Pasta salad. It’s the Fleetwood Mac of entrees: it’s impossible to offend anybody with it, but mainly because it’s just so damn boring. It’s potluck food. Lame. Right? Well, usually. But, our cooking for men tip is that you can actually make some pretty awesome variations on the standard old suburban model…like blackened chicken, which gives your pasta salad a Cajun-style kick. It’s not too difficult to do and it’s a really great meal for a summer weekday, matched with a good light beer or white wine (or a margarita).
This is going to require a cast-iron skillet, though, as you need to be able to quickly cook the chicken at very high heat, and a lot of inexpensive non-stick pans are actually too thin and will melt or burn at high temperatures. You may I personally feel that having is cast iron skillet is essential to cooking for men. (Cast-iron skillets are a whole other deal — check out our guide to buying and maintaining one.)
- 2 lbs. boneless chicken breasts or tenders (it doesn’t matter, we’re cutting them up anyway)
- 1 tsp. chili powder
- 1 tsp. black pepper
- 2 tbsp. sea salt
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 tsp. oregano
- 1 tsp. onion powder
- 1 tsp. paprika
- 1 stick of butter
- 1 lb. package fusilli (spiral) pasta
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise (or substitute; see below)
- 1 stick celery
- 1 small can. pre-sliced black olives
- 2 small roma tomatoes, diced
- salt, pepper and paprika to taste
Start by putting your pasta in a pot of water and putting it on medium high heat to boil. That’s gonna take a while.
After that, take all of the spices for the chicken and pour them out together on a plate. Mix them up. You’re going to be coating your chicken in them in a minute, so make sure they’re well mixed. This is your “rub”. Cut your chicken into chunks about 1 1/2″ long and 1/2″ wide — think about the size of chicken nuggets.
Preheat your skillet on high — all the way up. Once the chicken is cut into chunks, you need to coat it with your melted butter. You can use a marinade brush for this, or another trick is to pour the (slightly cooled) butter into a gallon freezer bag, throw the chicken in with it, seal it, and shake the hell out of it. After you’ve done this, take each piece of chicken and drag it through the rub on both sides to coat it.
Here’s the tricky part: first, open all your windows. Next, throw your chicken into the pan, making sure it’s not too overcrowded — you can do this in batches if you need to. As soon as the chicken hits the skillet, it’s going to sizzle and smoke. It’s going to look like it’s burning. That’s fine — it kind of is, but it’s cool. Just make sure it doesn’t set off your smoke alarms!
You want to cook each piece for around two to three minutes on each side. The key is to blacken the outside — by charring the meat a bit, but mainly by charring the spices coating it — and also get the inside cooked to a safe temperature. If you’ve got a meat thermometer, make sure it’s at least 170 degrees Fahrenheit inside. Or you can cut a piece open and make sure the inside is white all the way through — you don’t want any pink in there.
Once all your chicken is done, set it aside and cover it to keep it moist. Don’t worry about keeping it warm — that’s not a priority here. Now check on your pasta. It should be al dente, which means it’s soft but not mushy. Once it’s at that point, drain it in a colander and run cold water over it to cool it down — it can be slightly warm but you don’t want it hot, and it’s easier to chill it with water from the faucet than it is to put it in the fridge and wait for it to cool down over several hours.
Cooking For Men – Healthy Substitutions
Now: you may not be a mayo kind of guy. Personally, I adore the stuff, but some people absolutely can’t stand it. If you’re one of them, here’s a guide to some healthy alternatives. For our purposes, the olive oil or the “nayonnaise” is probably best — yogurt and mustard will change the flavor too much, and if you want to add almond butter here, well…it takes all kinds, I guess.
When it’s cool, drop it in a big mixing bowl and add in your mayo or substitute. Your mileage may vary here — a half cup might be enough for you, or you may be one of those dudes who likes your pasta salad super-creamy. Experiment with it. Dice your celery stick into small cubes, about 1/4″ on a side.
You also need to dice your tomatoes, and here’s a useful trick for doing that: cut the tomato in half and use your knife to scoop out the pulp and seeds. It’ll be way nicer and less messy when you chop the rest of the tomato into cubes. Add your celery and tomato and your pre-sliced black olives to the pasta and mix in salt, pepper and just a little paprika to taste. When it’s awesome, throw your chicken in and mix it around.
Voila! Cooking for men ain’t boring! You just made pasta salad that doesn’t suck. This goes well with garlic bread, roasted corn or fresh greens on the side. And don’t forget the beer!