Jerk Chicken Pasta

Jerk Chicken Pasta exploding with bold, juicy, Caribbean style blackened chicken with sweet bell peppers in a creamy, cheesy sauce in just over 40 minutes!

Jerk Chicken Pasta will spice up your weeknight dinner routine with its creamy, cheesy, spicy, full throttle blend of flavor!  To make this chicken pasta recipe, chicken fillets are pounded thin so they’re incredibly tender, coated in aromatic, earthy, spicy, smoky, jerk seasoning then pan seared to create melt-in-your-mouth Caribbean-style crusted chicken. The luxurious pasta sauce is infused with jerk seasoning, fresh garlic, red onions, bell peppers, cheddar and Parmesan, all brightened with a kiss of lime. Toss everything together and serve it alongside apple salad and sweet cornbread for a new favorite dizzyingly delicious dinner!

Chicken Pasta recipes are always a dinner win!   Along with this Jerk Chicken Pasta, you’ll love Blackened Chicken Alfredo, Chicken Broccoli Alfredo, Cajun Chicken Pasta, Parmesan Chicken Pasta, and Creamy Chicken Pesto Pasta.

HOW TO MAKE Jerk Chicken Pasta VIDEo

top view of jerk chicken pasta (Rasta pasta) with chicken in a creamy sauce
showing how to make jerk chicken pasta (Rasta pasta) by tossing chicken with pasta in a creamy sauce

About Jerk Chicken Pasta

What is Jerk Chicken Pasta?

Jerk Chicken Pasta, also known as Rasta Pasta, is a Jamaican inspired pasta dish made with blackened jerk chicken and bell peppers in a creamy, cheesy sauce.  

The famous chicken originated in Jamaica but is also common in the Cayman Islands and throughout the Caribbean. Traditional Jerk Chicken is either marinated in jerk sauce or spice rubbed with jerk seasoning then cooked over the aromatic wood of the pimenta dioica, Jamaica’s allspice tree native to the Caribbean, imbuing it with smoky undertones and enhancing the heat.  

What is Jerk Seasoning?

Jerk Seasoning is a dry spice blend from Jamaican, but also popular in the Cayman Islands and throughout the Caribbean. Jerk seasoning is unapologetically bold, packed with aromatic onion and garlic powder, laced with smoky-sweetness from the smoked paprika, herbaceous earthiness from the parsley and thyme, spicy pungency from the ginger, warm, nutty, notes from the allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg, a kiss of sweetness from the brown sugar all punctuated by fiery heat from the cayenne pepper (or ground habanero pepper if you live for heat). The combination of seasonings may seem odd, but expertly walks the tightrope of heat, dimension, and complexity. 

The amount of each ingredient and addition of other spices depends on each cook and household, that’s why I love making my own. 

How Spicy is Jerk Chicken Pasta?

The Jerk Chicken Pasta is meant to be spicy, but it doesn’t have to be.  The jerk seasoning is the source of the heat, so you can either use less if using store-bought, or, if using homemade, add less cayenne pepper to start.

Where does Jerk Pasta come from?

Jerk Pasta, also known as Rasta Pasta, was created in 1985 in Negril, Jamaica by Chef Lorraine Washington in her Paradise Yard Restaurant. Chef Lorraine recalls making fettuccine in the kitchen and topping it with red sauce followed by a bit of ackee, Jamaica’s national fruit. The red, green, and yellow colors prompted one of recipient carpenters to call it a “Rasta pasta!”

In the US, red, yellow and green bell peppers (or parsley) along with blackened jerk chicken are meant to reflect the colors of the Jamaican flag.

 

Jerk Chicken Pasta Ingredients 

In this chicken pasta recipe, juicy chicken cutlets are boldly seasoned with jerk seasoning and mixed into creamy, cheesy pasta. This decadent dinner made easy is a winner every time! To make the Jerk Chicken Pasta, you will need the following (full recipe in the printable recipe card at the bottom of the post): 

