How To Make Classic Chicken Alfredo Pasta: The Easiest, Cheesiest Method
Chicken Alfredo pasta was my favorite “fancy” restaurant order as a kid — luxe sauce clinging to fettuccine topped with crispy chicken. It was about as close to macaroni and cheese and chicken tenders as a 6-year-old could get at any Italian-American restaurant. Perhaps this is why most takeout Alfredo falls short for me — it’s too entwined in my memories. Or it could just be that the sauce gets too clumpy while waiting for delivery.
Tips For Making Classic Chicken Alfredo Pasta
- Use European-style butter as it has slightly higher fat content.
- Use a large frying pan to cook chicken breast instead of a nonstick pan.
- Cook the chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 165°F.
- Add a few tablespoons of reserved pasta cooking water if the sauce is too thick.
Hellbent on enjoying my childhood favorite from the comfort of my own couch, I set out to recreate the creamy garlicky Alfredo of my memory. 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.
What is Alfredo?
Key Ingredients in Chicken Alfredo Pasta
- Fettuccine: This recipe calls for a half pound of pasta and serves four people. Fettuccine is the most classic, but you can use whichever pasta shape you prefer.
- Heavy cream: Though some recipes exclude heavy cream, we think it makes for the most reliable and dreamy Alfredo sauce.
- Chicken breasts: Sear the chicken in a skillet, then make the sauce. Any leftover browned bitson the bottom of the pan from the chicken will help to make the sauce more flavorful.
- Butter: 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.
Basic Steps for Making Chicken Alfredo Pasta
You’ll have two pans going at one time — a four-quart pot for cooking the fettuccine 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 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.
The Best Pasta Shape for Chicken Alfredo
Serving Chicken Alfredo Pasta
- 8 ounces
dried fettuccine pasta
boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 pound total)
- 1 teaspoon
kosher salt, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon
freshly ground black pepper, divided
- 2 tablespoons
- 8 tablespoons
(1 stick) European-style unsalted butter, divided
- 2 cloves
- 1 cup
- 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
Measuring cups and spoons
Knife and cutting board
Large frying pan
Microplane or box grater
Parchment paper (optional)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Melt the rest of the butter and sauté the garlic. Add the remaining 7 tablespoons 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.
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.
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.
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.