Make Starving Student Chicken: the meal my kids beg me to make

I asked my daughter Amalia what she’d like for her birthday dinner. We’d be spending her birthday evening at home, and I wanted to make sure that it was special. We wouldn’t have a family party until the weekend, when Bryan wasn’t working and everybody could come.

She mused just a moment.What’s that dish you used to make, with the chicken and the spaghetti and the garlic . . . and hot pepper flakes . . . and . . . parsley?”


She got me with the “used to make.” Gosh. It had been a while since I’d made Starving Student Chicken, and I knew that that was what she was talking about. She waxed on with a dreamy look in her eyes ” . . . and sometimes you put shrimp in it, instead of chicken . . . it seems like you marinate it first . . .” I fished around in my cabinet full of cookbooks, but I couldn’t find the cookbook with that recipe.


I felt a stab of guilt, that my now-fifteen-year-old daughter couldn’t remember the name of one of our family’s favorite dinners. I have been doing so much writing and painting (on our melodrama set) that Amalia had been doing much of the cooking. Gulp. The guilt was quickly pushed away, though, as my mind ticked off the ingredients that went into this delicious meal, mentally locating each one.

I didn’t need the cookbook, after all. The recipe was already in my head. There was fresh parsley and half a bottle of leftover white wine in the ‘fridge, chicken breasts downstairs in the freezer, and there was a pound of spaghetti in the cabinet. And I nearly always have garlic, soy sauce, and parmesan cheese on hand. And the all-important hot pepper flakes.

I wouldn’t even have to run to the grocery store for anything. You probably have all the ingredients for this meal in your pantry and freezer, too. It’s pretty amazing to me that you can make something this special and delicious with just a handful of ingredients, but I’m happy about that, too!

Here's Mack, taking a break from helping me paint a tree stand-up for our play. He added the black squirrel to the left.

Here’s Mack, taking a break from helping me paint a tree stand-up for our play. He added the black squirrel to the left.

But before I get to the recipe, I’ll have to tell you the story.

And then, I’ll have to kill you.

Not really. I just felt like writing that. 😉 One of my favorite cookbooks is the “Chicken Soup for the Soul Cookbook,” and I’ve had my copy for lo, these many years. I’ll tell you, something about that cookbook–reading the stories behind the recipes, and then reading the recipes themselves–it’s just addicting to me. I think I’ve made most of the recipes from the cookbook, because it’s such a great combination: to read a captivating story about a certain food, and then to be presented with the recipe! And such it is with “Starving Student Chicken.”

First, here’s the cookbook:

You can pick up a used copy for pennies!

Aaaaand here’s the story:

A starving student in Japan lived in a humble garret room that happened to be just above a very fancy restaurant. He only had one meal a day–a meager bowl of rice–which he ate in the evening, before doing his studies.

One day the student paused in front of the restaurant to talk with a friend. He confided in him that he loved living above the restaurant. “You see,” he told him, “Each night when I eat my little bowl of rice, I can smell the delicious smells of the food this restaurant serves, and I imagine myself eating those dishes. There is one chicken dish that I especially love, and the garlic and pepper smells creep up into my room through the floor boards, and flavor my humble bowl of rice.”

Unfortunately, the restaurant owner was a greedy man, and he happened to hear the student’s words. He marched out onto the street, grabbed the student and demanded payment. The student, horrified, protested that he had no money, so the owner marched him to the nearest police officer and filed a complaint.

Court happened to be in session at that time, and the case could be heard immediately. The Judge there that day had a reputation of being fair and wise. The restaurant owner laid out his case with great eloquence. The student was pitiful; he pleaded that he had no money and could not pay a thing.

The Judge thought for just a moment, and then made his decision. “Clearly,” he said, addressing the student, “you must pay for the value you have received. Do you have any money with you?”

The student found a couple of pennies at the bottom of his little purse and took them out to show to the Judge. “Rattle them together,” said the judge. Bewildered, the student did so. “Good!” said the Judge.

“The sound of money,” he continued wisely, “is sufficient payment for the smell of food. Case closed.”

Birthday dinner!

Birthday dinner!

Here’s the dish that was so favored by the student, and one might hope that eventually he was able to eat the real thing, rather than just enjoy the smells from the restaurant!

This is such a popular meal at our house that I make it fairly often. And (secret’s out now) it’s easy, easy, easy to make. Your family will think that you toiled for hours to make it, and possibly will even offer to do the dishes while you put your feet up after supper! (Doesn’t hurt to dream?)

Starving Student Chicken
Author: Chicken Soup for the Soul Cookbook
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4
This dish goes together very quickly, so be sure to have everything ready before you start cooking! As easy as it is, it is one of my family’s favorite meals!
  • 1 pound boned, skinned chicken breasts (shrimp is good, too)
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 pound spaghetti or linguini
  • 1 T butter
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 10 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp crushed dried red chili flakes (or less, depending on how much heat you want!)
  • 1 tsp (or more) soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup minced parsley
  • grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Cut chicken into small pieces, about the size of the first joint of your ring finger, sprinkle with wine and marinate for 2 to 4 hours.
  2. Cook the spaghetti according to package directions, rinse, toss with butter, and set aside.
  3. In large frying pan, heat olive oil, garlic and chili flakes to taste depending on how much heat you like (it will become stronger as it stands).
  4. Turn heat to high and add chicken, reserving the marinade. Cook until chicken is no longer pink in the middle, stirring often.
  5. Add cooked pasta to frying pan and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in marinade, soy sauce, and parsley. Serve immediately, with Parmesan cheese, and prepare yourself for compliments!


Starving Student Chicken

Yum, yum, yum!


24 thoughts on “Make Starving Student Chicken: the meal my kids beg me to make

  1. Chef William

    Great story with a deep meaning, never try to charge for that which is not yours for if you succeed you will not enjoy the payment you receive. I enjoyed that as much as I will your recipe once I get back to cooking in a real kitchen

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      That’s a great moral to the story, Chef! I’ll enjoy reading the flurry of new recipes you post, once you are back in your Wisconsin kitchen, too! 🙂

  2. Alana(@RamblinGarden)

    I love that story! And, the dinner sounds so quick and easy. The only thing I would do is eliminate the red pepper flakes as I don’t like heat in most foods (Indian is an exception). My husband has made something similar on a lot of occasions. Good choice, Amalia. Bring on the Parmesan cheese!

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      We leave off the pepper flakes when we have company, Alana, because they really do add a lot of heat. You can always sprinkle them on at the table, if you like to burn your mouth a bit!

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  4. Dianna

    This looks so good – I have all the ingredients and will do it with shrimp.

    One thing though – adding the marinade if it’s had the raw chicken in it does not seem safe. Maybe discard it as contaminated – and add a splash of fresh wine at the end instead? It doesn’t cook long enough to make it safe. (former restaurant cook here)

    1. dramamamafive Post author

      Good point, Dianna, the original recipe says to do it like I wrote, but I agree that your way is better. In fact, that is what I do, for the same reason. I’ll amend the recipe.

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  6. Connie Hansen

    I have this cookbook and have been making this for years, but like you sometimes it falls out of rotation and I forget about it. I like heat AND flavor, so I have made a few changes. I cut down on the olive oil and pasta and add a little onion and jalepeno just before the garlic. I use about 2 Tbsp of Soy sauce (& fresh wine) and lots of parsley which makes it a perfect restaurant quality dinner. Yum!

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