Chicken Alfredo at Last


How a person can cook for nearly fifty years and not wittingly make Fettucini Alfredo or its sibling dish, Chicken Alfredo, I can’t explain, but apparently somehow, I seem to have skipped it. I think I must have eaten some along the way, because I have the distinct impression that it is delicious and rich. Or maybe I have merely heard about its reputation.

At any event, I finally went looking for a recipe and found that none of my old stand-by cookbooks (like Joy of Cooking 1987 or even Julia Child, How to Cook 1989 or the Silver Palate 1982) had a recipe for the dish! When I went online, it was a different story. Of course, lots of those recipes were the result of some processed cheese makers test kitchen efforts. There is every variation on Chicken Alfredo that you can conceive of including Cajun or pesto; with and without broccoli and other miscellaneous green stuff; baked in an oven or concocted on the stove top; served on green fettucine or on whole wheat pasta; and short-cuts abound: start with cream cheese or jarred Alfredo sauce. (Blech.)

I thought it might be interesting to find out who Alfredo was. Apparently, Alfredo Di Lelio who ran a restaurant started by his mother in Rome in the early to mid-1900s. Like many who are generally believe to “invent” a dish, Di Lelio embroidered upon a basic home-cooked pasta dish of buttered fettucine plus Parmesan cheese which actually appeared several centuries earlier. He used unaged and so somewhat oilier parmesan and added more butter to produce a richer dish. Another ingredient was considerable promotion. Chicken gets added to the mix later.

Mainly, it is pretty tasty stuff despite the historical hype.

Plain old fettucine tossed with butter and Parmesan is good. To improve on that, use heavy cream which will taste good and cover the pasta better. To make the sauce thicker, an egg yolk turns the cream, butter, and Parmesan into a kind of savory custard which will stick even better yet. I wanted to add chicken, so cut up a boneless breast into bite-sized pieces which I cooked lightly in olive oil, then set aside until I added them to the cooked pasta which I topped with the Alfredo sauce and tossed until it was all coated with the sauce.

Rather than add vegetables to the pasta and chicken combination, I sautéed spinach and broccoli rabe together with chopped shallot and served it alongside. The slight bitterness of the vegetables was a welcome contrast to the unctuousness of the pasta dish.

Chicken Alfredo
Serves: Four
  • ½ pound fettucine
  • 2 halves skinless, boneless breasts, cubed
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • ¾ cup heavy cream
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, or ¼ cup Parmesan and ¼ cup Romano
  • 1 egg yolk, stirred
  1. Set well-salted water on to boil for cooking pasta.
  2. Season cubed chicken with a few grinds of black pepper and salt to taste.
  3. Heat a skillet to a medium temperature, add olive oil, then add chicken to cook about five minutes, turning once.
  4. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside.
  5. Put pasta in boiling water to cook for 8-10 minutes.
  6. In the same skillet you used for the chicken, melt the butter, then add cream, cheese and egg yolk and whisk over medium heat until the sauce thickens.
  7. Drain the pasta and put into a serving bowl and top with the cooked chicken.
  8. Pour the thickened sauce over the pasta and chicken and toss until the sauce is well distributed.
  9. Serve with additional parmesan sprinkled on top.


Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.