Blackening chicken brings a depth of flavor that is at once exotic and comforting. Diners in restaurants love blackened chicken, and home cooks do as well because preparing it is not difficult, and the results are visual wonders that taste as good as they look. Blackened chicken is simply poultry that has been generously seasoned with Cajun seasonings then grilled or cooked over high heat in a skillet.
The first step to creating blackened chicken that will make diners two-step around the table involves seasoning. Every Cajun cook has a favorite spice mix, but most include ground, zesty cayenne powder paired with sweet paprika. Many cooks add some dried herbs like oregano and thyme. This is one time fresh herbs aren’t better because they’ll burn. Pretty much everyone agrees that onion and garlic are must-haves.
The clever cook adds this spicy mix to a bunch of melted butter. Skip the substitutes. For this dish, butter not only adds its sweet, charming flavor, but it helps with the blackening. Drying off the meat with a paper towel is an important next step because it permits the buttery sauce to really glom on and seal the chicken to keep it moist.
One trick to fabulous blackened chicken is preheating a heavy, cast-iron skillet with high heat. Other fat-bottomed skillets that won’t warp under high heat are also OK, but experienced cooks know to ignore any cookery that has been coated with nonstick material for this dish. Another little hint is to cool the chicken before dunking it in the butter-and-herb mix to get the best seal.
Boneless chicken works best, but nobody wants a dried-out piece of meat, so keeping a careful eye on the cooking process is important. While this sounds simple, it can be a little difficult to see through the ocean of smoke that will erupt from the skillet. That’s why any cook who has been through the blackening process before knows to open all windows and doors, even in the dead of winter.
A clever way to keep breast meat from drying out during cooking is to brine it first in ice water, salt, and sugar. It only needs to swim for a half hour or so to be able to withstand drying out. Other cooks swear by marinating the meat in bottled oil-and-vinegar salad dressing as a first step.