For Cajun-inspired comfort food, look no further than this blackened chicken alfredo!
We’ve only been to the New Orleans airport, for 30 minutes without deplaning, on a pitstop en route to Seattle. We’ve never experienced the wonderful world of Cajun spices, jazz or beignets first hand. It’s on our bucket list. So until we make it back to the Big Easy, we’re making blackened chicken alfredo, which is quite easy, to prepare that is.
Not only is this pasta swimming in savory smoky spices, we’re also melting in a whole block of Philadelphia cream cheese for extra creaminess. Read on, and we’ll also show you how we’ve maximized every bite with “flavor grabbing” cavatappi pasta.
What’s in this blackening seasoning?
There’s a lot of overlap between Cajun, Creole and Blackened seasoning
- Cajun tends to be the spiciest.
- Creole is the least spicy and utilizes more herbs
- Blackened falls somewhere in the middle of the first two
For this recipe, we used a blend of:
- smoked paprika
- dried basil
- dried oregano
- garlic powder
- kosher salt
- freshly ground black pepper
Smoked paprika makes a big difference over regular paprika in the flavor profile. It’s easy to dial up or down the heat in our blend by adding more or less cayenne. We settled on a teaspoon in this recipe because it will dissipate in the cream sauce, but if spice is not your thing, then you can easily cut it in half or leave it out altogether.
Why cream cheese works so well in blackened chicken alfredo
For inspiration in making this recipe, we looked at the ingredients of Zatarain’s frozen blackened chicken alfredo, because in a pinch, this tastes pretty good. And to our surprise, cream cheese is buried in that mile long list of ingredients. There must be something to this.
What’s in cream cheese?
Cream cheese is kind of like concentrated milk and cream, or half and half. It’s basically curdled milk and cream separated from the whey, which is then drained and processed until smooth.
As it turns out, cream cheese really helps thicken the alfredo sauce because the commercially produced version contains carob gum and carrageenan. These are naturally derived food additives which work as thickening and stabilizing agents.
Can I make this blackened chicken alfredo sauce without cream cheese?
Yes you can! For a thinner, but still rich alfredo sauce, you could simply use 3 cups of heavy-whipping cream in this recipe instead of milk and cream cheese.
What is Cavatappi? Why it’s so great at picking up sauce.
Cavatappi, pronounced Cah-vah-TOP-pee, means corkscrew in Italian. It has a long helical shape which is scored with ridges known as rigate. These ridges, along with the twists and bends of the corkscrew shape are fantastic at grabbing and holding onto as much of the alfredo sauce as possible.
Not surprisingly, many mac and cheese recipes call for cavatappi. If you’ve ever had Kraft Spirals Macaroni and Cheese, you know it tastes cheesier because the cheese holds onto the spirals. It’s no different here, so cavatappi is going to work great in blackened chicken alfredo.
We prefer Dececco Cavatappi no. 87 cooked to al dente. Alternatively, you could substitute Penne Rigate, it still has all those wonderful ridges.
Tips for making blackened chicken alfredo
- Pounding the chicken out to a 1/4 inch thickness will help it to cook evenly. Alternatively, you could cut your breasts horizontally into cutlets. We’ve opted for pounding here because there is less chance of it drying out.
- Using a piece of plastic wrap to cover the chicken will prevent a big mess while pounding.
- Place chicken in a baking sheet or casserole dish to coat. It’s less messy and you can easily scoop up any seasoning that doesn’t stick and apply it to any missed spots.
- Fortunately, blackened chicken doesn’t mean burnt chicken. When the blackened chicken sears in the oil, a dark aromatic crust forms around it. We highly recommend using a large cast-iron pan for this for even searing.
- You’ll want to place these chicken breasts by hand into the skillet as the grip from tongs can push the seasoning off before it has a chance to adhere. You can use tongs to flip the chicken once it’s in the pan.
- You don’t need to crank the heat all the way up to high. Medium-high gives you more control, cuts down on smoke in your kitchen, and most importantly makes sure you blacken and don’t burn the spices.
- Don’t add any milk until the cream cheese is fully melted, otherwise the cream cheese can recurdle and the sauce won’t be smooth.
- The spices from the chicken will season the sauce. Taste the sauce before adding in the pasta to make sure it’s salty enough for your specifications.
- Reserve a cup of the pasta water to thin the sauce if it gets too thick.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this article. As always, comments are welcome and encouraged!
Want more dishes with flavorful spice blends?
Check out these awesome recipes:Print
Cajun Chicken Cavatappi Cream Cheese Alfredo
Our blackened chicken Alfredo is made with real cream cheese, cajun spices and Cavatappi pasta. It’s easy to make and big on flavor!
- Prep Time: 10 min
- Cook Time: 30 min
- Total Time: 40 minutes
- Yield: 4–6 1x
- Category: Pasta
- Cuisine: Cajun
- 2 large (11-12 oz) chicken breasts, pounded 1/4 inch thin
- 1/2 lb. dry cavatappi pasta
- 1 Tbsp. smoked paprika
- 1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
- 1 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 3/4 tsp dried basil
- 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 3 tbsp minced garlic
- 1 cup diced tomatoes
- 1/4 cup dry white wine (such as Pinot Grigio)
- 8 oz. cream cheese
- 3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
- Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Cook the chicken
- Mix Cajun seasoning ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
- Sprinkle seasoning all over both sides and edges of chicken breasts.
- Heat a 12-inch skillet (preferably cast-iron) with a tablespoon of cooking oil over medium-high heat.
- When the oil just begins to smoke, cook the chicken breasts for 2 minutes on both sides to blacken.
- Transfer the skillet into the oven until it registers 165 degrees, about 6-8 minutes.
- Remove from skillet and allow breasts to sit for about 10 minutes.
- Slice chicken on the bias into strips. Slice strips again in half to make 2-3 inch pieces.
Cook the pasta
- Fill a large saucepan or pot with 3 quarts of water, add 2 teaspoons of table salt.
- Bring the water to a boil over high heat and cook pasta for 8 minutes until al dente.
- Reserve a cup of the pasta water and drain the remainder. Set aside.
Make the sauce
- Heat olive oil and butter in a large skillet or saute pan over medium heat.
- Once butter is melted, add garlic and saute for about 1 minute, then add tomatoes and saute for another minute.
- Pour in the wine and stir, then add the cream cheese.
- With a wooden spoon, press each piece of cream cheese into bottom of pan and swirl. Continue pressing and swirling until all the cream cheese is fully melted and bubbling slightly.
- Add in milk a little bit at a time to incorporate. If you add it too fast you risk the cream cheese coagulating.
- Once combined, continue to simmer and reduce until sauce is thick enough to coat back of wooden spoon.
- Stir in the parmesan cheese until melted.
Put it all together
- Add chicken strips to sauce and stir to combine until cajun seasoning has dispersed and turned sauce orange.
- Stir in pasta until fully coated in the sauce and heat through till lightly bubbling. If sauce is too thick use some of the pasta water to thin the sauce until it’s at the desired consistency.
- Finish with some grated parmesan cheese and garnish with minced parsley.
Keywords: cavatappi, blackened chicken, alfredo, cajun, parmesan