Chicken Alfredo

 

According to classic French cuisine, there are five “mother sauces” from which all others are derived: velouté, espagnole, sauce tomat, hollandaise, and béchamel. It’s the last one I’m most fond of since it gave birth to a rich, out-of-body-experience-inducing sauce that I treat myself to whenever I can.

I’m pretty sure it’s béchamel’s favorite offspring, and it’s the undisputed star of my Chicken Alfredo recipe. Once you figure out how simply this delicious plate of creamy pasta perfection comes together, the chicken Alfredo Olive Garden makes will pale in comparison.

We’re dining IN tonight!

Although we associate this dish with Italy, don’t try to order chicken Alfredo pasta the next time you’re in Rome. The original sauce (and the one still served there) was developed by Alfredo di Lelio, a simple one made with butter and Parmesan cheese and served over fettuccine. His “pasta in bianco” was created to satisfy the appetite of his wife whose pregnancy prevented her from stomaching much else.

Of course, once the recipe landed in the U.S., thanks to Alfredo’s expanding restaurants, we morphed the sauce into some rich cousin of the original, adding body with cream and more cheese, and transforming a simple dish into something truly luxurious. So let’s talk about how to make Chicken Alfredo at home.

Chicken Alfredo ingredients are easy to find, and most are in the dairy section! First, the chicken – I use chopped chicken tenders since they’re uniformly sized. Browning them in a pan first, along with careful seasoning, helps the pieces hold their own even against the heavy sauce. If you’re lucky, you may have some tasty brown bits left in the pan.

Next it’s time for mother béchamel. The basic “white sauce” starts with a roux, in this case made with butter and flour, to thicken milk or cream.

I sauté my vegetables – onions, mushrooms, and a bit of garlic – in the melted butter before adding the flour. Onions and garlic are subtle flavors in the dish, but the mushrooms are a bit of a departure from the classic recipe.

I think the texture and earthy quality they lend to the sauce make this recipe extra special.

Many recipes for roux call for equal parts fat and flour, but I like a little extra flour to make sure the sauce stays nice and thick. Once that’s cooked for just a couple of minutes, to make sure you don’t end up with the dreaded “gritty” cheese sauce, we start layering all the dazzling dairy.

Rather than cream, I use a combination of milk and half and half. It creates a slightly thinner sauce but helps leave room for the richness of all the impending cheese.

There’s Parmesan, of course, to provide the salty, slightly nutty flavor and subtle texture we’re used to in chicken fettuccine Alfredo. I like to add plenty of mozzarella for that gooey quality we love on our pizza and that makes all those beautiful strings on its way from plate to mouth.

Chicken Alfredo

The secret ingredient I add, which I think makes this the best Chicken Alfredo recipe, is cream cheese. There’s just a small amount, but I find it not only ups the creamy factor (because, we obviously need more!) but it also helps stabilize the sauce. Sometimes adding lots of cheese too quickly can change the texture, or cause the sauce to separate, and the cream cheese mitigates that.

The last ingredient is chopped tomatoes, and while they definitely add little acidic bites to balance out the sauce a bit, they also provide a wonderful contrast in color.

Toss in your al dente pasta, and dinner is served.

While I have had baked chicken Alfredo at restaurants, I think it dries out the sauce, and nothing’s coming between me and that velvety magic I’ve worked so carefully to craft.

Thank you, mother béchamel, for inspiring such a decadent dish!

 

 

RECIPE NOTES:

Pasta possibilities: If you’re used to classic chicken Alfredo penne may seem like an odd choice. Penne works because the pasta pieces are roughly the size of the chicken, so each bite has a perfect balance of the two. There’s also that hole in the middle, a tiny cave to hold tons of Chicken Alfredo sauce. If you opt for the ridged penne (also called penne regate), you have even more surface area for the sauce to cling to.  Penne is easy to find, but if you want to experiment with something else, try fusilli or rigatoni, or go ahead and make an easy chicken fettuccine Alfredo (if you want something a little less awesome J).

Chicken choices: One of the great things about this recipe is all the flavor the chicken gets in the sauté step. To save time, you can substitute rotisserie or even leftover chicken. Just do your best to keep the pieces around one-inch in size. Although the chicken may already have plenty of flavor, I’d still recommend adding the Italian seasoning. Also, you may not need the full two teaspoons of salt if your chicken is especially salty.

Mushrooms: Cremini mushrooms are my absolute favorite for this Chicken Alfredo recipe. They have a deep, complex flavor, with a slightly meatier texture than white button mushrooms. Either will work, and both are readily available at the supermarket (even pre-sliced!).

All-in-one: If you want to turn this dish into a complete meal, make this Chicken Alfredo with broccoli. Cook a few handfuls of broccoli florets in a separate pan and toss them in the sauce when you add the pasta, or do what I do and throw it in with the pasta about four or five minutes before it’s done to cook them at the same time. It’s always easier to get your daily dose of veggies when they’re covered in Alfredo sauce!

Tomatoes: In an ideal world, you would peel every tomato before adding it to this really easy chicken Alfredo recipe. Of course, in an ideal world, we’d have unlimited free time to cook good food, read good books, and vacation where someone else would be in charge of supper. The truth is I almost never peel them because the little pieces don’t bother me. Here’s a little trick if you opt for peeling. Cut a small “x” in the bottom of your tomatoes, drop them in boiling water for about 30 seconds, then plunge them immediately into ice water. The peel will come off much more easily and without wasting any tomato from a lack of knife skills! Peeled or not, you should still core and seed them for this dish.

 

 

 

Chicken Alfredo

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