One of the hardest things to get used to when it comes to cooking is the variation from person to person with the same recipe. This recipe has taken almost a year for me to figure out, not because I lacked the skill (though some of it was me figuring out the skills), but because 1) there are very few “chicken pasta with herb cream sauce” recipes online, and 2) everyone has a completely different approach…to every. single. step.
I like simplicity. In fact, my main principle when it comes to food is, “Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS).” If I can take a recipe and simplify or omit a step without sacrificing quality, then you can bet I’ll do just that. Cooking should be accessible, simple, fun, and, most importantly, delicious.
But when you start asking your peers for advice about a recipe, be prepared for frustration and twenty different answers.
When I was figuring out how I wanted to make my chicken piccata, I found a process for doing chicken with a pan sauce that works for me, and they say, in cooking and baking, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” (though I am also the kind of person who will break something just so I can learn how to fix it. This was a mix of both.)
The basic outline is this:
- Season and sear the meat. Set it aside.
- Reduce the heat and cook your aromatics (garlic, in this case, but also onions, carrots, bell peppers, etc.) in the fond (the browned layer on the bottom of the pan.)
- Deglaze! Alcohol helps transfer flavor compounds from browned meat (the fond) into the rest of the food. Add your cooking alcohol, scrape up the pan, and simmer the liquid until it reduces by about half or a third.
- Add your stock to make your sauce base and let the liquids continue reducing.
- Whisk in your dairy (cream or milk) and let the sauce simmer so that it thickens. You can add starch if you want, to make a thicker sauce, but rest assured that dairy, whether in solid or liquid form, will also thicken properly. If you’re making a cream sauce, you don’t need the starch. If you want to use the starch, you should add it after your aromatics and before your alcohol.
- Add your meat back in and let it warm up with the sauce. If the meat was cooked all the way through when searing, then you can just start adding in your cheese, pasta, etc. Otherwise, braise the meat for a few minutes. In fact, I always braise the meat a bit when doing pan sauces. It helps the texture!
- Turn off the heat and whisk in the cheese so that it melts. If you’re using fresh herbs or extra flavorings (condiments, etc.), whisk them in now, as well. Never cook your fresh herbs, though. Always add them after you’ve turned off the heat. (If using dried herbs, add them with the aromatics before you deglaze.)
- Throw in the pasta, toss, and serve!
There you have it: meat, aromatics, alcohol, sauce, cream, cheese, herbs, and pasta.
Next adventure? Pumpkin pecan chicken with sage browned butter.
other chicken recipes
pasta with chicken, herbs, and parmesan cream sauce
Note: When preparing pasta, bringing a full pot of water to boil can take a long time, but you really don’t need a full pot. You can cook pasta in a shallow pot of water, and it comes to a boil faster. Use a stockpot or large saucepan and about 1-2 quarts of water. This way, you can start the water boiling while you’re cooking the chicken and the pasta will be ready before the sauce is done.
8 oz pasta (pappardelle or fettuccine are best for this)
olive oil for sautéing
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast
4 cloves garlic
1/2 c dry white wine
1 c chicken stock
1 c heavy cream
1/2 c shredded Parmesan cheese
2 c mixed fresh herbs (I suggest 3 sprigs basil, 3 sprigs oregano, 2 large sprigs dill, and about 6 sprigs thyme)
parsley plus extra Parmesan cheese for serving
An hour before cooking, place the chicken breast on a plate between two paper towels to let it dry off and come to room temperature.
When ready to start cooking, place a large skillet or sauté pan on medium-high heat.
While the pan is heating, thinly slice the chicken breast and cut each slice in half so you have pieces about an inch wide and 2-3 inches long.
Once the pan is hot, add a splash of olive oil. While the olive oil is heating, continue prepping the rest of the ingredients: mince the garlic finely and set it aside in its own bowl; measure out the wine, chicken stock, and cream into separate containers; and chop, mince, or chiffonade the herbs, adding them all to one bowl.
Add the chicken to the hot pan and spread it out into a single layer. This might be a little difficult because the chicken will stick to the pan as soon as you add it, which it should: protein always sticks to the pan first before it sears. Season the chicken with salt, pepper, and paprika, and let it brown on one side for a few minutes before sautéing.
After you start the chicken cooking, set a pot of water to boil for the pasta.
Alternate searing and sautéing the chicken until it has browned on almost all sides, you don’t see any pink on the surface, and there’s a nice layer of brown on the bottom of the pan (this is the fond, like a well of flavor that you’ll mix back into the sauce.) Once the chicken is cooked on the outside, remove it from the pan, set it aside, and lower the heat a little bit for the garlic. Your chicken probably won’t be done on the inside, but that’s okay because you’ll braise it in the sauce and it’ll cook all the way through.
Add another splash of olive oil to the pan and let that warm for a minute.
Once the pasta water is boiling, add 1-2 Tbsp salt to the water and let it dissolve. Then, add the pasta and cook according to the package instructions (about 5 minutes.) You’ll want to remove the pasta from the water early, because it’ll cook a little in the sauce. If you cook the pasta all the way through in the water, it’ll become soft in the sauce.
When the pasta’s done, drain it in a metal colander and quickly toss the drained pasta with a splash of olive oil to keep it from sticking together as it drains.
While the pasta is cooking, add the minced garlic to warmed skillet and sauté for about a minute. Once you can smell the garlic, it’s time to add the next ingredient. If you leave the garlic too long, it’ll burn. You can let the garlic brown a little bit, too.
Add the white wine and turn up the heat a bit so it simmers. While the wine is cooking, use a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan (the fond), and mix it into the reducing wine.
Let the wine cook down by about 1/3 – 1/2, then add the chicken stock and bring to a simmer or boil. Let the mixture reduce again by about 1/3 – 1/2.
Whisk in the heavy cream and bring the sauce to a simmer. Let the sauce simmer and thicken for a few minutes, tasting and adjusting with the salt, pepper, and smoked paprika.
Add the chicken back into the sauce (and any juice or oil that accumulated from the chicken), and let the mixture simmer gently for about 3-5 minutes, so the sauce thickens and the chicken finishes cooking through.
Turn off the heat and whisk in the Parmesan until it melts and is fully mixed in.
Add the herbs and pasta and toss everything together.
Taste the sauce and adjust by adding more salt, pepper, smoked paprika, Parmesan cheese, or fresh herbs.
Serve and garnish with fresh chopped parsley or extra shredded Parmesan.
See ya, summer!