Blackened Chicken “Nachos”

So you may have begun to notice that the majority of the cooking Kaleigh and I do seems to happen over the weekends, and you would be correct. The two reasons for this being that we tend to keep ourselves busy on weekdays, not leaving very much time for cooking. Secondly we try to keep our weekday meals relatively healthy when compared with some of the stuff we eat over the weekends. Usually we stick with simple dishes that we can cook quickly and enjoy over the course of several days.

That would be where these blackened chicken nachos come in. To be honest though, this dish only resembles nachos in looks. Instead of chips, I bake flour tortillas to avoid all the oil from frying. Shredded blackened chicken breast is the protein of choice here, as it’s both lean and I enjoy the flavour and heat that comes from the blackened spices. Toppings include pico de gallo and a drizzle of chipotle aioli, and on occasion even a little bit of shredded cheese.

I like to cook up the chicken and make the salsa on Mondays and then eat it over the course of three days. Once the chicken and tomatoes are done up, it’s just a matter of baking the tortillas as I go along, which means I have no excuse to skip lunch (this is unlikely to ever happen) or resorting to pizza (being a pizza-holic that means a large pie in a single sitting.)

Cooking the chicken is as simple as it gets. I like to do around 400g of chicken breast for three servings, which is two to four breasts depending on the size. I pound the chicken out to get an even thickness, as this helps make sure it cooks evenly. I prefer salting the chicken before rubbing it as this ensures I get exactly the amount of salt I want on it. Then I rub the spices into the chicken, making sure to get a thick coating over the entirety of the the pieces. Occasionally, if the spice mix is having trouble sticking I’ll add a little lime juice to help it along.

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Once the chicken is ready I preheat a pan over medium-high heat. I use a heavy stainless steel pan, although cast iron would also work very well. You want to use something that is heavy, with a high heat capacity so that you end up with a nice blackened crust. I let the pan preheat for a couple minutes and then add the oil and let that continue to heat up until it’s just starting to show signs of smoking. Making sure the pan and oil are hot is key here. If your pan isn’t up to temp, instead of creating a nice seared crust all you’ll end up with is soggy spices. The heat is necessary to evaporate any moisture on the surface of the chicken and prevent it from steaming in it’s own juices.

Lay the chicken breasts into the pan, making sure to leave space between the pieces so steam has room to escape, and don’t play around with them! If you try to move or flip the chicken too soon, that coat of spices will stick to your pan and peel off of your chicken. Instead let the pan do it’s thing and get those spices nice and toasty. Depending on how high your heat is and how thick your chicken pieces are, this could take anywhere from 5-10 minutes. After about 5 minutes it should be safe to start checking the bottom of the chicken for doneness. You’re looking for spices that are nice and brown, looking on the verge of burning.

Flip the chicken, let it go another couple of minutes, until you get similar colouring on the opposite side. Depending on how thick your chicken is, you may have to finish it off in the oven. If you’re unsure whether the stovetop will be enough to get your chicken cooked through, preheat your oven as precaution beforehand. I shoot for an internal temperature of 155F. I should mention this is 10F lower than recommended by the USDA. Personally I find that 165 is over kill though, and at that point the chicken is usually dried out and tough. When I pull chicken at 155F and let it sit for a couple minutes, the carry over cooking will usually get it up to 160F.

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Once the chicken is done, I leave it on a plate to cool before shredding. In them mean time I can get to work on that pico de gallo. I prefer a chunkier pico since it tends to be more filling, and I like to keep it real simple. I’ll toss together some chopped tomatoes, onions, and peppers along with minced jalapeno and microplaned garlic. Then I finish it off with some cilantro or parsley and squirt in some lime juice.

My go to tomatoes for pico are cherry or grape, as I find they tend to lose less liquid than other kinds and keep better in the fridge once chopped. If you find your tomatoes are particularly watery, cut them up and drain them in a colander first. For this reason I also avoid salting the salsa until I’m serving it, as the salt draws the liquid out of all the veggies.

I always make sure to have homemade mayo on hand, which is perfect for this dish, although store bought mayo should work too. All you’ve got to do is add some garlic, a dash of chipotle powder, and a chopped chile in adobo. Salt to taste and it’s ready to go.

For serving, I quarter a tortilla and bake it up in the oven until it’s nice and crispy. I prefer to use a pizza stone, although a preheated baking pan would work too. These guys tend to crispin up quickly, so make sure to keep an eye on them as all ovens heat a little differently. I flip mine once the bottom starts to brown, and then pull them out once they’ve got a nice golden brown colour on both sides and have no soft spots left.

After that, just throw everything together. My favourite way of layering these is tortilla, chicken, aioli and finally the pico de gallo. If I happen to be having cheese, it goes on top of all of that. Get the recipe here.

These can be a bit messy to eat, but taste amazing and are very convenient for busy schedules. I make a couple variations to switch things up that I’ll be sure to share, including a thai curry version!

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