Blackened Chicken Fingers with Lime-Infused Marmalade

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Mmm, mmm, mmm. We love spicy food at The Mouse House. You know…the kind that makes your nose sweat just a wee bit?

These chicken fingers are hot and spicy on the outside and juicy as can be on the inside. A quick dip in a buttery, lime-infused marmalade knocks the edge off the heat and balances out the flavors with a subtle, cool sweetness.

I also like to serve these with a few slices of lime, so guests can squeeze as they please.

How to make blackened chicken fingers

Blackened food was popularized in the U.S. by cajun chef Paul Prudhomme.

When blackening, meat or fish is sprinkled with a spice mixture, then cooked in a red-hot cast-iron skillet. It’s super smokey business to do indoors�but it produces mouthwateringly delicious results.

Depending on the thickness of your chicken fingers, you may need to finish them in the oven.

Blackened Chicken Fingers: How to season & maintain a cast iron pan

I love cast iron pans. They conduct and hold heat well, and when they’re properly seasoned, they become basically non-stick.

After almost 15 years of heavy use, my favorite cast iron skillet�a Le Creusetthat I bought in a second-hand shop here in Boston for maybe $40�has a slick, shiny surface.

I also have a bunch of Lodge cast iron pans. They’re inexpensive and will last a lifetime with proper care.

There are a couple of techniques for seasoning a cast iron pan. I actually need to reseason an old cast iron pan, so I’ll post detailed instructions about how to do this soon.

Basically, you coat the surface of your pan lightly with mild-flavored vegetable oil (canola oil, etc.), then stick it in a hot oven (400-500 degrees) for about an hour or so.

Repeating this process several times will create a slick surface that will keep the pan from rusting.

There are also a bunch of ways to maintain a well-seasoned pan. For example, never scrub it with steel wool. I know some folks that never use soap on a cast iron pan, and will only wash it under hot water with a soft sponge.

More on all that to come soon.

Blackened Chicken Fingers: Adjustable heat

The spice mixture below is really pretty hot. Definitely adjust the heat up or down to your taste. For a much milder version, substitute a milder ground chili, like ancho, for some or all of the cayenne and chipotle.

You can make these with pre-cut chicken tenders�or do what I did, and slice up a few regular chicken breasts.

Blackened Chicken Fingers with Lime-Infused Marmalade

2 lbs. chicken breast or chicken tenders
spray canola oil
1 lime, cut up into wedges, for garnish

For the spice rub
2 Tbls. chili powder
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. cayenne
1 tsp. ground chipotle
1 1/2 tsp. cumin
1 1/2 Tbls. ground garlic
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. dried oregano

For the lime marmalade
1 Tbls. butter
1/2 cup marmalade
juice from 1/2 lime
drizzle of Triple Sec

Serves about 4 for dinner, or 6-8 for an appetizer.

Blackened Chicken Fingers: Make the spice mixture

Measure out all the spices and put them in a small bowl.

Mix together with a fork to combine well.

Set the spice mixture aside while you deal with the chicken. This recipe yields an ample amount of spice mixture. You’ll likely have some left over.

Blackened Chicken Fingers: Prep the chicken

Give your chicken a rinse under cold water, then pat it completely dry. If you’re using chicken tenders instead of chicken breast, skip ahead to the seasoning step.

Set a piece of wax paper on a board. Put your chicken breasts on the wax paper.

Set another piece of wax paper on top of them.

With a rolling pin, meat tenderizer, or rubber mallet, smack the chicken repeatedly to flatten it. (The wax paper will keep it from splattering little bits of chicken all over.)

Get them nice and flat, like this:

When they’re flat, cut each chicken breast into thirds (or in half, if they’re on the smaller side).

Blackened Chicken Fingers: Season the chicken

Sprinkle each piece of chicken liberally with the spice mixture. (Don’t dip the chicken directly into the spice mixture. You’ll contaminate any leftover you may have.)

Pick each piece up, and coat all sides.

With your hands, pat the spice mixture down a little so it sticks to the chicken.

Blackened Chicken Fingers: How to blacken the chicken

About 15 minutes before you’re going to start cooking the chicken, preheat your oven to 275 degrees.

Set your cast iron pan on the stove over high heat to preheat it. You want to get it super hot, so leave it on the burner for a few minutes before adding the chicken. (While it heats, open a window and grab a fan to deal with the smoke you’re about to create.)

When your pan is hot, give it a quick spray with canola oil.

Add the chicken to the pan, leaving the heat on high.

My pan was fairly crowded, which normally will inhibit searing (your food will steam, instead, because of the close proximity of the meat). In this case, it shouldn’t be an issue since your pan is SO hot.

After a minute or two, you should see smoke starting to rise from between your pieces of chicken.

Let the chicken cook undisturbed like this for a minute or two, then check underneath it. When you see that the chicken has developed a nice, blackened crust on the bottom, flip it over. You want it to look about like this:

Cook on the other side until you’ve created the same blackened crust on the bottom.

Depending on the size and shape of your pieces of chicken, flip them again to blacken the edges and sides. Basically, you want each piece to be blackened on all sides.

