Creamy lemon chicken pasta makes an easy weeknight meal - it comes together in 30 minutes or less! Pasta and shredded rotisserie chicken are tossed in a creamy homemade sauce with a hint of bright lemon flavor.
If you love pasta with alfredo sauce, you may want to give this creamy lemon chicken pasta a try. Rich and indulgent, with a bright lemon flavor - it's perfect for spring!
Shredded rotisserie chicken makes this recipe effortless on a busy weeknight. Boil a pot of your favorite long pasta while shredding your rotisserie chicken. Then, make a quick lemon alfredo sauce on the stovetop (it takes less than ten minutes!). Toss in your chicken and pasta - dinner is ready to serve!
Creamy lemon chicken pasta makes a wonderful warm weather meal. The hint of lemon adds a bright, fresh flavor that's perfect for spring and summer. Serve with a side salad, some crusty bread, or sautéed zucchini.
Ingredients and substitutions
- Pasta - Any long pasta, like spaghetti, linguine, or fettucine will work in this recipe. You could also try using penne or farfalle (bow ties).
- Rotisserie chicken - Shred the meat from a whole rotisserie chicken (light and dark meat). Or, substitute with about 12 ounces of lightly seasoned and cooked shredded chicken.
Creamy lemon alfredo sauce:
- Butter - Unsalted butter can be substituted with salted butter (you'll want to reduce the listed salt by half).
- Garlic - If you don't have fresh garlic on hand, it can be substituted with garlic powder (added with your other seasonings). However, fresh garlic adds exceptional flavor to your sauce that you won't get from garlic powder.
- Heavy cream - Is a must. It gives your sauce a rich, thick, and smooth texture without the need for thickening agents like flour or cornstarch.
- Parmesan cheese - Use freshly grated cheese from a block. Pre-shredded cheeses (like green canisters of cheese at the grocery store) are coated in anti-clumping powders. When melted, these powders will make your sauce grainy. To prevent a grainy or clumpy sauce, grate your cheese yourself. It only takes a minute, but makes a major difference in the texture of your sauce.
- Seasoning - Salt, pepper and Italian seasoning (you can use homemade or store bought). Italian seasoning can be substituted with equal parts of any Italian herbs you have on hand, like oregano, basil, and thyme.
- Lemon - You'll be using the juice and zest of a fresh lemon in this recipe.
Reserved pasta water
One of the most important ingredients you'll need today is reserved pasta water. Once your pasta has finished cooking, the pasta water will look slightly cloudy. This water contains starches that have been released from the pasta while it cooks.
Adding this reserved pasta water to your alfredo sauce makes it rich, thick, and creamy, but not heavy.
Did you forget to reserve pasta water before your drained your pasta? That's okay - it happens to us all! To substitute 1 cup of pasta water, add ¼ teaspoon of cornstarch to a cup of water and whisk until dissolved.
I don't want to be the bearer of bad news, but alfredo sauces generally do not keep well as a leftover. This recipe is best enjoyed fresh. Cream based sauces do not freeze well, and alfredo sauce in particular does not reheat well.
When reheated, the sauce separates - one part is gloppy/cheesy and the other part is pure butter. Not very appetizing!
Why does this happen? In short, the emulsion breaks. An emulsion is formed between the liquids and the fats during the cooking process. That emulsion breaks when reheated in a microwave or on the stovetop.
Have leftovers? Here's what I recommend: add your leftovers to a pan over medium-low to low heat on the stovetop. Add a splash of cream to help keep your sauce creamy. Heat up slowly, stirring occasionally, until warmed through. Heating slowly will give your sauce a better chance of holding together.
What to serve with chicken pasta
Here are a few of my favorite side dishes to serve with a creamy pasta:
- Freezer garlic bread
- Garlic bread cheese balls
- Sautéed zucchini and onions
- Chopped kale avocado salad
- Strawberry spinach salad
- Green beans and onions
Creamy Lemon Chicken Pasta
- 8 ounces dry spaghetti, uncooked
- 12 ounces shredded rotisserie chicken
Creamy lemon sauce
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- ½ teaspoon Italian seasoning
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- Bring a stock pot of salted water to a boil. Cook spaghetti according to package directions for al dente pasta. Before draining, ladle out 1 cup of pasta water and reserve for later. Drain pasta and set aside.
- Over medium heat, add butter to a sauté pan. Once melted and bubbling, add minced garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add heavy cream, lemon zest, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper. Stir and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until sauce has thickened slightly. Add parmesan cheese and stir until melted.
- Reduce heat to low. Add your cooked spaghetti, lemon juice and ½ to ¾ cup of reserved pasta water (from step 1) to the pot and toss to coat (add more reserved pasta water as needed to achieved desired sauce consistency). Add shredded chicken and toss to coat just before serving.
- Forget to reserve pasta water? Add ¼ teaspoon of cornstarch to 1 cup of water and whisk until completely dissolved.
- This recipe makes just enough sauce to lightly coat your pasta and chicken. If you love lots of sauce, I recommend doubling the sauce portion of the recipe.
- Cream sauce does not make a great leftover - sauce will separate (the emulsion breaks) when reheated in the microwave or on the stovetop.
- Substituting heavy cream with half & half or milk will make your sauce very thin and less creamy (and could curdle from the addition of lemon juice) - I do not recommend substituting heavy cream in this recipe.
- Pre-shredded cheeses contain anti-clumping powders that when melted, will make your sauce grainy. I do not recommend using pre-shredded cheese.