Even in this year, in this time, I can’t help but feel some magic waiting around the corner when I step outside and feel that cold in the currents. Holding my little girl who’s wonderment at Outside knows no bounds, I get nostalgic, hopeful, maybe a little sad. I remember the longer falls of my youth. The sweaters and polka dots and crockpot potpourri my mother (every mother) had bubbling in the living room. I guess fall makes me think of childhood. And somehow amid everything now, fall feels stuck in my childhood. Like, I haven’t experienced it since I left Mom’s house. Like I always seem to blink or look the other way and poof…fall is gone.
I guess that makes me think about growing up in general. I use the active term growing up because even though I’m 34, have a 12-year-old stepson, a 1-year-old daughter, and a grey-bearded husband, I feel like I’m still on my way. I remember asking my mom once when it happens. When you feel like “I’ve done it. I grew up.” She couldn’t answer me.
I feel it in little ways. When I make a better decision or have a better reason. When I realize something previously unknown or unseen. When I choose the benefit of my loved ones over myself.
I feel it when I hold my daughter and feel the cold wind, even in the 70-degree sunshine. I feel it when I realize, if I do this right, she’ll get her falls and her winters and her summers and her springs. She’ll feel safe and like time moves slowly and quickly all at once. She’ll smirk at the fads I glommed onto or the decoration so very stuck in the decades behind her. She’ll hold her own daughter or son or puppy or maybe she’ll be alone. But she’ll feel the cold in the air for the first time and she’ll know, no matter what, we keep going.
The crisp will always come.
This recipe reminds me that cyclical can be fresh. That old can find something new. That fall will be fall even when it isn’t. It starts with a recipe my mother rediscovered and told me about, that I tweaked and ultimately added to until I made it my own.
While this chicken paired unbelievably well with this alfredo sauce, it also tastes great on its own with any seasonal sides. But if you’re looking for something to warm the belly and comfort the bones, I recommend it the way it is below.
I hope you enjoy it the way I do. I hope you share it if you can. When you can.
When Chicken Was Normal…
I found for the last few years that my chicken recipes weren’t going the way I remembered them. Especially recipes passed down from my mother or grandmas. The chicken didn’t cook the way I remember chicken cooking and I was often worried about it being cooked through. I’d end up with tough, unenjoyable chicken without the dept of flavor penetration I expected and remembered.
And then I realized why. Chicken has gone on a steroid rampage since my childhood. The average size of a chicken breast now is over twice the size it was in the 1920s. That size jump has skyrocketed since the 90s when we were eating chicken breast from regular sized chicken, not hulk chickens. They’re breeding chicken to be larger to get more product but making a far less enjoyable and tasty and easy to cook piece of meat. Yay capitalism!
Anyway, after this realization, I had another and it has quite literally changed my life. I cut my chicken breasts in half. All of them. Every time. Now if you’re lucky enough to be able to buy normal-sized chicken breasts, great, don’t worry about cutting them. But most chain grocers have brands like Smart Chicken and those chicken breast are giiiiiigantic. Essentially, 1 lb of chicken should be able to feed four people easily. Most prepackaged chicken these days is around 1 lb and only contains 2 chicken breasts. Cutting them in half and giving them a quick pound has revolutionized my relationship with cooking chicken. There isn’t a single recipe using boneless skinless breasts that I don’t do this for now.
My second magic trick is my very very used very very helpful very very makes me happy meat thermometer. I used to constantly be worried about whether or not I was cooking the chicken all the way through. Now I’m positive each time that my chicken’s internal temperature is perfect ensuring I don’t overcook it and don’t poison my family. It’s a win-win.
Invest in a digital meat thermometer. Cut your chicken breasts in half. Thank me later.
Freshly Ground Pepper? Is It Worth It?
Yes. Yes, it is. Listen, I use regular pre-ground black pepper like nobody’s business but the flavor of freshly ground peppercorn is entirely different than that of your standard table black pepper. Trust me, after learning the hard way in my 20s, when a recipe calls for the fresh cracked pepper, use it if you can. In this particular dish, the aromatics bring out the nuttiness of the parmesan and the earthiness of the nutmeg.
Nutmeg Alfredo Chicken
- About 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- Kosher Salt
- Fresh Cracked Pepper
- 2 T Unsalted Butter
- 1 T Good Olive Oil
- 1/2 C White Wine
- 1 lb. Fettuccine, Linguine, or Spaghetti
- 3 T Unsalted Butter
- 3 Garlic cloves, minced
- 1 C Whole milk
- 1 C Heavy cream
- 1 C Freshly grated parmesan
- Additional Salt & Pepper to taste
- Cutting board
- Knife for cutting meat
- Meat mallet
- Various measuring cups and spoons
- Wooden spoon
- Large skillet with high sides
- Pot for cooking pasta
- Cut the chicken breasts in half to make four equal pieces. Pound the chicken with a meat mallet to even out the thickness.
- Season both sides of each chicken piece with kosher salt, fresh cracked pepper, and nutmeg. Don’t skimp on the nutmeg but don’t go nuts. You should end up with a nice mix of all three spices on both sides of the chicken.
- Over medium to medium-high heat (depending on the way your stovetop heats) melt the 2 T unsalted butter and 1 T olive oil in a large enough skillet, with high sides, to fit all chicken pieces.
- Give the pan a good swirl once the butter has melted and the heat is evenly dispersed. Add the chicken to the pan and cook for about 4 to 5 minutes without moving. Get a nice golden color on there.
- Flip the chicken and cook for about 4 to 5 more minutes. A meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the chicken should register 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Once you’re there, remove the chicken to a plate with high enough edges to keep juices from spilling, and set it aside.
- Back in the pan, add your white wine and deglaze the pan scraping up the brown bits with a wooden spoon. Cook until it reduces into a kind of delicious nutmeg wine golden brown thin and incorporated sauce. Turn the heat off, pour all of that golden yum into a bowl or container (I use a glass measuring cup), and set it aside. Gently wipe out the pan with a paper towel.
- Start bringing your pasta water to a boil. Cook the pasta to package directions. Don’t drain it and don’t please please for the love of whatever you believe in DON’T rinse your pasta. This part should *fingers crossed* time out pretty well.
- In that same skillet, melt 3 T unsalted butter over medium heat. Let it get nice and melty but don’t let it brown. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute or until fragrant without wafting or leaning.
- Turn the heat down to low. If your stovetop is like mine, you may need to remove the pan from the burner for a little bit to help bring the heat down on your pan. You want a low temperature so as not to burn the milk or cause your sauce to separate. Once the heat is low, slowly whisk in the milk and cream. Bring the heat of the liquid up a bit and then add the parmesan cheese. Fully mix in. Season with kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste. I like to see those little flecks of pepper in the white. But it’s up to you and your taste preference.
- Let that sauce thicken as you cook your pasta. Once you’re about a minute or two away from the pasta being that perfect al dente, grab 1/4 C of the pasta water and add to the alfredo. Dump your golden sauce into the alfredo and incorporate. Keep cooking until it thickens up.
- Using tongs, add your pasta to the alfredo pot. Using a wooden spoon, pretty forcefully mix the pasta and alfredo sauce, covering every inch of pasta with the alfredo.
- Cut your rested chicken into strips.
- Grab your prettiest bowls and portion out your pasta, topping each serving with some of the nutmeg chicken.
- Serve with optional extra fresh grated parmesan and, if you’ve got it on hand, a bit of parsley.