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.