Blackened Chicken (Just Say No to the Chicken Shops) - Week 2 - Healthy Eating Alternatives to Fast Food/Takeaways


I am working with families to discuss the fat, sugar and salt content in fast food and takeaway meals and we are preparing much tastier and healthier options. I am working with a diverse group of families and they share a lot of tips and techniques around the pressures of providing healthy meals with busy lifestyles, fussy eaters, adding new meals to their family cookbooks and stretching food budgets. This is our second week of a six-week course.

This week we focus on what i believe is the the worst culprit of the fast food takeaway options, the chicken shops. In London, and elsewhere, you cannot walk too far without sensing some evidence of the chicken shops; the horrible smell due to cheap chicken and overused cheap oil, the discarded boxes and bones or the shops strategically placed so close to schools. It's not just teenagers eating at these shops and it is big business, the fried chicken market is worth £15-£20 billion pounds a year and they are interested in profit, not quality or nutrition. I struggled to even find statistics on what is in these takeaway items but an average chicken shop meal contains 60% of your RDA of calories, 45% of your RDA saturated fats and 85% of your RDA of salt. I gathered a lot of information from Nominet Trust and Shift (formerly We Are What We Do and it was in an article by Shift that sums up the ethos of this six-week course:

As Fiona Godlee, editor in chief of the British Medical Journal states, “Rather than restricting takeaway food we should seek to transform it, by making healthy food as visible, tasty, and cheap as unhealthy food.” We’re looking forward to contributing to that ambition.

This weeks recipe is one I picked up in New Orleans for blackened chicken, a cajun style way of seasoning and preparing that can also be applied to fish, shellfish, pork, beef and vegetables. We also prepared blackened vegetables as in each course we offer vegetarian options and we also made a large salad to be served with our blackened chicken and blackened vegetables.

 Our ingredients for our salad and blackened vegetables

Our ingredients for our salad and blackened vegetables

We preheated our oven to 200 C° and then we prepared our chicken and vegetables separately and took extra special care with utensils, surface and cleaning as we do in every class. We made two batches in separate bowls of the blackened seasoning one for the chicken and to that we added 1 TBSP of flour and one for the vegetables which we did not add 1 TBSP of flour.

Blackened Seasoning recipe:

  • 1 TSP paprika (smoked paprika if you have it)
  • 1 TSP thyme
  • 1 TSP oregano
  • 1/2 TSP chilli flakes
  • 1/2 TSP onion salt
  • 1 TSP cayenne pepper
  • 1 TSP freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp garlic salt
  • 1 TBSP Flour* add this only to the mix for the chicken, not for the vegetables

We tossed 700g of chicken sliced into 2-3 cm wide strips in the bowl with the blackened seasoning mix with the flour, covered with cling film and put in the fridge. In the second bowl of the seasoning without the flour we tossed our vegetables which included brocolli, peppers and carrots and stirred them until the mix was evenly on the veg. Them we sprayed a non stick baking tray with a few sprays of our coconut oil cooking spray and added a few more sprays on top of the veg and put them in the oven on the uppermost tray. We cooked them for 30 minutes but set a timer for 15 minutes so that we could check them and turn the veg so that they were cooked nice and evenly without burning.

With our veg in the oven we made our salad and decided as a group to leave it undressed as we had so much flavour in our chicken and veg we wanted the salad to act as a palate cleanser and to enjoy the taste of the salad ingredients, in this case we had gem lettuce, carrots, cucumber, peppers and tomato.

Then we heated our pans until they were at medium hot to high heat and put 3 sprays of our coconut oil spray and then placed our chicken in the pan which should be so hot that the chicken immediately starts to sizzle. Make sure you let the chicken have enough space to cook and depending on the thickness of your strips cook them for 4-6 minutes on each side so that each piece is thoroughly cooked and a nice dark brown colour all over. Leave the strips to rest for a few minutes and remove the blackened veg and serve together with your pre-prepared salad.

 Pan searing our blackened chicken strips

Pan searing our blackened chicken strips

This was our lovely feast which was thoroughly enjoyed by all and everyone commented that the seasoning wasn't spicy but very flavourful and enhanced the chicken and vegetables. This recipe works wonderfully with salmon and can be adapted to a salmon pasta or blackened prawns in a stir fry with some vegetables. You can even make the seasoning and rub it into a whole chicken and have left overs for salads or curries and turn your stock into a soup. Next week we will be preparing a Vegetable Daag curry with homemade mango chutney.