When the chicken is blackened on all sides, remove the pan from the heat.

If you used pre-cut chicken tenders, there’s a chance that they will be cooked all the way through. (Cut a little nick into one to check.)

If you cut up the chicken breast yourself, chances are they might be a little thicker, and will need to cook a little longer. If that’s the case, slide the pan into your 275 degree, pre-heated oven.

Cook for maybe 5-7 minutes in the oven until your chicken is cooked through. Your final cooking time will depend on how thick your chicken is.

Blackened Chicken Fingers: Make the lime-infused marmalade

While your chicken fingers are in the oven, grab your marmalade.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat.

Add the marmalade to the pan.

Give it a stir to combine with the butter. Squeeze in the lime juice.

Add a drizzle of Triple Sec or other orange liqueur that you like.

Stir to combine. You don’t need to bring the sauce up to a boil. You’re just warming it for a minute or two.

When the sauce is warm, turn the heat on the stove off. Keep it in the pan like this, stirring occasionally, until your chicken is done.

When your chicken is ready, spoon the sauce into a serving dish.

Blackened Chicken Fingers: Serve & enjoy!

After about 5-7 minutes, yank the pan out of the oven and check your chicken for doneness. (Cut a little nick into one of the fattest pieces and make sure it’s cooked in the center.)

Serve immediately, with a side of lime-infused marmalade and a handful of fresh lime wedges.

Enjoy!

 

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Jessie Cross is a cookbook author and creator of The Hungry Mouse, a monster online food blog w/500+ recipes. When she's not shopping for cheese or baking pies, Jessie serves as an Associate Creative Director at PARTNERS+simons, a boutique ad agency in Boston. She lives in Salem, Massachusetts with her husband and two small, fluffy wolves.

28 COMMENTS

  1. These look wonderful! I love, love, love, blackened chicken (and shrimp) You made it look so easy to do at home.

    By the way, I don’t ever use soap on my cast iron skillet. I know some people may think that’s nasty, but a towel and warm water clean it fine, without stripping all of my hard work off! That skillet’s like my baby! 🙂

    • Wheeee! Thanks, Zena! It’s super easy to do at home, if you can deal with all the smoke. 😉

      Good to know about your cast iron pan. I know a lot of folks who don’t use soap. Once you build up that wonderful finish, you don’t want to strip it off!

      I have a very neglected skillet sitting in the basement that I need to reseason. More cast-iron fun to come soon!

      +Jessie

  2. I love spice, especially to the point where I’m sniffling and sweating. Do you think it’s possible to do this without a cast-iron pan? This is an essential kitchen tool I lack.

    • Hmmm.

      Honestly? You could try with a heavy-bottomed stainless pan, but I’d be afraid with such prolonged, high heat that you might completely destroy your pan.

      Cast-iron pans can be pretty cheap at places like K-mart and Sears…don’t look in the kitchen section…try the camping section. They should have a bunch of skillets for under $20.

      Let me know how you make out!

      +Jessie

  3. One of your best posts EVER! And the photos are simply magnificent.

    As I have preached long and loud, cast iron skillets (Dutch ovens, etc.) are simply the best kitchen utensils. No kitchen utensil is as efficient, in my humble opinion.

    And your art of “blackening” is great — although my wife (Dr. Elizabeth) and I prefer to apply it our wonderful Southern catfish and flatiron steak.

    Enough said.

    GREAT post, wonderful photos, and we truly hope that no one posting as “MrsDocChuck” attempts to detract from my wife’s and my admiration of your culinary talents.

  4. I am getting my cast iron skillet out of retirement!! Thank you for sharing. Now, may I please have some really yummy chicken tenders with some very enticing dipping sauce, please!

  5. These look fabulous! Wow! I used to cook cajun with my Paul Prudhomme cookbooks all the time, but it must be 15 years now! This is putting me back in the mood! And I bet that marmelade to dip the spicy birds in is delish!

  6. I made these and I have to say they practically ruined my pre-seasoned Lodge cast iron pan. Little pieces of chicken stuck to the pan and fused with it to the point that I could not get it off. My boyfriend took it to his workshop and used a commercial sander to clean it out and I had to reseason the pan. Any ideas why this happened?

    • Oh my goodness, I have no idea! Your pan probably either got way too hot…or not hot enough when you put the chicken in (that can make meat stick).

      Let me poke around and see if I can find a better answer for you. I’ve been making this in my Lodge & Le Creuset skillets for a long time, and have never had that issue. Did you change the recipe at all?

      Hang tight,
      +Jessie

  7. To rehab a pan that can’t be cleaned by conventional washing you can put the pan in the oven and run a self-cleaning cycle of the oven. It takes the temperature up to 900 degrees and turns anything in the pan to ash. You will have a virgin cast iron pan. Then you obviously have to reseason the pan.

    My brand new Lodge pans have needed a few rounds of bacon to become stick-proof. Even bacon has stuck on the first few times. However, you shouldn’t ever need a sander to remove the residue.

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