This creamy Cajun chicken pasta recipe is a delicious one-pot meal-packed flavor! The seasoning adds bold spices to juicy pieces of meat, tender pasta, and rich tomato sauce.
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If you’re looking for a spicy weeknight meal that’s easy to prepare, try my Cajun-style chicken pasta. The protein, pasta, and sauce are cooked all in one pot in less than 30 minutes, for a stress-free and satisfying meal. A blend of bold spices adds lingering heat to the creamy cajun sauce.
I use a homemade blend of cajun spices, which adds intense savory flavor to the chicken and sauce. It comes in handy to make a batch to toss into the dish, but alternatively, you can use storebought if you’re in a pinch for time. A variety of colorful sauteed vegetables perfectly enhances the peppery flavor and makes it a complete meal.
Prepare the chicken
For quick cooking lean protein, use boneless skinless chicken breasts. Cut them into 1-inch pieces, for hearty bites. They shrink down significantly in the pan. If you prefer dark meat, use chicken thighs. Season the pieces with one tablespoon of cajun seasoning. It’s a mixture of smoked paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, thyme, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper.
I designed the recipe to have plenty to season the meat and the sauce. I prefer to use a homemade blend to control the level of salt, but premade bottles can also be used for convenience. Taste it first, so that you can gauge how much to add to the sauce later.
Cook the chicken
Use a large dutch oven or enameled cast iron deep saute pan to cook the dish. Use a pan that can hold at least 4 ¼ quarts. Sear the pieces of chicken for about 3 minutes per side, until you see a light blackened crust form. I use a similar stovetop method to cook Cajun chicken breasts, and it’s delicious!
The poultry should be fully cooked, as it will be added to the pasta right before serving. Transfer the pieces to a clean bowl, and cover to keep warm while cooking the other ingredients. Keep that pan!
Saute the vegetables
To add dimension to the dish, use a variety of chopped vegetables. Saute yellow onions in olive oil to lightly caramelize the surface, for a hint of sweetness. Minced garlic adds an earthy flavor and welcoming pungency. I add red and green bell peppers for a mild peppery taste. It also complements the dried cayenne pepper, without the kick of heat.
I add a can fire roasted diced tomatoes. The lightly charred surface adds extra smokiness to the dish. As the tomatoes simmer with the pasta, it creates a delicious sauce when the flesh breaks down. You could also use 1 ½ cups of freshly diced tomatoes, like cherry or aroma instead.
Cook the pasta
I use short-cut tubular penne pasta for the dish. The sauce coats the surface and inside of the noodle for extra flavor. However other types of pasta can be used like rigatoni, cavatappi, rotini, or farfalle. If you prefer longer noodles, try bucatini or spaghetti. When making a one-pot pasta, the general rule is that you will need 4 cups of liquid for every 8 ounces of dried pasta. This is about 2 cups of penne pasta.
I use unsalted chicken broth or stock for a more flavorful taste, but water can be used instead. Add the pasta, stock, and remaining cajun seasoning straight to the pot, then boil it. The key is to keep stirring the pot. This ensures that nothing sticks to the bottom and the pasta evenly absorbs the liquid. In about 15 minutes, the pasta should be al dente.
Make the sauce
As the pasta boils, the starches from the wheat will release. This creates a small amount of starchy liquid, for an even creamier coating. To add richness to the consistency, stir in heavy cream. It contains at least 36% milk fat, making the sauce very velvety. You could also use ¼ cream cheese instead if you already have it on hand.
To add a nutty and savory flavor, add grated parmesan cheese. At this point, you can add back the cooked chicken, warming it before serving. I like to garnish with freshly chopped parsley, chives, green onions, or basil. It adds a delightful freshness and pop of color.
Frequently asked questions
Heavy cream and parmesan cheese help to thicken the pasta sauce at the end of cooking. Cooking the pasta in the same pan releases wheat starches, which also thickens the sauce.
Yes! Using a homemade cajun seasoning blend, you can increase or decrease the amount of cayenne pepper. A small amount makes a noticeable heat impact. Also add in red pepper flakes that are not ground up, if you want an even spicier taste that lingers.
Store-bought seasoning is a convenient option. However, each brand has a different spice blend and salt level. Taste it first before adding it to the chicken and pasta. Use about 2 tablespoons for the entire recipe.
Cook the pasta in the same pot
Cooking the dried pasta in the same vessel as the sauce not only makes for fewer dishes to clean, but the dish will be creamier. The pasta is cooked by absorption of the liquid. Use just enough to tenderize the noodles, leaving a small amount of starchy stock in the pan. Those wheat starches thicken the sauce because it’s not being diluted in a large pot of water like traditional boiling methods. The pasta is also better seasoned because it’s simmered with the cajun spice blend.
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Cajun Chicken Pasta
- 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast
- 2 tablespoons cajun seasoning, divided
- ¼ cup olive oil, divided
- 1 tablespoons minced garlic
- 1 cup diced yellow onion, ¼" dice
- ½ cup diced red bell pepper, ½" dice
- ½ cup diced green pepper, ½" dice
- 14.5 ounce fire roasted diced tomatoes
- 8 ounces dried penne pasta, 2 cups
- 4 cups unsalted chicken stock , or broth
- ½ cup heavy whipping cream
- ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- Prepare the Chicken – Cut the chicken breast into about 1-inch cubes. In a medium bowl, combine the pieces with 1 tablespoon of the cajun seasoning and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
- Cook the Chicken – Heat a large high-sided skillet or dutch oven over medium heat. Once hot, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the chicken to a single layer, and cook without moving until the surface is golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Saute until fully cooked, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a clean bowl and cover to keep warm.
- Saute the Vegetables – Reduce the heat to medium-low and add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the onion and minced garlic, and saute for 2 minutes. Add the bell peppers, and saute for 2 minutes. Stir in the fire-roasted tomatoes with the juice, scraping the bottom of the pan to release any browned bits.
- Cook the Pasta – Add the pasta, stock, and remaining cajun seasoning to the pan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cook and stir frequently, until the pasta is tender and the stock has mostly evaporated, keeping a small amount of liquid in the pan to create a light sauce, about 14 to 16 minutes.
- Make the Sauce – Reduce heat to low. Stir in the heavy cream and parmesan cheese. Stir in the chicken, cooking until warm, about 2 minutes.
- To Serve – Serve garnished with parsley.
- Recipe Yield: About 8 cups
- Serving Size: 1 cup
- Storing: Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
- Reheating: Cover and reheat in the microwave on the high setting in 30-second increments, stirring in between, until hot.
Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.
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