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Smoked eel “carbonara”

"This dish was created for friends who don't eat pork. The smoked eel plays the part of guanciale or pancetta, providing those smoky umami notes. Be generous with the black pepper - its heat is essential for cutting through the richness of the egg yolks and cheese. And please don't ever put cream in a carbonara," Orr says. Start this recipe three days ahead to prepare the eel, or substitute store-bought smoked eel (see note).

You'll need

1 live eel (1.3kg; see note) 100 gm woodchips, such as hickory (see note) 1 quantity basic pasta dough (see basic pasta recipe) 9 egg yolks 120 gm Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated, plus extra, to serve 3 bunches chives, thinly sliced 60 gm butter, coarsely chopped


  • 01
  • Place live eel in a very large container of iced water for 12 hours (or overnight). With a very sharp knife remove the eel’s head by making one swift cut just behind the front fins. Return eel to fresh iced water and refrigerate overnight to bleed. Remove skin by making an incision below the top fin; the skin should peel away easily (see note), then gut and fillet the eel just as you would a fish. Refrigerate cleaned, trimmed fillets for 24 hours to let the meat relax. Rub fillets liberally with sea salt and set aside for 2 hours, then rinse and pat dry.
  • 02
  • Light a charcoal barbecue and let it burn until the embers are glowing (35-45 minutes). When coals are ready, add soaked woodchips, place eel on a cooking rack, and close air vents on barbecue to two-thirds closed. Smoke eel until lightly cooked (10-15 minutes, see note). Set aside to cool, then dice or flake flesh.
  • 03
  • Prepare pasta according to basic pasta recipe. Roll sheets through spaghetti attachment, dust well with flour and place on a tray in untangled piles until required.
  • 04
  • Combine yolks, Parmigiano-Reggiano and chives in a large bowl. Set aside.
  • 05
  • Heat butter in a large, deep frying pan over medium heat, add eel and fry until both the eel and butter are nicely browned (2-3 minutes).
  • 06
  • Meanwhile, cook spaghetti in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until al dente (2-3 minutes). Drain, reserving ½ cup cooking water, and immediately add spaghetti to eel. Toss until pasta is coated in butter and cooking juices, then immediately add to egg-yolk mixture with cup reserved cooking water. Toss until sauce is creamy (add more pasta water if needed) and pasta is well coated. Check and adjust seasoning, then serve with extra Parmigiano-Reggiano and cracked black pepper.

Note If you're using store-bought smoked eel, this recipe calls for around 440gm smoked, skinned fillets. If you don't remove the skin before smoking the eel, it will take a further 5-10 minutes to cook (15-25 minutes in total). Chunks of wood for smoking are available from barbecue shops. Pick out the medium-sized pieces and soak them in cold water for at least an hour before use.

At A Glance

  • Serves 6 - 8 people
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At A Glance

  • Serves 6 - 8 people

Drink Suggestion

Something different: a dry, savoury unpasteurised junmai genshu sake with bright acidity and a long finish, such as the 2012 Miwasakura Shuzo “Miwasakura”.

Featured in

Mar 2014

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