Chicken breast with mushrooms and snap peas is a fairly common dish with many minor variations, similar to many that you have seen in restaurants and food ‘zines and sites. Probably because it makes a great looking dish and combines many flavors with really tasty results. From the richness of the chicken, butter and mushrooms to the fresh feel from crispy snap peas and the lemon zest, juice and butter in the pasta, there is a lot going on. Take all that and serve it over Orzo to make it a complete meal. We also refer to this type of cooking as ‘ala minute’. That means it is a fairly quick cook process, not done in advance, and served immediately when finished cooking.
Orzo is a funny little noodle shape for pasta. The name is the same as barley in Italian, although this pasta is also called risoni, meaning large grain of rice, which it closely resembles. It is a common ingredient in soups, and lends itself well to being the base of a saucy dish like this.
It is a fast cook due to its diminutive size, and can overcook easily. We always like to cook pasta al dente, which directly translates as ‘to the tooth’, meaning it still has a little chew left, some firm texture. When done properly pasta will typically be simmered in the sauce it is served with to meld all those flavors together. Starting with al dente means you end with the right texture.
Other thoughts on process
This is a pleasantly rich dish that contrasts the rich creaminess of the sauce and mushrooms, with the brighter flavor of the pasta tasting of the lemon notes mixed with the butter. It actually has enough flavor it will tend to overpower a white wine. Conversely it may not stand up to a big red wine. That means it is perfect for a lightly chilled dry rose, a gamay or light pinot noir, or possibly even a lighter chianti. It’s pasta; we’re certain you’ll find the right wine, maybe some Italian bread or focaccia too.
In this case, even though we will not be simmering, you want to start with al dente because of carry over cooking. Carry over is the affect of residual heat in the food that continues to cook after removing heat.
You want the orzo done first so it is ready and waiting when the rest of the dish is finished. Cream sauces can be delicate and need some care to their timing. Too much heat or too long on the heat and you risk the butterfat separating, what we call ‘breaking’ the sauce. This means you ideally want to get it out of the pan right away when finished so that it doesn’t break. Your al dente orzo should then be a great texture to compliment the other ingredients. So, let’s get cooking!
Chicken Breast with Mushrooms & Snap Peas served over Orzo
- 4 Scallions or green onions
- 8 Ounces Button or crimini mushrooms
- 2 Cups Sugar snap peas
- 1 Lemon
- 4 Boneless skinless chicken breasts
- ¼ Cup Heavy cream
- 1 Lb. Orzo
- 3 Tablespoons Unsalted butter, divided
- 2 Tablespoon Canola oil
- 1 Teaspoon Curry powder or to taste
- 3 Tablespoons Sea salt, divided
- Black pepper to taste
- Fill the pasta pot 2/3 with water, add 2 Tablespoons salt, 1 Tablespoon oil and put over high heat
- Trim the scallions, pull off any limp leaves, cut off the ends of the leaves and cut away the root end.
- Slice the scallions into thin rounds
- Trim the ends of the mushroom stems and wipe the mushrooms clean with a damp towel. Cut the mushrooms into quarters or thick slices
- Trim the snap peas and slice them crosswise into thin slices
- Zest the lemon, squeeze juice
- Cut the chicken breasts across the grain into slices about ½ inch thick
- Preheat a heavy skillet over medium heat
- When the water boils add the orzo, stir, and cook until it is al dente, about 7 minutes or as the package recommends
- Put 1 tbsp. butter and 1 tbsp. oil in the heavy skillet. When the butter oil mix is hot, add the chicken and move it around it so it’s covered on all sides.
- Sprinkle it with 1 generous tsp. curry powder (or to taste), salt and pepper
- Continue to cook, moving the chicken in the pan occasionally, until it is almost opaque through, about 5 minutes
- Transfer the chicken to a bowl or dish
- Keep the pan over the heat, add 1 Tablespoon butter
- Increase the heat to medium-high.
- Add the mushrooms to the pan
- Keep the mushrooms moving in the pan and cook until they’re browned and start to give off some liquid, about 4 minutes.
- Check the orzo. If it’s al dente, drain and put it into a large bowl
- Add 2 Tablespoons butter, the lemon juice and the zest, then toss or stir to mix.
- Season the orzo with salt and pepper if desired, put in a warm location near the stove until ready to serve
- Add the peas and half the scallion slices to the mushrooms and keeping it all in motion in the skillet
- Return the chicken to the pan still keeping everything moving
- Cook just until everything is hot, 1-2 minutes, avoid overcooking the peas and scallions
- Add the cream to the chicken and veggies stirring gently and keeping it moving until well blended and everything is well coated
- Remove from the heat, and adjust the seasoning if needed
- Divide the orzo among four plates or pasta bowls.
- Top with equal amounts of chicken and veggies, sprinkle remaining scallion slices over the top for color
- Take the plates to the table and don’t forget the bread and wine!