I love thick noodles. And the bestest, thickest noodle of them all is udon. And one of the bestest ways to make udon is this udon carbonara.
I love udon so much that Mike and I took a pilgrimage to the birthplace of sanuki udon in Japan so we could eat ALL the chewy thick noodles. It was glorious.
We are truly noodle lovers. So much so that we wrote a 272 page love letter to noodles in the form of our very first cookbook together, That Noodle Life. It comes out April 12, 2022 and you can pre-order it today to get a free NOODLES NOODLES NOODLES tote as a bonus!
Udon is the ultimate noodle
If you’re going to live that noodle life, you need to have udon in it. The best thing about udon is that it is a noodle that is well suited to just about anything. It holds up perfectly in soup, stir fries like a boss, and is amazing in classic Italian pasta dishes. The chewy toothsome fill-your-mouth wholesomeness of udon paired with silky smooth cheesy eggy carbonara sauce is the noodle pairing you never knew you were missing.
Udon carbonara: the ultimate carbonara
When you have a good carbonara you know it in your bones. The cheesy, creamy, perfectly emulsified sauce is full of flavor. The nuggets of salty crispy pork accentuate the savory cheesiness of the sauce. Everything comes together into one perfect flavor-filled rich and peppery note. This carbonara is excellent. Dare I say the ultimate?! The glossy golden sauce clings to the extra plump strands of udon. The guanciale is crisp and explosive. It’s just so good, I have no words.
Why is this carbonara sauce so good?
While recipe testing for our book, we made so many batches of carbonara that we bought eggs by the flats and whole guanciale cheeks. Eventually we came up with these rules:
- Yolks only: An all yolk carbonara sauce is key. Egg whites and yolks cook at different temperatures due to the their differing fat content. Using only yolks gives you so much more control and no scrambled eggs. Aerating the yolks and really whipping air into the along with the cheese allows the sauce the emulsify and disperse evenly around your noodles.
- Two kinds of cheese: Any Italian will tell you that you need both Parmesan and Pecorino. Parmigiano-Reggiano, made from cow’s milk, will give your carbonara an intense umami note. Pecorino Romano, made from sheep’s milk, adds saltiness and depth. If you can, get the cheese that’s imported from Italy, it’s the real deal.
- Guanciale, please: There are carbonara recipes out there made with pancetta and we get it – guanciale is not a pick it up at your local corner grocery store kind of ingredient, but it is so worth the special trip. When rendered, guanciale fat is fragrant, sweet, savory, and not too salty.
What kind of udon?
Our favorite kind of udon is sanuki udon. Sanuki udon comes from the Kagawa area of Japan and is square with flat edges. It’s super chewy, thick, and has the best texture. You can easily find sanuki udon in the freezer section of Asian grocery stores. It usually comes in a 5 pack, precooked, imported from Japan.
All the noodles need is a quick bath in boiling hot water to warm them through. Since they’re already cooked, they don’t need long in the boiling water, we’re just heating them through and getting a bit of starch from the noodles into the water to thicken up the sauce.
Guanciale vs pancetta
We call for guanciale in this carbonara because it lends a slight sweetness that pairs well with the cheeses. Biting into a crisped up cube of guanciale is biting into pure delicious pork goodness. If you can’t get your hands on guanciale, go for pancetta, but the whole kind so you can cut it into sizable cubes.
- Guanciale: salt and spice cured pork cheeks. Guanciale tends to be fatter and has a more robust flavor due to a longer cure. Slightly sweet due to the curing process.
- Pancetta: salt and pepper cured pork belly. Pancetta is a tiny bit less fat compared to guanciale and leans more towards the saltier side.
How to make carbonara udon
Carbonara udon goes much the same way as classic carbonara.
- Make the sauce. Whip up room temp egg yolks with finely shredded parmesan, pecorino, and freshly ground pepper. Use a large bowl and a whisk to really whip it up, aerating the thick mix as much as you can.
- Crisp up the guanciale. You don’t need to add any extra fat to the pan, just pop in large cubes of guanciale into a dry pan over medium low heat and flip the cubes as needed, rendering out the fat and crisping up the nuggets of deliciousness. When crispy, remove the pan from the heat.
- Cook the udon. Briefly warm up the udon in boiling water. When hot, scoop the udon directly from the pot of boiling water into the pan with the guanciale and fat, coating the udon in the rendered fat.
- Toss. Scoop out 2 tbsp of hot udon water into the bowl with the egg and cheese. Whisk well to emulsify and combine then add the sauce to the pan. Place the pan over low heat and toss the udon with the sauce, loosening with extra udon water if needed, until coated and glossy.
- Enjoy. Plate it up, top with extra cheese and pepper and slurp away!
I truly hope you give this carbonara udon a try! Also, once again, if you want to pre-order That Noodle Life, you can get a NOODLES NOODLES NOODLES tote for free!
Glossy golden sauce, extra plump strands of udon, crisp and explosive guanciale. It’s just so good.
- 2 large egg yolks room temp
- 1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese finely grated
- 1/2 cup Pecorino finely grated
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
- 1.5 oz guanciale chopped, sub pancetta if needed
- 1 brick frozen udon Sanuki style
- 1/4 cup udon water
Amount Per Serving
Calories 1045 Calories from Fat 547
% Daily Value*
Saturated Fat 40.1g251%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.