  • Chicken breasts: Use two medium, boneless skinless chicken breasts cut in half to create four cutlets. Thin cutlets cook more evenly, are more tender and soak up more flavor than whole chicken breasts. 
  • Jerk seasoning: This is a dry spice blend from Jamaica. Jerk seasoning is unapologetically bold and is packed with onion and garlic powder, smoked paprika, parsley, thyme, ginger, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar and cayenne pepper. I have a homemade jerk seasoning recipe that I adore!
  • Pasta: I recommend using cavatappi or penne pasta, but any short, sturdy pasta shape will work.
  • Bell peppers: You will need three bell peppers. I recommend red, orange, and/or yellow because they boast pops of crisp tender sweetness verses green which is earthy.  You can use one of each color or any color combo.   
  • Red onion: I don’t recommend substituting the red onion because its sweet flavor beautifully complements the heat from the jerk seasoning. 
  • Garlic: I highly suggest real garlic as opposed to powder in this recipe. Still, you may use 1 teaspoon garlic powder – but the real stuff is so much better.
  • Flour: I use all-purpose flour but I’m sure gluten free flour would work.
  • Chicken broth: Use reduced sodium chicken broth so we can control the amount of salt in the sauce and have the wiggle room to add chicken bouillon.
  • Chicken bouillon1 ½ teaspoons of chicken bouillon imparts a complex, savory, goodness to the sauce. You may use granulated chicken bouillon, crushed bouillon cubes, or better than bouillon. Add the bouillon to the sauce dry, do not dissolve it into water first.
  • Half and half: This is half milk and half heavy cream, so feel free to make your own! See substitutions below.
  • Cheese: The creamy sauce is made cheesy with both sharp cheddar and Parmesan. For best results, use ONLY freshly grated cheeses. They are more flavorful and melt into silky oblivion unlike powdered or pre-shredded cheese. Grate Parmesan on the smallest hole so it’s a powder-like consistency which melts more easily into the sauce.
  • Lime juice: The acidity in the lime juice beautifully complements the spicy, smoky jerk seasoning and cuts through the richness of the sauce. Add more or less to taste.  
top view of serving jerk chicken pasta (Rasta pasta) in a bowl garnished with parsley and lime

Ingredient Substitutions 

  • Chicken breasts: You can make your own chicken cutlets or purchase packaged pre-sliced cutlets. You may also use 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs.
  • Jerk seasoning: I prefer using a homemade spice blend to ensure there’s no MSG or anti-caking agents in my jerk seasoning. However, you may use your favorite store-bought blend if desired. 
  • Flour: I used all-purpose flour, but a gluten-free 1:1 substitute will work or 2 tablespoons cornstarch mixed into the broth before adding it to the pan.
  • Pasta: I love cavatappi, but any short pasta shape is fine. Sub gluten-free pasta, if needed. 
  • Half and half: This can be replaced with 1 cup milk whisked with 1 tablespoon of cornstarch OR 1 cup evaporated milk mixed with 2 teaspoons of cornstarch. 

How to Make Jerk Chicken Pasta 

Jerk Chicken Pasta is beautifully straightforward to make, and the jerk seasoning infuses the dish with unapologetically bold, nuanced flavor. I’ve gone into detail in the recipe card below on how to make this easy pasta recipe, but I’ll quickly review the process:

Step 1: Cook the Pasta

  • Cook the pasta in heavily salted water just until al dente. 
  • Reserve ½ cup pasta water before draining. This will help thin out the creamy sauce while making it silky smooth! 
  • Drain, rinse and toss pasta with a drizzle of olive oil; set aside.

Step 2: Prep the Chicken Cutlets

  • Slice the chicken breasts through the equator to create 4 filets. 
  • Cover the filets with plastic wrap and pound to an even thickness.
  • Lightly rub the chicken cutlets with olive oil and then season all sides with jerk seasoning.  
showing how to make jerk chicken pasta recipe (Rasta Pasta) by seasoning chicken with jerk seasoning

Step 3: Cook the Chicken

  • Melt butter in a little oil in a large, heavy bottom skillet over medium-high heat (I use my braiser for everything!). 
  • Once hot, add chicken and cook until golden and cooked through. 
  • Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes before slicing. 
showing how to make jerk chicken pasta (Rasta Pasta) by seasoning chicken fillets with jerk chicken seasoniong

Step 4: Sauté the Onions and Peppers

  • To the drippings left in the skillet, add the onion, bell peppers, additional jerk seasoning and cook for 2 minutes. 
  • Add garlic, and sauté for 30 seconds.
showing how to make jerk chicken pasta (Rasta pasta) by sautéing bell peppers, onions and garlic

Step 5: Make the Sauce

  • Sprinkle flour over the vegetables and cook for 1 additional minute.  
  • Reduce heat to low, then slowly whisk in the chicken broth and half and half.  
  • Increase the heat to medium-high and bring the sauce to a simmer while stirring constantly, until thickened.
a collage showing how to make Jerk Chicken Pasta (Rasta Pasta) by adding flour to bell peppers, then stirring in chicken broth and half and half

Step 6: Finish and Serve! 

