Sunday, March 4, 2012

Penne Alfredo with Blackened Cajun Chicken

I was working on a chapter on herbs, spices, and flavorings for my next book, “Black Pot Beginners”, and I wanted to test out the Cajun blackening mix on chicken, instead of salmon, like I had done a few years ago. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it, though, what to serve it with.  Rice? Potatoes?  Those both sounded good, but in the end I decided on penne pasta with an alfredo sauce.

It turned out to be both complex and simple.  It’s simple, in that it only took about an hour to an hour and a half to do the entire meal (not counting the thaw time for the chicken), and that no one part was really complicated.  However, I was doing essentially three things at once (cooking the chicken, cooking the pasta, and making the alfredo sauce).  It was tricky to balance them all to be done at about the same time.

First, I mixed up the Blackening powder mix.  I would recommend doing a double or triple batch, and storing the excess in an old spice bottle.  Make sure you label it, or you’ll look at it in three months and say, “What on earth is this stuff?”

Mark’s Blackening mix

  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp crushed coriander
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp coarse ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp thyme
  • 3 tsp paprika
  • 3 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper

Now, here are the ingredient lists and instructions for all the rest of the parts of the dish!

Mark’s Blackened Chicken:

12” Dutch Oven
24+ coals below to start, then...
12-14 coals below
13-15 coals above

  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, thawed and patted dry
  • 1-2 Tbsp olive oil
  • Mark’s Blackening Mix

The Pasta

10” Dutch oven
20+ coals below

  • 1 lb of penne pasta (or, actually, any kind of pasta you like)
  • Some water

The Alfredo Sauce

8” Dutch Oven
10+ Coals below

  • ¼ cup butter
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ~3 Tbsp flour
  • 2-2 ½ cups milk
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Nutmeg
  • ½ cup shredded mozzarella
  • 4-6 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese 

To time this out just right, I started by figuring out which of the three steps would take the longest.  I figured it would be the pasta, because the water would take some time to boil.  Then, I figured the chicken would be the next longest, and finally, the quickest and easiest would be the sauce.  They don’t all really have to come out at the same time, but you want it to be pretty close, so no one element has too much time to cool.

I started by lighting up a full chimney of coals.  Once I got some white on them, I set them under the 10” Dutch oven, about half to ¾ full of water.  I set the lid on the Dutch oven, because I can never get enough heat to boil water uncovered.  Also, all throughout the steps, I kept adding more coals to the chimney to keep plenty of fresh coals.

While that’s starting up, I added some more coals to the chimney, and began preparing the chicken.  I took out the thawed chicken breasts and laid them out on paper towels to pat dry (both sides).  Then I sprinkled them pretty liberally with the spice mix.  Actually, when I did this, I shook them in a zip-top baggie with the spice mix.  This turned out to be way too strong.  So, when you’re dusting the breasts with the seasoning, go heavier than you would if you were just shaking on a little salt and pepper, but not as heavy as it would get if the breast were dredged in spice.

Once there’s spice mix on both sides, I let them sit for a while, to absorb the flavors.

Meanwhile, I spritzed the inside of a 12” Dutch oven with a bit of oil spray, and put it on some coals.  A lot of them.  After it’d been on a bit, I drizzle in the olive oil and let that heat to a shimmer.  The Dutch oven was quite hot by this time.  I put the chicken breasts in the Dutch oven, and they immediately started sizzling.  I let them sit, cooking uncovered, for several minutes.

It was at about this point that I could see that the water was boiling, so I added the pasta, and set the lid back on.

I turned the chicken breasts over, and let them sear on the other side.

At this point, I also put the 8” dutch oven on some coals and put in the butter to melt.  While that was going, I ducked inside and quickly diced an onion, and minced the garlic.  I tossed that in to the melted butter to saute.

All along this time, I kept checking the pasta, to get to the “al dente” stage.  I also took the chicken off the coals as they were, adjusted them to be the numbers below and on the lid, as shown above, and set that aside to finish cooking through.

I added the flour to the butter and onions, and stirred with a spatula to make the roux.  I added it a tablespoon at a time.  I was looking for it to be thick, but still a bit runny.  I let that cook for a bit, too.  I still wanted it to be blonde, not red or brown, so I didn’t cook it too long.  I added the milk and the spices, and put the lid on.

When the pasta was to the right doneness, I pulled it off the coals, and drained the pasta with a colander. I poured that back into the Dutch oven, so its residual heat would keep it warm.  At this point, the chicken was cooked all the way through.  While I was waiting for the milk to boil, I sliced the chicken with long diagonal cuts.

Once the milk was boiling, I added the cheeses, and kept stirring while they melted.  I used brick parmesan and a grater, too, because I like the stronger flavor.

Then, I brought it all together.  Pasta in the bowl, a couple of spoonfuls of sauce on top, and a few slices of chicken on top of that.  It was delicious!

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.


  1. Great ricipe Mark! I do mine with Fetuccinni noodles and use bacon. The bacon grease is a perfect match for the chicken and I sprinkle the bacon over the completed dish when serving ala "Carbonara". I'm going to give your version a try!

  2. Great ricipe Mark! I do mine with Fetuccinni noodles and use bacon. The bacon grease is a perfect match for the chicken and I sprinkle the bacon over the completed dish when serving ala "Carbonara". I'm going to give your version a try!

  3. Mmmmm.... Baconnnnn....

    Just about everything tastes better with bacon. My friend, Omar, even does a chocolate cake with bacon in it.



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