Spaghetti Carbonara: I Can’t Believe it’s not Bacon.

I’ve been thinking a lot about eels lately, eels to eat and those other slippery and be-suited characters poncing about in politics and local government. There are the crafty eels standing for election, their slick barrage of three word slogans masquerading as debate. Then here in Melbourne we have the serpentine organisation called VCAT, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, their nefarious machinations designed to twist words and regulations faster than an eel can swim backwards. Our local government is not immune from eeliness, with self-important planning committees proposing an eel pit full of new draconian restrictions, designed to trap the unwary ratepayer, like a sharp toothed moray lying in wait.

Spaghetti con Anguilla ( nello stile di carbonara)

How did poor innocent eels get to be connected to untrustworthiness and devious dealings? The saying ‘as slippery as an eel’ is associated with the most duplicitous and sly behaviour.

I can’t believe it’s not bacon. Frying diced eel in butter.

But getting back to my foody eel thoughts, I was excited last week when my fishmonger turned up with one long smoked eel, vacuum wrapped but otherwise fresh. This set my mind racing. Eel is rich and has that umami taste missing in my diet. Time for a Spaghetti Carbonara I Can’t Believe its Not Bacon. It’s a pescatarian delight.

Spaghetti Carbonara with Smoked Eel. Recipe serves two.

  • 200 g spaghetti
  • 2 large egg yolks, beaten
  • 20 g grated parmigiano, reggiano or grana
  • one large handful of Italian parsley, very finely chopped
  • 15 g or so of unsalted butter
  • 85 g diced smoked eel, skin and bone removed. This amount was from about one quarter of a whole smoked eel.


  1. Cook the spaghetti in ample boiling and salted water until al dente. Reserve a half cup of cooking water.
  2. Meanwhile, fry the diced smoked eel in butter in a large frying pan. Fry gently until golden, around 5 minutes. I like using a non stick wok these days, providing room to toss through the pasta at the last stage of preparation.
  3. Beat the egg yolks, grated parmesan cheese and parley together.
  4. Drain cooked spaghetti, add to the pan with the eel, toss about, then pour in egg mixture. Toss until the egg sets, adding a little reserved cooking water for creaminess. Keep tossing and heating for a few more seconds, adding a little more water as you go.
  5. Serve with lots of freshly ground pepper and more parmesan.
    Hmm, eel carbonara
    Hmm, eel carbonara

    This recipe has been adapted and simplified from a Gourmet Traveller recipe, March 2014. It has been filed in my mind for two years now, waiting for that illustrious smoked eel to appear.

Another weird eel expression found while researching this post.

Sposarsi è come mettere la mano in un sacco pieno di serpenti, nella speranza di tirar fuori un’anguilla.
Marriage is like putting your hand into a bag of snakes in the hope of pulling out an eel.  Attributed to Leonardo da Vinci.



31 thoughts on “Spaghetti Carbonara: I Can’t Believe it’s not Bacon.”

  1. Great adaptation of carbonara for a pescatorian. I love the flavour of smoked eel, and the oily texture, the only time I ever see it anywhere anymore is in Japanese restaurants. I recall my Dad catching eels and smoking them in the flu of the backyard incinerator.


    1. Ah, a good incinerator memory indeed, unlike all the other noxious things that were burnt in backyard incinerators in the ‘old’ days. The dish was so close to the taste of a real carbonara – it was uncanny. I’ve made carbonara with other smoked fish but the texture was never quite right, nor the appearance.


  2. I would try anything you served me Francesca, but I won’t be going eel hunting for my own purposes any time soon 🙂 I have often said the only thing that would really keep me from being a vegetarian is bacon. I don’t eat it that often but I want to know that I can 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Eel hunting is not fun. I once caught one and it seemed to run after me along the pier as I couldn’t bring myself to detach the scary thing from the line. And I have watched fishermen in Bretagne, France, bash the creatures to death as they slithered about in a boat. And the cleaning of them- don’t go there! But when they come all cleaned and gutted and smoked, I am a happy eel gatherer.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. For sure, will just be sharing it with Husband for a laugh. Although the truth of it is, how much do any of us ever know of each other, when we are ‘untried by the trials of life’? It’s a pretty interesting quote.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. As slippery as an eel! Your writing is so good! And that last quote … 😊 Carbonara is a fav in this house (I love it). I add sage and chilli, the last time I added mushrooms (making that soup this weekend). Eel .. Hmm 😃 we have a creek full of them ..

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I like eel but can’t even remember the last time I saw one for sale, if ever, in Australia. Pity as they are tasty and no doubt could be a cheap source of protein. I love the story of the adults all going back to the Sargasso Sea to spawn but on reading upon them again just now, they are still very mysterious. There aren’t many great mysteries left in this world but eels appear to be one.


  5. They sell them at fish markets down here, though never in suburban centres. Yes cheap and very mysterious. We used to go diving off the south coast of NSW, around the Mimosa rocks national pack. and were always scared out of our wits when brightly coloured yellow Moray eels appeared in underwater ledges and caves, leading to the singing of that old Dean Martin song, “It’s amore”


  6. I just stumbled on your blog and when I first started reading this post, I couldn’t imagine where you were going with the eel story. I haven’t ever tasted it, so unfortunately I can’t imagine the dish, but it looks quite good. I’m sure I’d enjoy it, but I wonder what a purist would say. The first time I made carbonara, I looked on a couple of Italian cooking websites beforehand for a recipe. The actual recipes turned out not to be the interesting part, but all of the comments. They got quite heated – mostly men – each one was certain to have the secret of the true carbonara.


    1. Hi Karen, the Italian purists would hate it. I also make an authentic one for my meat eating sons but as I don’t eat meat, this recipe comes close to the real taste. Yes… Italian men can be so passionate about THE right way to make a dish. Campanilismo?

      Liked by 1 person

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