  • Reduce the heat to low and stir in the cheddar and Parmesan cheese until melted. 
  • Stir in the lime juice, pasta and chicken – dig in!
a collage showing how to make Jerk Chicken Pasta (Rasta Pasta) by simmering sauce until thickened, then stirring in cheese and then pasta
showing how to make jerk chicken pasta (Rasta pasta) by adding chicken to top of pasta with bell peppers
  • Prep the chicken before slicing the veggies. Make the chicken cutlets and season the chicken with jerk seasoning before prepping the other ingredients. This will allow the chicken to come to room temperature and cook more evenly.
  • Dab the chicken of excess moisture. Before adding the jerk chicken seasoning, take a paper towel and pat the chicken dry, otherwise, the chicken will steam instead of sear– this is especially true if you are using frozen, thawed chicken which will release excess moisture.
  • Scrape up golden bits. After you cook the chicken there will be golden bits on the bottom of the pan – these are flavor gold!  Make sure to scrape up the bits while you sauté the peppers and onion.
  • Use a hot pan. Add your chicken only once the pan is hot – you should hear the chicken sizzle the second it touches the pan. If you add chicken to a lukewarm pan, it will not sear, and as we all know from Gordon Ramsey, color = flavor. Searing the chicken results in the Maillard reaction, also known as the flavor reaction, in which amino acids and reducing sugars produce browning and complex flavor. Note, that hot doesn’t mean high heat, but it means it’s reached full temperature (medium-high in this case). 
  • Only flip chicken once. Resist the urge to move the chicken as it cooks or to flip it more than once. The chicken needs to stay in the same place for a continuous amount of time to blacken, only then will it naturally release from the pan.
  • Don’t overcook chicken. Chicken, especially chicken breasts, are juiciest when not overcooked. The best and most efficient way to check for doneness is to insert a meat thermometer into the chicken. Chicken breasts are done when they register 160 degrees F and allowed to rest for 5 minutes to carryover to 165 degrees F. 
  • Cook the Parmesan until it melts. Continue to cook the sauce for a couple of minutes on LOW heat after you add the Parmesan to ensure it is fully melted. If you see specks of texture after a couple minutes, it’s likely just the garlic, the Parmesan should all be silky smooth by this point; if not, cook on.   
  • Don’t overcook the pasta! I recommend testing your pasta about 2 or 3 minutes before the box recommends – pasta should be al dente – meaning it should still be a little firm in the center/ have a “bite” to it. To stop pasta from cooking, strain and rinse your pasta with cold water.
  • Thin the sauce if needed. The sauce can become too thick if it’s simmered for too long, but don’t worry, it’s SO easy to fix! Simply stir in a little reserved pasta water until it reaches desired consistency.
  • Finish with seasonings! I left a little wiggle room in this recipe to add salt, pepper and cayenne pepper (I added all three) because store-bought jerk seasonings vary from brand to brand. Make sure to taste your pasta after you add the chicken and make it come alive by seasoning to taste. I don’t recommend adding additional jerk seasoning to make it spicier because it makes the sauce taste too strong of the other earthy flavors in the spice mix.
top view making jerk chicken pasta by stirring chicken into creamy sauce
  • Make it less spicy: Reduce the amount of jerk seasoning on the chicken, or if making homemade seasoning, reduce the amount cayenne pepper. Omit the cayenne pepper in the pasta sauce.
  • Pasta: Swap in medium-short sturdy pastas such as fusilli, rotini etc. You can use classic pasta, whole-wheat pasta, or gluten-free pasta. You can even try tortellini or ravioli!
  • Spice it up: If you’re looking for more of a kick, sprinkle individual servings with cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes so everyone can customize the heat.    
  • Adjust the spices: Play with the seasoning ratios of the jerk spice blend to mix up the flavor profile.
  • Add veggies: Add any chopped vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, green beans, cherry tomatoes, etc. and sauté them with the garlic. If adding spinach, add to the sauce at the end of cooking; allow to wilt for 1-2 minutes.
  • Alternate protein: The creamy sauce is so scrumptious you’re going to want to use it with everything! You can sub the chicken breasts for chicken thighs, shrimp, salmon filets, ground beef, ground sausage ground turkey, etc. and season them with the jerk seasoning.
  • Lighten it up: Use olive oil in place of the butter and 1 cup milk whisked with 1 tablespoon of cornstarch OR 1 cup evaporated milk mixed with 2 teaspoons of cornstarch in place of the half and half.
  • Make it dairy free:  Use regular coconut milk (not light) in place of the half and half or swap in cashew or oat milk whisked with 2 teaspoons cornstarch. 
  • Make it gluten free:  Swap the flour for your favorite gluten free flour and use your favorite gluten free pasta. 
up close of jerk chicken pasta (Rasta pasta) showing how juicy chicken is

up close of Jerk Chicken Pasta (Rasta pasta) showing how creamy the pasta is

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showing how to make jerk chicken pasta (Rasta pasta) by adding chicken to top of pasta with bell peppers

