In my book Keeping the Feast: Metaphors for the Meal, the chapter called “Signature Dish” begins with these words:
My first date with Ginger, who is now my wife, was a Lyle Lovett concert in a tiny club in Fort Worth, Texas. On our second date, I cooked dinner for her. It was a Saturday night and I put together a mixture of fettuccine alfredo and cajun-spiced chicken that she thoroughly enjoyed. We fell in love with one another rather quickly, so we ate together most every Saturday night that spring and she asked for a repeat performance of the dish so often that we named it “Saturday Night Chicken.” Though we do eat a variety of food, that is our signature dish: the one we most associate with us.
Over the years, I have changed a few things as our tastes have changed or as I learned new things, but it is still pretty much like I made it that first Saturday night.
1 pound boneless chicken breast cutlets, cut in small pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
adobo seasoning (see note)
Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning
1/2-1 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
pasta water, if needed
Put a big pot of water on the stove to boil for the pasta. If you are using dry pasta, it will take longer to cook than fresh. The trick is to time it so the pasta finishes with the chicken and the alfredo sauce.
Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces–at least that is what we do. It also works to cut them in strips. Put them in a bowl and toss with the two seasonings. I use about a tablespoon of both because we like it spicy. Experiment to your own taste, or use other spice mixes. You can also add more as you are cooking.
Get a sauté pan or a skillet good and hot and then add the butter and olive oil. When the fats are hot, but not smoking, add the chicken pieces and cook until they are cooked through and a little crispy. Don’t overload the skillet. Put in just enough to kind of cover the bottom of the pan. Do it in batches if you need to. Then set the chicken aside for a minute to make the sauce.
When you know the pasta is close to being done, start making your alfredo sauce. Take another sauté pan and melt about 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add the cream. Then stir in the cheese. If you are draining the pasta through a colander, save about a half a cup of the water. If you are using a pasta fork (I think that’s what it’s called), put the pasta in with the butter, cream, cheese and stir it all so the pasta is covered. Stir over medium low heat until the cheese melts and it thickens a bit. If you need more moisture, add a little of the patsa water. You can also turn the heat up under the chicken for a minute to let it warm up.
Divide the pasta between bowls and top with the chicken.
Open a nice bottle of wine and feel the love.
NOTE: I used to buy my adobo seasoning, but now I make my own, adapting this recipe.
3 tablespoons garlic powder
3 tablespoons salt
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
You can pulse all of these in a coffee grinder, or just leave the spices as they are.