It is typical of American Cookery to take a perfectly good dish from another culture and then adapt and tweak it into something unrecognizable… and for it to become so wildly popular that we lose sight of the original. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing.
Fettuccine Alfredo began its existence as a simple and elegant preparation of fresh egg pasta, butter, and cheese. (see ESSAY.) But America– for better or worse– can’t leave well enough alone… and thus, with the addition of chicken breast meat, cream, garlic, and a few micro-tweaks, we arrive at an embarrassingly delicious bastardization of the original.
Restaurants like the CAYUGA LOUNGE must necessarily offer food that its customers expect and demand or else go out of business, and Chicken Alfredo was a popular (and profitable) menu feature right up until its 1971 closure.
For two generous servings, gather the following for deployment:
2 smallish ½ chicken breasts, boneless and skinless
Your choice of pasta (needn’t necessarily be fettuccine)
FOR THE SAUCE–
3 Cloves of Garlic, Finely Minced
Dab of Clarified Butter
1 Cup Heavy Cream
¼ Stick Vermont Creamery Unsalted Cultured Butter at Room Temperature
¼-½ Cup Shredded Grana Padano Cheese
Finely Chopped Italian Parsley (for garnish)
Freshly Ground Pepper
Pinch of Freshly Grated Parmesan (for topping)
A dab of demi-glace OR 2 Tbsp rich chicken stock
A dab of Better than Bouillon®
Briefly cook garlic in just enough clarified butter until it is about to change color. Add cream and reduce by half. Stir in dab of Better than Bouillon® and either demi-glace or rich chicken stock. Remove from heat and swirl in butter. Stir in Grana Padano. Stir occasionally while the well-salted pasta water comes to a boil and the chicken breasts simmer.
COOKING THE CHICKEN–
There are numerous ways to cook chicken breasts; for this recipe we poach them, because scorched edges or grill marks would be incongruous with this dish’s baseline gentle creaminess. Also, poaching affords the opportunity to hold the breasts at the proper temperature in their cooking liquid while we finish preparing the other components. To poach breasts, sauté onions, celery, & carrot (mirepoix) in a 3-qt. Saucepan and then add just enough water to poach (2) ½ breasts. (Optional– add 2 bay leaves and a little rich chicken stock.) simmer furiously for a few minutes, then lower heat and add breasts. Simmer them gently; definitely do not boil or they will toughen.
Assuming you can cook your pasta without direction, cook it and then toss with some of the sauce to thoroughly coat. Add pasta to individual plates or bowls. Slice the breasts, toss with some sauce in a small bowl, and then decoratively layer atop the pasta. Sprinkle with parmesan and parsley, then serve.
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I’ve recently made occasional mention of “rich chicken stock” as a useful ingredient. Here’s how I make it–
Every week I purchase two small whole organic chickens and roast them on a bed of sliced onions at 350º until they reach an internal temperature of 160º. I let them cool and then pull all the skinless meat from the bones. I then simmer everything else (bones, skin, onions, pan goop) in a pot of water for a couple of hours. Then I strain it and reduce it by half or more, producing a dark and rich substance that is loaded with flavors and nutrients, and also gelatinizes when chilled. The meat keeps well in my truck fridge and saves me about $15/day in fast food expenses, and it provides my bride with a tasty and healthy addition to her salads while I’m away. The rich chicken stock, meanwhile, is a magical addition to this Chicken Alfredo and numerous other dishes.