Jerk Chicken Pasta

Jerk Chicken Pasta will spice up your weeknight dinner routine with its creamy, cheesy, spicy, full throttle blend of flavor!  To make this chicken pasta recipe, chicken fillets are pounded thin so they’re incredibly tender, coated in aromatic, earthy, spicy, smoky, jerk seasoning then pan seared to create melt-in-your-mouth Caribbean-style blackened chicken. The luxurious pasta sauce is infused with jerk seasoning, fresh garlic, red onions, bell peppers and salty Parmesan, all brightened with a kiss of lime. Toss everything together and serve it alongside apple salad and sweet cornbread for a new favorite dizzyingly delicious dinner!
Servings: 6 servings
Total Time: 40 mins
Prep Time: 20 mins
Cook Time: 20 mins

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Ingredients

CHICKEN

  • 2 medium chicken breasts
  • 1 tablespoon jerk seasoning <<click for recipe or use store-bought
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil + more for drizzling
  • 2 tablespoons butter (salted or unsalted)

PASTA

  • 1 pound cavatappi or penne
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced, then halved
  • 3 bell peppers, thinly sliced (preferably red, yellow, orange)
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon jerk seasoning <<click for recipe or use store-bought
  • 2 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 ½ cups half and half (or milk whisked with 1 TBS cornstarch, or evaporated milk mixed with 2 tsps. cornstarch)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons chicken bouillon (granulated, crushed cubes or Better Than Bouillon)
  • salt, pepper, cayenne to taste
  • 1 cup freshly shredded sharp cheddar
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice

OPTIONAL GARNISHES

  • freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • fresh parsley
  • lime juice

Instructions

  • Make cutlets: Slice the chicken through the equator to create 4 fillets. Cover the fillets with plastic wrap and pound to an even thickness using a meat mallet or the side of a can. Dab the chicken dry with paper towels.
  • Season chicken: Lightly rub the chicken with a drizzle of olive oil then season all sides with 1 tablespoon jerk seasoning. Let the chicken rest while you prep the rest of the ingredients.
  • Cook pasta: Cook pasta in heavily salted water just until al dente. Reserve ½ cup pasta water before draining. Drain, rinse and toss pasta with a drizzle of olive oil; set aside.
  • Cook chicken: Melt 2 tablespoons butter in 2 tablespoons oil in a large, heavy bottom saucepan (I love my pictured braiser) over medium-high heat. Once hot, add chicken and cook for 4-5 minutes per side until golden and cooked to 160 degrees on an instant read thermometer. Transfer chicken to a cutting board and loosely tent with foil; don’t wipe out the skillet. Wait at least 5 minutes before slicing or chopping the chicken.
  • Sauté onions and peppers: Add onion, bell peppers and 1 teaspoon jerk seasoning to the chicken drippings and cook for 2 minutes over medium-high heat. Add garlic, and sauté for 30 seconds.
  • Make sauce: Sprinkle in the flour and cook for 1 additional minute. Reduce heat to low, then slowly whisk in chicken broth, followed by the half and half (or milk/cornstarch). Stir in the chicken bouillon. Increase heat to medium-high and bring the sauce to a simmer until thickened, stirring often.
  • Add cheeses: Reduce heat to low. Working in batches, stir in the cheddar until melted, followed by Parmesan cheese until melted. You may need to cook for 1-2 minutes on low for the cheeses to completely melt. Stir in the lime juice.
  • Combine and season: Chop or slice the chicken and stir it into the sauce followed by the pasta. Season with salt, pepper and cayenne pepper to taste – this will make the pasta come alive! The amount will vary depending on the brand of jerk seasoning used and personal preference. I add ½ teaspoon pepper, ¾ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon cayenne. Garnish with freshly grated Parmesan Cheese, fresh parsley and lime juice (optional).

Video

Notes

  • Spice level: I left wiggle room in this recipe so you can season to taste.  As written, without adding additional pepper or cayenne, it should be medium (but can vary depending on brand of jerk seasoning).  To make it milder, reduce the jerk seasoning on the chicken.  To make it spicier, crank up the cayenne pepper.
  • Chicken bouillon: You may use granulated chicken bouillon, crushed bouillon cubes, or better than bouillon. Add the bouillon to the sauce dry, do not dissolve it into water first.  If using cubes, crush before adding to the sauce.
  • Half and half: This is half milk and half heavy cream, so feel free to make your own! See substitutions below.
  • Make it dairy free: Use regular coconut milk (not light) in place of the half and half or swap in cashew or oat milk whisked with 2 teaspoons cornstarch.
  • Make it gluten free: Swap the flour for your favorite gluten free flour and use your favorite gluten free pasta. 
  • Make it lighter: Use olive oil in place of the butter and 1 cup milk whisked with 1 tablespoon of cornstarch OR 1 cup evaporated milk mixed with 2 teaspoons of cornstarch in place of the half and half.
  • Meal Prep:  The jerk seasoning can be mixed together and stored in an airtight container for up to 6 months.  The chicken can be sliced and seasoned, then stored in the refrigerator for up to one day.  The vegetables and cheeses can also be prepared and refrigerated ahead of time. 

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