When I was right out of college and teaching myself to cook, I tried to reverse-engineer Ruby Tuesday’s Sonora Chicken Pasta. I hate to date myself, but this was back in the days of Web 1.0 before seemingly everything was posted online. I didn’t want to literally recreate the dish, as I found the sauce too rich. I just wanted to perfect that creamy taste and texture that coated the noodles and tickled the back of your throat with a slight hint of spiciness. I never wrote down the recipe I eventually worked out, and it’s been at least five years since I last made it. The wife has been requesting it for months, so I thought I’d finally perfect the dish and record the recipe for posterity.
If you search for the Sonoroa Chicken Pasta recipe now, it’s easy to find. After reading a few versions, it’s apparent why I thought the sauce was too rich. It calls for so much Velveeta Cheese that it’s halfway to being Rotel Dip. My version of the dish is creamier, easier to make, and, frankly, I think it tastes better.
Here’s pretty much everything you need:
Spicy Chicken Pasta
- 1 pound penne pasta
- 2 chicken breasts, sliced
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 red pepper, diced
- 1 green bell pepper, diced
- 1 jalapeno pepper, diced
- 1-2 roma tomatoes, diced
- 6 tablespoons butter, divided
- 2 cups heavy cream or half and half
- 4 oz (half a brick) of Philadelphia Cream Cheese
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1½ teaspoons hot sauce
- 2½ teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Parmesan cheese for garnish
There’s nothing complicated here. Just dice all of the vegetables and set aside. Next, season the chicken with salt and pepper and saute over medium-high heat in two tablespoons of butter. You can slice the chicken, dice it, or cook the breasts whole and slice them later; whichever you prefer. After the chicken is cooked, remove it to a plate and cover with foil.
If there’s a lot of fond on the bottom of the saute pan, add a little water to deglaze it. Next, melt another two tablespoons of butter and toss in the diced vegetables (but not the tomato). Sprinkle a big pinch of salt over everything so the vegetables will release their water. Saute until softened, about ten minutes. While the vegetables are cooking, put your pasta pot over high heat. When the vegetables are softened, remove them to a plate and set aside. Toss the dry pasta into the pot of boiling, salted water. It should take around ten minutes to cook, which is about how long it will take to make the sauce.
Reduce the heat on the saute pan to medium and add the remaining two tablespoons of butter. Once it’s melted, add the flour and stir with a whisk to make a basic roux. Once it’s pulled together, add the cream off the heat and whisk like crazy until the lumps are gone. Next, add the cream cheese, hot sauce, Old Bay, salt and pepper, and stir until everything is incorporated. The sauce will thicken up when it reaches a simmer.
Once it’s bubbling, add the sauteed vegetables (and the tomato) to the sauce and simmer on medium-low to cook off the starchy taste of the flour. When the noodles are about done, taste the sauce and season with extra salt, pepper and Old Bay if you think it needs it. You want sauces like this to be a little over-seasoned. When you eat it, each bite will consist of 90% bland noodles, so the sauce will need to have a little extra oomph.
The spicy cream sauce should be finished at the same time as the noodles. You want the noodles to be a little more al dente than usual since they’ll continue to cook in the hot cream sauce for a few minutes. Just strain the noodles, pour them back into the pasta pot, add the sauce, and stir to coat evenly. You want the sauce to ooze into all of the holes in the pasta (if you’re smart, you made sure to buy penne noodles that have ridges on the outside so the sauce has something to cling to). You can add the chicken now, or plate it on top of the creamy and mildly spicy pasta. Just make sure you pour any chicken juices from the plate into the sauce at some point.
Garnish with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and enjoy. Look how well the sauce coats the penne.
This recipe sounds complicated, but it’s really not. It’s thirty minutes with a pot and a pan and you end up with tons of delicious leftovers. You can also use this recipe as a base and create all kinds of variations with asiago cheese and roasted garlic, broccoli and cauliflower, shrimp and bacon, etc. It’s not really all that different from my Rich & Creamy Cheese Grits recipe, which makes the best damn grits you’ve ever had.