Ready in 20 minutes, this pasta dish is bursting with great color, flavor, and creamy goodness. If you like your pasta a little tangy with a little heat, you’ll love the fresh lemon and smoked paprika in this recipe.
Do we love fast dinners that pack in the flavor? Yes. That’s exactly why I’m so excited to share some methods with you for making your chicken incredibly moist and tender.
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Step 1: Pound the Chicken
It’s really important to pound the chicken breast. You want the thickness of the breast to be even and pounding helps with this. That way, your chicken will cook more evenly. But there’s another reason we pound the chicken. This step is the secret to getting really tender chicken because it helps the proteins (and connective tissues) relax a bit.
When you hit the meat, try to just tap it. You don’t want to put holes in it. You can wrap the meat in plastic wrap to prevent a mess. I like to pound both sides of the meat, then season generously with salt and pepper.
Step 2: Pan-Sear the Chicken
Pan-seared chicken locks in the juices by creating a crust. I like to cook the chicken over medium heat in a heavy high-sided pan as the pasta cooks so that they are done around the same time.
If you want to maintain more crispiness on the chicken, you can cook it a little longer on each side. Aim for a deep golden brown color. While I left my chicken in the pan with the sauce, if you want the chicken to maintain more of a crispy outside, you can remove it from the pan before making the sauce.
Step 3: Making a Great Cream Sauce
Start the cream sauce by adding smoked paprika to the pan juices along with the lemon zest. This is really important because those flavors infuse the oil.
Next, add fresh lemon juice to the pan. The acid in the lemon helps dissolve the pieces that stick to the bottom of the pan. Almost right away, you pour the heavy cream in the pan. The sauce will thicken the hotter it is so you may want to increase the amount of cream (or add a splash of pasta water to thin out).
Step 4: Sauce the Fusilli
Fusilli is a great choice for a thinner sauce like this because it just wraps around all the little folds. You can use your favorite pasta or choose a gluten free noodle if you like.
Toss the noodles with the sauce in the pan. If it looks like the sauce is too dry, add extra cream and smoked paprika. Just like that, dinner is ready!
How to Store and Reheat Pasta
With any cream sauce, it will thicken considerably in the fridge. I like to store this in a Tupperware container for up to 3 days. When I’m ready to heat it, I add a little splash of water and microwave a single portion for about 1 minute 30 seconds.
Leftovers taste delicious but the cream sauce won’t be as velvety smooth when reheated. The only work-around for this would be to remake the sauce in the pan with butter, smoked paprika, lemon zest, and cream.
While I love the simplicity of this dinner, if you want to add vegetables, go for it! You could toss in some broccoli florets right before straining the pasta. These only take about 40 seconds to cook.
I also like to shave a little fresh lemon on top. I think the flavor is really nice sans cheese, but you could also sprinkle on some Parmesan or fresh parsley.
Top Tips: Use organic chicken breasts if possible and be sure to use smoked paprika. Remove the chicken from the pan only if you want a crispier crust.
*If you need this to be gluten free, simply choose a gluten free pasta. The rest of the recipe is naturally gluten free.
Chicken Fusilli with Lemon Paprika Sauce
- Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add a very large pinch of salt, along with the fusilli and large strip lemon zest. Simmer on high heat until al dente. Reserve 1/4 cup pasta water, then strain pasta.
- Tenderize the chicken breast by lightly pounding both sides. Season generously with salt and pepper on both sides.
- Heat a large pan over medium heat and melt the butter. Add the chicken breast and sear until crispy, 6 minutes each side. (Remove the chicken if you want the chicken to stay crispy before the next step).
- Add the lemon zest, smoked paprika, and salt to the pan juices. Heat for 1 minute then add the lemon juice. Scrape any bits that may have stuck to the bottom of the pan.
- Turn off the heat and add the heavy cream and reserved pasta water (1/4 cup). Stir and add the noodles, tossing to coat. You can add some heat to thicken the sauce a bit or thin it out by adding extra cream.
- We place large strips of lemon peel in with the pasta water. This cooks away the bitterness and we get to experience the lemon peel as we eat the pasta.Use a peeler to get thin strips of zest.
- Smaller lemon zest gets added to the cream sauce to brighten things up. I use a microplane to get the fine zest.When zesting a lemon, be sure to remove only the outer layer of the lemon peel. Do not use the pith as it has a bitter taste.