Inspired by a few begging me to share my recipes, I've decided to start a new series here on ye olde Ambidextrous Brain called Cookbook. I've already mentioned in the past that cooking for me is a truly whole-brained activity, so it makes sense to share some of my greater successes right here as I come across them.
For the inaugural installment in the series, we're going to learn how to make Blackened Chicken with Avocado—a light, fast weeknight meal that's big in flavor and low in calories.
Light, Southern Influence
I picked up a Cooking Light Superfast Suppers cookbook at a thrift store a while back, looking specifically for lower-calorie weeknight meals. After marking 20 or so potential meals to try, one of the first was this bad boy. Incidentally, it's also the recipe featured on the cover of the book.
The key ingredient, "blackened seasoning," was not something I could readily find on the store shelves (that or I was looking on the wrong shelves), so my first big quest was finding a good recipe for this southern spice mix. Thank the cooking gods for the Internet!
Sure enough, I found one that is versatile enough for chicken and fish and easy to put together. I doubled the recipe to plan ahead and nearly fill a standard spice jar, so you can do that well in advance and keep it on hand. Trust me, you'll go through it faster than you expect!
The chicken ends up incredibly moist and tender thanks to the searing, and the bold seasoning is tempered nicely by the creamy avocado, with that nice sharp heat of serrano pepper and mellow lime citrus. You can substitute jalapeños if you prefer, but I'm a big fan of serranos. All told I think I've made this meal at least 20 times since I first discovered it, and there was a solid month or two where we ate it every single week.
I love using my cast-iron skillet for this because it truly blackens the chicken and does miracles for the continued seasoning of the cookware. If you haven't invested $30 in a cast-iron skillet, I highly recommend it. If you're not convinced, you can use a thick-bottomed non-stick skillet, but you may want to keep the heat on medium to protect the coated surface. In this case, the chicken won't sear nearly as darkly, but the result should still be tender and delicious.
Adapted from About.com
- 2 heaping T. paprika
- 4 t. salt
- 2 heaping t. garlic powder
- 2 heaping t. onion powder
- 1/2–1 t. ground cayenne pepper (to preference)
- 2 t. fresh ground black pepper
- 1 t. leaf thyme
- 1 t. leaf oregano
Combine all ingredients into a small bowl, mix together, then use a funnel to transfer to a spice jar. I've found that grinding up the thyme a little with a mortar and pestle allows it to flow out the shaker holes in the top of the spice jar a little easier.
Blackened Chicken and Avocado
Adapted from Cooking Light's Superfast Suppers
Yield: 4 servings
Start to Finish: 25–30 minutes
Calories: 280–350 (depending on the size of the chicken and amount of oil used)
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 2 medium to large firm-ripe avocados
- 1 serrano pepper
- 1 lime
- 1 bunch cilantro
- grapeseed oil (or other neutral oil with a high smoke point)
Smoke Alert: If you're doing this on your stove-top, it will get really smoky. Make sure your hood fan is turned on high or you have excellent ventilation. If you have a smoke detector right nearby, you may consider disconnecting it until you're finished.
Cast-iron Note: I tend to go a little heavy-handed on the oil to keep my pan's seasoning nice and solid. I usually end up using 4 tablespoons or so of oil to mitigate some of the smoke and it keeps the skillet nice and coated throughout cooking. Makes it a lot easier to clean up afterward, but the sacrifices are a lot of splattering and some extra calories.
Rinse chicken breasts and pat dry with paper towels. On cutting board or plate, sprinkle both sides of chicken liberally with blackened seasoning, pressing spices into chicken gently.
Remove and discard the seeds and veins from the serrano pepper and mince half or all of it depending on how spicy you want the avocado topping to be (I use half for a medium spice). Juice half of the lime and finely chop 1–2 tablespoons of cilantro. Add all three to a medium bowl and mix together, then let marinate a little in the bowl while the chicken cooks. Quarter the other half of the lime into half-wedges and set aside until serving.
Heat a 9" cast-iron skillet on medium-high heat with enough oil to coat the bottom. When the oil begins to smoke, use tongs to place the chicken skin-side down in the pan. Use a splatter guard if you have one to keep the oil contained. Sear the chicken on each side for 3–4 minutes, then reduce heat to medium while it finishes cooking all the way through, about 12–15 minutes in total depending on the thickness of the breasts.
Turn the chicken again if necessary and pierce with a sharp knife to check for doneness. I find that I typically need to rotate the chicken once or twice to keep the smoke from getting too intense. Once the juices run clear, transfer the chicken to plates and let stand for a couple minutes.
While the chicken is standing, quarter the avocados and score each wedge with a knife in a 1/2-inch grid. Invert the wedges into the bowl with the lime juice mixture and use either a spoon or your finger to scoop the chunks of avocado off the skin. Toss the avocado in the juice until coated, then spoon the avocado over the top of the chicken.
Serve with the lime wedges and a simple spinach salad, or if you can spare the calories, your favorite tortilla chips and salsa. We can't get enough of Calidad brand Mexican Restaurant Style Corn Tortilla Chips and Frontera's Double-Roasted Tomato Salsa (though the latter's a little heavy on the salt).
A nice cold bottle of Corona or a crisp, semi-sweet white wine will complement things nicely.