Chicken Fra Diavolo is a spicy Italian dish made with a rich and spicy tomato sauce. It comes together in 20 minutes and is deliciously served with pasta, rice, veggies, or crusty bread.
One of my favorite Italian-American dishes is Shrimp Fra Diavolo. It’s hard to beat the spicy tomato sauce and sweet shrimp. It’s one of my favorite dishes to make for a dinner party.
A few weeks back we had a dinner guest with a shellfish allergy, so I decided to make some Fra Diavolo with chicken and it turned out so good I knew I had to share it.
The chicken is tender, the tomato sauce is spicy, and served over pasta with some roasted veggies on the side, it’s a meal I would happily eat every night.
What is Fra Diavolo sauce?
Fra Diavolo is a spicy Italian tomato sauce, that literally translates to “Brother Devil.” It's traditionally made with tomatoes, onion, garlic, red pepper flakes or Calabrian chili peppers, and herbs. Some versions are also made with white wine, seafood stock, or clam juice.
In most cases, Fra Diavolo is served with seafood like shrimp, lobster, or scallops. It can also be served with fish, chicken, or pork. Sometimes it is just used as a spicy sauce over pasta, similar to Arrabiata.
- Chicken: The recipe below is made with chicken breast, but this recipe works with all types of chicken. Boneless skinless chicken thighs are a great option and stay super tender. It is also really good with bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs. Brown them first in a hot pan and then let them cook in the sauce.
- Diced tomatoes: Tomatoes are the base of this sauce. Fire-roasted tomatoes add some extra flavor and are really good. Plain diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, or fresh tomatoes will all work. For some added sweetness, look for San Marzano tomatoes, which tend to be naturally sweeter.
- Onions and garlic: These aromatics build flavor and are a must in any sauce. Adjust the amount of garlic to suit your preferences, but make sure to use fresh. With simple sauces like this, it makes a big difference.
- Calabrian chilies or red pepper flakes: Bring on the heat with jarred Italian Calabrian chilies, Calabrian chili flakes, or red pepper flakes. Start with a small number of minced chilies or red pepper flakes and then add more until you hit your desired spice level. This can be made mild or really spicy.
- White wine: White wine adds a depth of flavor to the sauce and balances the other flavors. Swap in chicken broth if you like.
- Herbs: Italian seasoning is a quick way to add a mixture of dried herbs to the sauce. Then always finish the sauce with fresh basil and parsley if possible.
How to Make Fra Diavolo Sauce
Most people assume sauces like this are difficult to make, but this one is actually really simple.
- Cook the onions: Start by cooking down the onions in olive oil. Use diced onions if you want them to blend into the sauce more or sliced onions if you want some texture. Cook them until they are softened and becoming translucent.
- Add garlic and chilies: Next, add the minced garlic and spice. If you are using jarred Calabrian chilies, make sure to dice them before adding them. Start with 1 teaspoon of diced chilies or red pepper flakes (or more if you like things spicy). Stir everything until you can really smell the garlic and chili flakes.
- Deglaze the pan: At this point, there are probably some tasty little browned bits on the bottom of the pan. There is lots of flavor in those bits, so the white wine (or chicken broth) deglazes the pan and gets that flavor into the sauce. Simply add it and then use a wooden spoon to gently scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen them. Let the white wine cook for a couple of minutes so the alcohol can burn off and it doesn’t have a raw wine flavor.
- Add tomatoes and herbs: Add the spices and give them a stir. Then add the tomatoes. Bring everything to a simmer and cook for at least 10 minutes, but ideally longer if you have time. Like a good marinara or pasta sauce, letting it simmer longer will deepen the flavors. If you plan on simmering it for a long time, cover it so too much liquid doesn’t evaporate.
- Add your protein: If you are adding protein, you can cook it in the sauce or outside of the sauce. Quick-cooking proteins like chicken breast and shrimp are best cooked separately so they don’t overcook in the sauce. Proteins that take longer like bone-in chicken thighs can cook right in the sauce.
- Stir in fresh herbs: Finish the sauce with salt, pepper, fresh parsley, and fresh basil. Make sure to add enough salt so that the sauce is rich and flavorful.
Pro tip: When making seafood versions of this sauce, most chefs will cook the sauce with lobster shells or shrimp shells to get that really rich seafood flavor. If you have ever had Lobster Fra Diavolo, the sauce is made with lobster shells that cook down for hours in the sauce to create that deep shellfish flavor.
What to Serve with Chicken Fra Diavolo
This spicy Italian chicken dish can be served so many different ways. Here are our favorites.
- Pasta: It should come as no surprise that this is normally served on a bed of pasta. Try it with spaghetti, linguini, or penne.
- Polenta: Polenta is so comforting during cold months. This Basil Parmesan Polenta is the perfect base for this rich sauce.
- Vegetables: Add some garlicky sauteed spinach, roasted broccoli, and roasted garlic cauliflower mashed potatoes on the side.
- Salad: Add greens with this simple Arugula Salad or Spinach Salad.
- Bread: Grab some Italian bread, garlic knots, or breadsticks to serve on the side and soak up all that yummy sauce.
Leftover Chicken Fra Diavolo and just plain Fra Diavolo sauce keep really well in the fridge and freezer. In fact, many people like this dish even more after a night in the fridge. Let it fully cool before refrigerating or freezing.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the most common questions about making this dish.
If you find the sauce is too acidic from the tomatoes, you can add a touch of sugar to the sauce to balance the acid. A touch of cream can also help.
The same method will work if the sauce is too spicy. Or add some additional diced tomatoes or jarred marinara sauce to balance the spice.
There is some debate as to whether Fra Diavolo sauce is from Italy or if it was invented in New York at Italian-American restaurants. Either way, it was originally created as a spicy seafood sauce for shrimp or lobster but now is used with more proteins.
Chicken Fra Diavolo
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- 1 lb boneless skinless chicken breast, cubed
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (or black pepper)
- 1 tbsp butter (or olive oil)
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small onion, sliced thin
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 14 oz fire roasted diced tomatoes
- 1 tsp jarred Calabrian chilies (or red pepper flakes, more to taste)
- 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
- 2 tbsp fresh parsley
- 2 tbsp fresh basil
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* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
The Nutritional Values provided are estimates only and may vary based on the preparation method.
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