How To Make Classic Chicken Alfredo Pasta: The Easiest, Simplest Method

How To Make Classic Chicken Alfredo Pasta: The Easiest, Simplest Method

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Meghan Splawn
Oct 10, 2017
(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Chicken Alfredo pasta was my favorite "fancy" restaurant order as a kid — luxe sauce clinging to fettuccini topped with crispy chicken. It was about as close to macaroni and cheese and chicken fingers as a 6-year-old could get at any good Italian-American restaurant. Perhaps this is why most takeout Alfredo falls short for me — it's too entwined in my own culinary memories. Or it could just be that the rich sauce gets too cold and clumpy while waiting for delivery.

Hellbent on enjoying my childhood favorite from the comfort of my own couch, I set out to recreate the Alfredo of my memory (and I bet yours too — whether it was eaten at your family's favorite Italian-American restaurant or your local Olive Garden). We've eschewed the authentic "no cream" Alfredo for a reliable take on this classic that's just as creamy, garlic-rich, and fun to slurp up as you remember.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

What Is Alfredo?

Alfredo is a creamy, dreamy pan sauce made from butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. There are a few additions and adaptations that exist. Unlike béchamel — another classic sauce — Alfredo is best made and eaten straight away. You can use Alfredo for coating broccoli or, most famously, fettuccini. Here, we're partnering it with pasta and golden crispy chicken breast for a dinner that can make even the most regular Thursday night feel special.

For Your Information

  • Grab some fettuccini, cream, Parmesan, and a few chicken breasts at the store and you'll probably have everything else you need on hand.
  • We call for European-style butter here for its slightly higher fat content, but if you've got the plain stuff on hand already, use it!
  • This recipe takes about 30 minutes to make the first time, but once you've mastered the step-by-step, you can get the hands-on cook time down to 20 minutes.
(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Your Chicken Alfredo Game Plan

You'll have two pans going at one time — a four-quart pot for cooking the fettuccini and a large skillet for cooking the chicken breasts and building the sauce.

  • Boil the pasta in a large pot of salted water. Get this going before you start cooking the chicken and you can add the dried pasta right around the same time you start cooking the chicken breast. Save a cup of the pasta water to thin the sauce if needed.
  • Cook the chicken breasts in a combination of oil and butter for golden crispness. This is our favorite golden, crispy chicken technique. You can read more about it here. You can cover the chicken breasts with foil while you finish the sauce to keep them warm.
  • Pasta is ready, chicken is ready, make your sauce. Once your pasta is cooked and drained, and your chicken is cooked and sliced, the actual Alfredo sauce takes just a few minutes to make in the same skillet you cooked the chicken in.
  • Toss it all in the sauce skillet. When the sauce is nice and thick, add the pasta and a splash of pasta water and toss to coat. You can add the chicken here as well, if desired. Serve immediately.
(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Serving Chicken Alfredo Pasta

Chicken Alfredo is so rich, we rarely serve more than some roasted broccoli or a light salad on the side. Because the sauce will continue to thicken as it cools, be sure to have those sides ready before building the sauce. And don't forget that you can use this same basic sauce recipe to coat other pastas, proteins, or vegetables.

How To Make Chicken Alfredo Pasta

Serves 4

What You Need

Ingredients
8 ounces dried fettuccine
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 pound total)
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
2 tablespoons canola oil
8 tablespoons (1 stick) European-style unsalted butter, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (2 1/2 ounces), plus more for serving
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Coarsely chopped fresh parsley leaves, for serving

Equipment
Measuring cups and spoons
Knife and cutting board
Large pot
Paper towels
Large frying pan
Tongs
Instant-read thermometer
Plate
Aluminum foil
Whisk
Microplane or box grater
Parchment paper (optional)

Instructions

  1. Cook the pasta, drain, and reserve cooking water. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the fettuccine and cook until al dente, 8 to 10 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta.
  2. Dry the chicken and season with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, pat both sides of the chicken breasts dry with paper towels. Season with 3/4 teaspoon of the salt and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper.
  3. Heat the oil over medium-high in a large frying pan. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat until shimmering, 2 to 3 minutes. If you have a pan that has straight sides, here's the time to use it. Do not use a nonstick pan.
  4. Add the chicken to the hot pan, and cook for 5 to 7 minutes. Swirl the pan just before adding the chicken to distribute the oil. Add the chicken and leave it alone for 5 to 7 minutes, until the bottom is golden-brown. If you try to to turn the chicken and it feels stuck, it isn't ready to flip.
  5. Flip the chicken and cook for another 5 to 7 minutes, until the chicken reaches 165°F. Flip the chicken over and add 1 tablespoon of the butter right between them. Pick up the pan and give it a gentle swirl to distribute the melting butter. Cook the chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F, 5 to 7 minutes more.
  6. Slice the chicken and cover to keep warm. Transfer the chicken to a plate or clean cutting board and let rest for 3 minutes. Cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Cover with aluminum foil while you prepare the rest of the dish.
  7. Melt the rest of the butter and sauté the garlic. Add the remaining 7 tablespoons of butter to the same pan used for the chicken and place over medium heat until melted. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute.
  8. Make the Alfredo sauce. Whisk in the cream, Parmesan, nutmeg, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Simmer for 3 to 4 minutes. If the sauce is too thick, add some of the reserved pasta cooking water, a few tablespoons at a time, to thin it out.
  9. Add the drained pasta and toss to coat in the sauce. Add the drained fettuccine to the sauce and toss to coat. Divide the pasta among serving bowls and top with a few slices of chicken. Garnish with parsley, more Parmesan, and black pepper if desired.

Recipe Notes

  • Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Reheat gently on the stovetop or in the microwave; the sauce may separate.
  • Make ahead: This dish is best served immediately, although the chicken can be cooked 1 day in advance and added to the sauce with the cream until warmed through.
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