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Monday, June 25, 2012

Penne Carbonara with Slow Cooked Egg

Like any science geek who also happens to know his way around a kitchen, I'm fascinated by modernist cooking. My Father's Day gift was a molecular gastronomy kit that I'm itching to try out. But while foams, powders, and meat glue belong more in the realm of high-end restaurants, there is one technique that I as a home cook feel still keeps the dinner plate as a dinner plate and doesn't turn it into a petri dish.

Sous vide is really just a more modern form of poaching, using precisely-controlled water baths and separating the food from the water, often by using vacuum-sealed plastic bags. The goal is for the food to attain the same temperature as the water bath, eliminating temperature gradients and achieving some dishes that cannot be made on stove, oven, or grill. It takes time, but it's worth it.

Unfortunately, dedicated sous vide ovens are darn expensive. You can make your own and save a little money, and hopefully that's something I'll be exploring in another article down the road. Fortunately, slow cooked eggs are one of those sous vide dishes that are easily made with nothing more complicated than a digital thermometer and a small drink cooler. Because eggs have built-in packaging, you don't need to seal them in a plastic bag. And they are small, so they'll cook quickly enough that the water in the drink cooler won't lose too much heat.

If you are a sous vide novice, Penne Carbonara with Slow Cooked Egg is a great dish to cut your teeth on. The presentation is quite dramatic, and it's perfect for dinner guests who aren't too squeamish about eating eggs that practically look raw (they are cooked through and safe to eat, though).

After you've made this dish, try a fun Japanese dish of slow cooked egg over rice with tamari and furikake. It's a surprisingly good lunch.


4 eggs
2 cups penne pasta
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic
1 tbsp olive oil, plus more for sauteing
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
2/3 cup cooked and crispy bacon (about 8 slices), diced
1/4 cup white wine
1 tbsp butter
The zest of 1 lemon
2 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
4 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese

Yields: 4 servings


Cook the eggs sous vide for one hour in 142 degree water (all temperatures are in Farenheit). If you're like me and don't have a fancy sous vide contraption, you can use the "drink cooler" method as a reasonable substitute.

Fill a small drink cooler with 145 degree water. You'll need to use a very accurate digital thermometer, and to make life easier you can boil several quarts of water on the stove and combine it with room temperature water to get to the correct temperature in the cooler. Make sure you fill it close to the top to minimize heat loss, and stir the water to get an accurate temperature read. Working quickly, use a ladle to gently place the eggs at the bottom of the cooler. Close the lid, and let it sit for one hour. The ending temperature should be about 142 degrees.

While the eggs are cooking, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the penne, and cook for about 11 minutes or until al dente. Drain the pasta and toss with 1 tbsp of olive oil. Set aside.

Meanwhile, saute the garlic in olive oil on medium heat, then add the onion and continue sauteing until translucent but not browned. Add the nutmeg and bacon, and cook for about a minute. Season with salt and pepper. Add the wine, and reduce by half under medium-high heat.

When the penne is ready, add it to the pan with the sauce. Add the butter, and reduce the heat to low. Cook for about five minutes, or until the eggs are ready. Adjust the seasoning to taste.

Divide the pasta into four bowls, making a well in the center of each one. Crack an egg into each well. It will not look completely cooked, but it is. The yolk should remain whole, with the white still liquid. Top with lemon zest, parsley, and Parmesan cheese. Each diner should toss the pasta themselves, making a sauce out of the egg and garnish.

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