Creamy lemon chicken pasta is one of our newest favorites. Lemon zest imparts bright citrus flavor which is perfectly balanced by the Parmigiano Reggiano cream sauce. Simple seared chicken adds additional taste and texture, plus the addition of egg yolks at the end takes this from creamy to luxurious in a matter of seconds. Bookmark this recipe - it's sure to be one you use again and again!
Who doesn't love a good cream sauce?
I'm always looking for ways to add, tweak, or improve some of the tried and true.
This creamy lemon chicken pasta is a riff on the more traditional pasta al limone, which is delicious in its own right.
We've added chicken here for a heartier meal, but my favorite addition is the egg yolks.
Added just at the end, the egg yolks contribute to the already silky texture and help the sauce cling to the pasta (and chicken) ensuring that every bite is full of creamy, cheesy flavor.
A bit like carbonara, but with lemons and chicken instead of guanciale!
How to make it
Each number corresponds to the numbered written steps below.
- Bring a large pot of salted (2 tablespoons of kosher salt per gallon) water to boil. Zest 2 lemons and grate 1 cup of Parmigiano Reggiano. Edit: In the picture below you'll see lemon juice but it is not needed for this recipe.
- Fillet and pound the chicken breasts until flat. Dry them well with paper towels, then season on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat a stainless steel or cast iron pan to medium heat and wait 3 minutes. Coat the pan with olive oil and add the chicken to the pan. Sear the chicken on both sides until browned and cooked through (about 6-7 minutes total). Work in batches to not overcrowd the pan. Place the cooked chicken on a clean cutting board and cover with tented foil.
- Begin to cook your pasta to 1 minute less than al dente. While that's cooking, heat a large clean pan to medium-low heat and add the butter and half the lemon zest.
- Once the butter is melted, add the cream and cheese and bring to a simmer. The sauce will begin to thicken after a few minutes of simmering.
- Slice the chicken into bite-sized pieces and add a ½ cup of pasta water and the chicken to the sauce and continue to cook over moderate heat while waiting for the pasta to finish cooking.
- Add the pasta to the sauce and mix or toss to coat. Cook until just al dente. If the pasta is too dry, add some more of the reserved pasta water a little at a time to get a perfect consistency.
- Remove the pan from the heat and wait 30 seconds. Add the egg yolks and mix rapidly or toss to coat and emulsify. Note: The reason to wait 30 seconds is to not scramble the eggs once the yolks hit a too-hot pan. Once you add the yolks, mix or toss immediately!
- Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with the remaining zest divided onto each plate and more Parmigiano Reggiano. Enjoy!
Top tips for Creamy Pasta with Lemon and Chicken
- The chicken. I used thick-cut chicken breasts for this recipe because they are more economical. It only takes a few minutes to fillet and pound them thin. If you prefer less work, you can definitely purchase the thin-sliced cutlets but they will be more expensive. The trick to making juicy chicken is to sear them to just 160f (I prefer a stainless steel pan) and not overcrowd the pan. Then, let them rest before slicing.
- The sauce. Be sure that when you start your sauce you use a clean pan. We don't want the brown bits from the chicken as it will take away from the clean lemon flavor and silky texture of the sauce. Note: I feel the need to address this from people thinking you always need to make a sauce by deglazing. Sometimes you don't want to do that.
- The pasta. I used one of my favorite pasta shapes for cream sauce, paccheri. It's similar in shape and size to the chunks of chicken and it holds up to the cream sauce perfectly. If you can't find paccheri, you can use rigatoni or penne, or fettuccine or pappardelle would also work well.
- The egg yolks. The egg yolks are optional in this recipe, but I feel that they add another dimension to this pasta and intensify the silky/custardy texture. If you choose to add them, make sure you remove the pan from the heat and wait 30-45 seconds (so you don't get scrambled eggs) before adding them. Then mix rapidly, or toss to emulsify and coat the pasta.
