase the heat and maybe not keep an eye on it every second.
- When the sauce is just on the edge of a visible simmer--like, with tiny bubbles starting to break the surface--and it's the thickness you want, it is done. Take it off the stove, add the pasta, stir it about 'til all the pasta is nicely coated, and devour it all in one sitting. You deserve it.
Note: My carbonara sauce keeps coming out distinctly brown. I blame the burnt bits of bacon. Also the rich orange yolks of the eggs I get from 63rd Street Farm (they're selling eggs throughout the winter this year, drive up and take 'em out the ice chest and put your money in the jar). This is why I keep adding cream and/or milk even though the use of egg yolks should obviate the need for cream or milk; it corrects the color a bit.
Suggestion for those egg whites: Use them in fried rice.
I follow the method laid out here and it has not steered me wrong yet. Today the rice was the leftover fried rice from last night's Golden Sun delivery, which means I had twice fried rice, which was fine. The bacon came from the latest Wild Pastures 10lb chicken-and-pork box (I was out of Lucky's bacon ends by now). The veg content included some cabbage I needed to use up, along with the usual handful of diced, rinsed salted veg from the everlasting frozen bag of preserved salted Chinese vegetables I've been slowly working my way through over the years.
Key points of Dwyer's method include the light soy sauce towards the end of the fry and the stirring in of the fresh green onions once it's off the heat. Those two elements of the method should be followed faithfully. (If you can't find light soy sauce where you shop, welp, you do what you gotta do. "Light" here means a specific flavor and color; it has nothing to do with diets or with sodium content.) But I can assure you that the result did not suffer one bit from substituting three egg whites for two whole eggs.Eat it all up with a spoon.
And now, I suppose, I should go do the writing I'm really supposed to be doing. Until later!