Chicken carbonara is a popular variation on classic Italian carbonara, a pasta characterized by its rich, silky, egg-based sauce and mellow, slightly smoky, peppery flavor—from guanciale, a cured meat made from pork jowl. This recipe adds bits of chicken. That’s it!
The creamy sauce is made by tossing eggs and Parmesan with cooked pasta and its still piping hot cooking water. It’s so simple but can be intimidating. Are the eggs raw? Will they scramble? Once you have the method down, it will lose its mystique and become a go-to for when you’re in the mood for a hearty meal that can be whipped up in just 30 minutes.
Bacon, Pancetta, or Guanciale?
Guanciale is traditionally used in carbonara but use what you can find—bacon or pancetta also work. Guanciale and pancetta are cured pork products common in Italian cooking but are sometimes hard to find.
Once cooked, taste the dish. You may need to use adjust the seasoning as the amount of salt in each of these differ.
The Best Pasta for Chicken Carbonara
Typically, a long pasta like spaghetti, linguine, or bucatini is used for carbonara. They are the perfect shape for creamy sauces and just so satisfying to twirl up into the perfect bite. You could also use rigatoni, paccheri, or even penne, but I would highly recommend starting with spaghetti—it’s a classic, and classics are classics for a reason.
The Eggs are Safe to Eat
If you’re worried about eating raw eggs, don’t be! The residual heat from the pasta and the pan, and the piping hot pasta cooking water is enough to pasteurize the eggs, making them completely safe for consumption. Still unsure? That’s okay! Simply keep your pan over low heat—but nothing higher since it may scramble the eggs—while tossing the pasta in the sauce.
The Creamiest Carbonara without Cream
To unlock that super creamy, velvety sauce we’re after:
- Have all your ingredients ready: This recipe relies on the residual heat of the pan, the cooked pasta, and the pasta cooking water to make the creamy sauce, so having everything ready to go is key to keeping things smooth. Whisk the egg mixture while the water comes to a boil so that it’s ready to go as soon as the pasta is cooked.
- Set the cooked bacon and chicken aside, and then add them back in right before serving: Pieces of bacon or chicken in the pan can cause the egg mixture to stick and scramble. Scrape them into a bowl while you toss the pasta and sauce in the pan until luscious and creamy. Then, add the bacon and chicken back in.
How I Serve Chicken Carbonara
Chicken carbonara is a one hit, one dish wonder that doesn’t really need a side. But sometimes it’s nice to have one, especially when entertaining. Think bold, bracing fennel and radicchio salad, super simple sautéed spinach, this spring vegetable salad, oven roasted vegetables, or a slightly sweet kale salad.
Weeknight Pasta Dinners for the Win
- Easy Pasta with Winter Greens
- Pasta Puttanesca
- Pasta with Spinach, Artichokes and Ricotta
- Bowtie Pasta with Peas, Prosciutto, and Arugula
- Orecchiette Pasta with Sausage and Kale
Chicken carbonara does not reheat well. To avoid leftovers, I scaled this recipe to make 2 servings. To serve more, like 4 to 6 servings, double all the ingredients, except the eggs—use 2 whole eggs plus 2 egg yolks.
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt, divided
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, plus more for serving
- 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, divided
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 5 ounces (150g) cubed bacon, guanciale, or pancetta
- 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast (about 1 pound), trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1/2 pound dry spaghetti
Get the water boiling:
Set a large pot of water (about 3 quarts) with 1 tablespoon salt over high heat to boil. Move onto the next steps while you wait for the water to come up to a boil.
Prepare the egg mixture:
In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, 1/2 cup Parmesan, and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Set it aside.
Brown the bacon and chicken:
Set a large frying pan over medium heat. Once hot, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and the bacon. Cook, stirring often, until the bacon is crispy and browned, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for an additional 2 minutes, stirring often.
Transfer the bacon and garlic into a medium bowl, leaving behind about 2 tablespoons of bacon grease in the pan. Not enough grease? Add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil.
Set the pan over medium heat and add the chicken. Season it with the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Cook the chicken until golden brown all around and cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes.
Transfer the chicken into the bowl with the bacon and garlic. Turn off the heat and don’t wash the pan. You’ll toss the carbonara in it.
Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti:
As soon as the water comes to a boil, add the spaghetti. Cook it until al dente; for me, that’s usually 2 minutes less than the time stated on the package. When the spaghetti is cooked, scoop out 1 cup of the cooking water and set it aside. Then, drain the pasta into a colander set in the sink.
Toss the carbonara:
Immediately transfer the drained spaghetti, while still hot, into the frying pan. Whisk in 2 tablespoons of the hot cooking water into the egg mixture. Then pour the egg mixture over the pasta. Use tongs to toss and coat. Add more hot cooking water, as needed, to create a glossy, creamy, and smooth sauce that coats the spaghetti. You may end up using the entire cup!
Add chicken and bacon and toss to combine. Serve warm, garnished with freshly grated Parmesan, if desired.
Did you love this recipe? Give us some stars below!