Chicken alfredo is a classic favorite—a creamy white sauce, long strands of pasta mixed with tender pieces of lean protein. For this recipe, I cut the meat for quicker cooking and use a generous amount of seasonings for maximum flavor.
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If you’re looking for a delicious gourmet Italian dinner, you’re in the right place! My Italian husband Jason loves his pasta dishes, so when I serve up a plate of chicken alfredo, it always puts a big smile on his face. I get it. There are so many wonderful flavors and textures that come together that it’s hard to resist.
My cream sauce uses simple ingredients, so you can skip buying the goopy jarred stuff. The garlic and cheese mixture reduces on the stovetop until creamy, just the right consistency to cling to fettuccine. Pan-seared chicken breasts can be tricky because of their odd shape and uneven thickness. I cut the pieces into thinner cutlets to ensure more uniform cooking to solve this problem.
Prepare the chicken
Cooking large chicken breasts on the stovetop can be challenging. It’s thicker on one end and tapers down, which often yields raw or dried-out areas. An easy way to avoid this is to cut the chicken lengthwise into thinner cutlets.
A quick slice through the center of the meat saves time and provides uniform pieces for even cooking. Alternatively, you can pound the chicken to about ½-inch thickness with a mallet or rolling pin. This technique creates a colossal piece, so I still recommend cutting it in half after flattening, so it’s easier to cook.
Season the meat thoroughly
I like to keep the seasonings simple with kosher salt, freshly cracked black pepper, and sweet paprika. A small amount of red spice creates a gorgeous golden hue on the surface. Concentrated alliums like dried onion or garlic powder are excellent additions. Sprinkle on dried Italian seasonings for a stronger herbaceous note, like oregano, thyme, and basil.
Pan sear the chicken
I use a quick pan-searing technique for the most flavorful and juicy chicken. I prefer a stainless steel pan which gives a nice sear, however nonstick or cast iron will work. Cook the meat over medium heat in hot olive oil. Don’t move it! Let it sit undisturbed until a flavorful brown crust forms on the surface.
The process takes about 5 to 7 minutes per side. It’s ready when it’s no longer pink, and the center reaches 160 to 165ºF (71 to 74ºC) on an instant-read thermometer. Keep it covered to stay warm while you prepare the pasta and sauce. Just slice it up when you’re ready to serve.
A long, flat noodle-like fettuccine provides more surface area for the creamy cheese sauce to stick on. Linguine is a great alternative if you don’t like wide pasta. Other types of pasta make a surprisingly delicious pairing, like bucatini, penne, or cavatappi, with holes in the center that can trap the sauce inside for flavorful bites.
Cook the pasta
Cook the dried fettuccine in boiling, salted water. The agitation ensures that they cook evenly with minimal sticking. The noodles should be al dente in texture, with a slight chew in the center. If it’s mushy, due to the pasta releasing its starches, then it will absorb too much sauce instead of coating it.
Save the pasta water! You can add it to the alfredo sauce to help dilute the thickness while adding body from the starches released in the liquid. It also helps season the sauce with extra salt.
Make the cream sauce
Homemade alfredo sauce is made by reducing heavy cream with at least 36% milkfat to give it velvety richness. A quick 10-minute simmer completely transforms the consistency. The minced garlic is sauteed in the butter first so that its flavor infuses into the heavy cream.
Once about ⅓ of the liquid in the dairy evaporates, the milk’s fat concentrates and will be able to cling to noodles. You’ll notice the sauce thickens more as it cools down a bit, as the fat globules come together and stiffen. Salt, black pepper, and grated nutmeg enhance the flavor without overpowering it.
Add the cheese
I use hard, dry-aged Parmesan cheese or Parmiggiano Reggiano to add a nutty, saltiness to the cream sauce. The longer it ages, the more granular and more pungent the taste. I highly recommend freshly and finely grating it, as it will dissolve quickly into the sauce.
Add the cheese at the end to melt it in the cream mixture and prevent clumping. Toss immediately with the cooked pasta, then serve with the sliced chicken and chopped parsley.
Serve this with
The chicken and cheese add a hearty amount of protein compared to just fettucini alfredo pasta to balance the dish. However, the cream is high in fat. Using whipping cream or half-and-half can provide a lighter in calorie sauce.
If you prefer dark meat, you can use chicken thighs in the recipe. You do not need to flatten or cut them in half. Just season, pan sear, and slice.
Flat noodles have the most surface area for the cream sauce to stick to. Fettuccine is the most popular choice, but linguine works well. Tubular pasta like penne, cavatappi, or bucatini is nice to switch things up.
Use whipping cream instead of heavy cream. It contains between 30 to 36% milkfat compared to at least 36% milkfat in heavy cream. It will give the alfredo sauce richness without being as heavy. Half-and half will provide an even lighter sauce at around 12% fat, but keep an eye out for curdling as it contains more protein. I do not recommend using whole milk unless adding in a roux to thicken, as there is not enough fat to thicken.
Save the pasta water
The water that’s used to boil the fettuccine will be salty and starchy. The starches released from the cooked wheat can help thicken the sauce and add more savory seasoning. It can also correct an over-reduced or cooled sauce by making it looser. This better coats the noodles, so it doesn’t feel too heavy. Start with 1 tablespoon water, toss with pasta, and add more as needed.
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- 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast
- 3 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
- ¾ teaspoon black pepper, divided
- ¼ teaspoon paprika, sweet
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 quarts water
- 8 ounces fettuccine
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 ½ cup heavy cream
- 1 cup grated parmesan cheese, or parmigiano reggiano
- ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- Cut each chicken breast in half lengthwise to create two cutlets, four total.
- In a small bowl combine 1 teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper, and paprika. Evenly season both sides of the chicken with the spice mixture.
- Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Once the pan is hot, add the olive oil. Add the chicken and cook until the surface is browned, about 5 for 6 minutes. Flip and cook until the internal temperature reaches 160 to 165ºF (71 to 74ºC), about 5 to 7 minutes.
- Transfer to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm. Wash and dry the pan to use for making the alfredo sauce.
- In a large pot, bring 3 quarts of water to a boil. Add 1 ½ teaspoon salt, stir to dissolve.
- Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 10 to 12 minutes, or according to the manufacturer's directions. Use tongs to transfer to a colander—Reserve the starchy pasta water. While the pasta cooks, make the alfredo sauce.
- Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add butter. Once melted, add garlic and saute until fragrant, 30 to 60 seconds. Do not brown the butter or garlic.
- Add the heavy cream, ½ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper, stir to combine. Bring the cream to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, frequently stirring, scraping the sides and bottom of the pan to make sure the cream does not curdle.
- Reduce the sauce to about 1 cup, 10 to 12 minutes. It should be slightly thickened and be able to coat the back of a spoon.
- Turn off the heat and stir in the parmesan cheese and nutmeg. If the sauce is too thick, add water or cream. Add 1 tablespoon at a time until you reach the desired consistency—season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Add the pasta to the sauce, gently tossing to combine.
- Slice the chicken against the grain into ½-inch thick pieces.
- Divide the pasta among bowls, top with sliced chicken and chopped parsley.
- Make a Larger Batch: For 4 larger entree-sized portions, double the sauce and noodle ingredients. Reduce the sauce to 2 cups.
- Diluting the Sauce: If the sauce concentrates too much, whisk in 1 tablespoon of hot pasta water or heavy cream at a time until desired consistency is reached.
- Storing: Cool completely and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Reheat in the microwave in 30-second intervals and stir until hot.
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