Chicken Carbonara

Creamy pasta without cream? It’s possible! This chicken carbonara uses eggs, Parmesan, and pasta cooking water to create a dreamy, creamy sauce.

Chicken carbonara

Alison Bickel / Simply Recipes

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.

Chicken carbonara

Alison Bickel / Simply Recipes

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.


Chicken carbonara

Alison Bickel / Simply Recipes

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.

Chicken carbonara

Alison Bickel / Simply Recipes

Weeknight Pasta Dinners for the Win

The eggs in this recipe, while cooked, do not reach temperatures high enough to kill Salmonella or other pathogens. Instances of salmonella poisoning by eating raw or undercooked eggs are rare, but for those who have compromised immune systems, are pregnant, or very young or very old, we advise using store bought pasteurized eggs of pasteurizing your own eggs using this method.

From the Editors Of Simply Recipes

Chicken Carbonara

Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Total Time 30 mins
Servings 2 servings

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.

Ingredients

  • 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

Method

  1. 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.

  2. Prepare the egg mixture:

    In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, 1/2 cup Parmesan, and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Set it aside.

    Egg mixture for chicken carbonara

    Alison Bickel / Simply Recipes

  3. 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.

    Brown bacon for chicken carbonara

    Alison Bickel / Simply Recipes

    Brown chicken for chicken carbonara

    Alison Bickel / Simply Recipes

  4. 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.

    Boil spaghetti for chicken carbonara

    Alison Bickel / Simply Recipes

  5. 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!

    Cook spaghetti for chicken carbonara

    Alison Bickel / Simply Recipes

    Add egg mix to spaghetti for chicken carbonara

    Alison Bickel / Simply Recipes

  6. Serve:

    Add chicken and bacon and toss to combine. Serve warm, garnished with freshly grated Parmesan, if desired.

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    Chicken carbonara in pot

    Alison Bickel / Simply Recipes

    Chicken carbonara

    Alison Bickel / Simply Recipes