More creamy pasta recipes
If you love creamy pastas as much as I do, check out some of my other favorites:
- Pasta alla Norcina - Sausage, white wine, and cream with a touch of nutmeg.
- Chicken Alfredo pasta - Blackened chicken and pasta tossed in a butter and Parmigiano Reggiano cream sauce.
- Penne al Baffo - Pasta and ham tossed in a creamy pink sauce.
- Mushroom Brandy Cream Sauce - Mushrooms and pasta tossed in a brandy and tomato-based cream sauce.
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- 1 pound paccheri or rigatoni, penne, ziti, etc
- 1 ½ pounds chicken breast filleted and pounded flat
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 7 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup Parmigiano Reggiano grated, plus more for serving
- 1 cup heavy cream
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 large lemons zested, about 1 ½ tablespoons of zest
- 1 ½ cups reserved pasta water will most likely not need it all
- 2 large egg yolks optional
- Bring a large pot of salted (2 tablespoons kosher salt per gallon) water to boil.
- Dry the chicken cutlets with paper towels then season with salt and pepper on both sides.
- Heat a stainless steel or cast iron pan to medium heat and wait 3 minutes. Coat the pan with olive oil and add the chicken to the pan. Sear the chicken on both sides until browned and cooked through (about 6-7 minutes total time). Work in batches to not overcrowd the pan. Place the cooked chicken on a cutting board and tent with foil. Begin cooking the pasta to 1 minute less than al dente.
- While the pasta is cooking heat a large clean pan to medium-low heat and add the butter and half the lemon zest. Once melted add the cream and cheese and bring to a simmer. The sauce will begin to thicken after a couple of minutes of simmering.
- Slice the chicken into bite-size pieces. Add a ½ cup of pasta water and the chicken to the sauce and continue to cook over moderate heat while waiting for the pasta to cook.
- Add the pasta to the sauce and mix or toss to coat. Cook until just al dente. If the pasta is too dry add some more of the reserved pasta water, a bit at a time, to get a perfect consistency.
- Remove the pan from the heat and wait 30 seconds. Add the egg yolks and mix rapidly or toss to coat and emulsify. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with the remaining zest divided onto each plate and more Parmigiano Reggiano. Enjoy!
- The egg yolks are optional, but they really help to keep the sauce creamy and emulsified.
- Buy thin-sliced chicken cutlets or fillet whole chicken breasts. Pound out cutlets to about a ½" thick for even cooking that will only take approximately 3-4 minutes per side.
- Always save your pasta water! Use the reserved pasta water to thin out the pasta if it is too thick or dries out. Just add a couple of ounces at a time to get a perfectly creamy consistency.
- Leftovers can be saved for up to 3 days in the fridge.
This is the first of your recipes that I’ve tried, and it certainly won’t be the last! Your YouTube videos are wonderful and this blog is a very helpful compliment to it.
I made a half batch and it scaled down easily. I was so excited to find paccheri at Target because I hadn’t heard of that shape before. Even my picky husband enjoyed it! Winner winner chicken pasta dinner!
Hi Jenny, thanks for watching the videos and I'm so happy you enjoyed this recipe!
Dianna M Penza
This is something that I am going to try ASAP. I love chicken lemone!!! I have had it when mushrooms and capers were added to the sauce. Have you ever heard of that? I just love watching you and cook many of your items. Good Job
Hi Dianna, thanks for the comment and let us know how it turns out when you make it! I have a few lemon recipes on the site including chicken piccata (with capers), and chicken francese, in addition to pasta al limone. So happy you're enjoying the videos!
Another hit with the family! My only issue is a tiny one as I rarely sear chicken when it’s “ naked.” Even if it’s just using a simple flour dredge, I feel it protects the chicken from tasting dry. I took them out of the skillet at 160 but they still seemed a little dry. So, before I sliced the chicken, I slowly simmered the cutlets in the cream to tenderize and moisten them up. It seemed to do the trick!! Will definitely be making this again!
Hi Linda, so happy you enjoyed the recipe and appreciate the comment!