Tuesday, July 10, 2018

carbonara wars

I'm beginning to wonder whether viewing Youtube recipes critically is the way to go from now on. I recently watched a video titled, "Carbonara: Italian chefs' reactions to the most popular videos worldwide," in which three prominent Italian chefs set themselves up as guardians of their own culinary culture and watch videos, on a laptop, of famous anglophone chefs making carbonara. They certainly don't hold back in their criticisms, with Andrew Rea of Binging with Babish getting by far the most demerits for his idiosyncratic approach to a much-beloved Italian (particularly Roman) dish.

I found the criticism educational and, curious, I hunted down another couple carbonara videos to see who, according to these Italian critics, might have done carbonara right. I think I found two: Gordon Ramsay (in a humorous video in which he's working with a newbie cook whom he's just met) and Antonio Carluccio on Jamie Oliver's Food Tube channel. (Oliver himself comes in for a drubbing by the three Italian chefs.)

Among the things I learned about carbonara:

1. Be sure to salt the water when boiling the spaghetti.
2. For the love of God, DO NOT use garlic. The urge to incorporate garlic stems from an Anglo overgeneralization/stereotype about Italian cuisine, or so these three chefs contend.
3. Use guanciale (pork cheek) if possible.
4. Whatever meat you use (guanciale, pancetta, or regular bacon), don't dice it too finely. After watching Carluccio's video, I could see why: the pork reduces in the pan, and if you start with a tiny dice, you end up with little more than pork crumbles, whereas if you start with a thicker dice, you end up with perfectly sized bits of pork.
5. NO GODDAMN ONIONS. (I knew this commandment already; I've written before about how they fuck things up here in Korea because of the Korean propensity to add onions to any and all Western food.)
6. Don't finish with parsley to "add color," per the Anglo (or possibly even Gallic) urge. Finish with fresh-cracked black pepper, plus a dusting of cheese (parmigiano reggiano or, especially in Rome, pecorino romano).

I don't think I've ever made carbonara before. I'll need to try my hand at it sometime soon. Meanwhile, here are the videos in question:

First, the three Italian chefs tearing down the Brits and Yanks:

Next, Gordon Ramsay seemingly getting it right:

Finally, Antonio Carluccio (who died not long ago) with what I think is a carbonara that conforms perfectly to the expectations of the three chef-critics:

I was hypnotized while watching Carluccio work. The way he holds the pasta—gently, and almost reverently—taught me a lot, in that moment, about the proper attitude one should maintain when cooking. Cooking is an act of love, with all that that entails about care and attention, and the need to be present through all the phases of something, right until its fruition. Love is a lot like that, I think: care, attention, devotion, and presence.

Yes. I definitely need to try to make this dish. In the meantime, today's YouTube foray has suggested that the way to approach video recipes is as follows:

1. Watch a decent video of how recipe X is done. Come away wowed. This is the level of Paul Ricoeur's "first naïveté."
2. Watch a video or videos critical of the way previous chefs have approached recipe X. Feel ashamed for having thought the first chef had been on to something.
3. Watch other masters who do recipe X right, the way the critics say it ought to be done. Be wowed again: Ricoeur's "second naïveté."
4. Pick up techniques all along the way.


Kevin Kim said...

Yes, yes—let me anticipate the comment, here: for pasta, you definitely salt the water at the beginning. In my defense, I never claimed "salt at the end" to be anything more than a guideline. It's certainly not an exceptionless rule.

Charles said...

Dang. I wish you had posted this a wee bit earlier! I sort of made carbonara last night, and did a fairly poor job of it. It wasn't bad, and I certainly didn't scramble the eggs, but it didn't turn out as creamy as I would have liked. I also didn't really have the right ingredients, but it is what it is.

(Also, no need to defend yourself on the salting issue. I was genuinely curious, as I had always heard differently. It wasn't meant as an attack.)

The Maximum Leader said...

A propos of nothing... My chef friends here have always said that pasta should be cooked in water that is near the salinity of sea water. In fact, they said that the one major reason why when eating pasta dishes "out" they taste different than "at home" is the salting the pasta water.