I basically gave up fast food about four years ago. Despite being a good cook and appreciating good food, I have to admit I was a fast food restaurant fiend. When I decided to quit fast food restaurants for good*, giving up Chik-fil-A chicken sandwiches seemed like it would be the hardest part and I have to admit that I still crave those sandwiches.
A couple of years went by and early last year I serendipitously discovered that this pecan-crusted, oven-baked chicken on a squishy roll with a smidge of mayonnaise cured the Chik-fil-A cravings entirely.
To make these sandwiches, you’ll need a bunch of squishy rolls. I like to use dinner roll sized ones for portion control but regular sandwich sized rolls work as well. Homemade rolls work best here but if you’re not a bread baker, soft store-bought potato rolls will do the trick. If you need a roll recipe, try the potato rolls I wrote about in 2009.
Making the chicken takes a little bit of time but it’s not too challenging. The breasts are brined in a buttermilk and spice mixture, then dipped in an egg and mustard mixture and finally breaded with pecans and fresh bread crumbs. If you’re generous when breading the chicken or have a lot of pieces, make sure to have extra pecans and bread crumbs on hand should you need them!
To serve these sandwiches, cut the baked chicken into pieces appropriate for the rolls you’re using. Split the rolls, top them with chicken and add a dab of mayonnaise. If you really want to pretend you’re eating a Chik-fil-A sandwich, add a dill pickle chip or two. If you don’t like mayonnaise, a dab of mustard or honey mustard will taste great, too!
Oven-Fried Chicken Breasts with Pecan Crust
Recipe very slightly adapted from Bon Appétit, Y’all by Virginia Willis
- 1/8 cup coarse salt
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon sweet Hungarian paprika
- 2-3 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 cups buttermilk
- Approximately 1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast tenderloins (or whole breasts sliced into smaller, sandwich sized pieces)
- 1 cup fresh or panko breadcrumbs
- 1 cup very finely chopped pecans
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 2 large eggs
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves (or fresh if you have them)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line a rimmed baking sheet (or two, depending on size) with aluminum foil, then set a large wire rack on the foil.
- To make the brine, combine the salt, sugar, paprika, garlic and bay leaf in a large, nonreactive bowl or container. Add the buttermilk and stir until the salt is completely dissolved.
- Immerse the chicken breast tenderloins in the brine and marinate at room temperature for 20 minutes. Do not brine any longer or refrigerate, or the chicken will be too salty.
- Combine the breadcrumbs and pecans in a shallow dish. Add the oil and toss well to coat. Season with black pepper.
- In a second shallow dish, combine the eggs, mustard and thyme. Season with black pepper.
- Working one piece at a time, remove the chicken from the brine and shake off any excess liquid.
- Dip the chicken into the egg mixture, coating both sides.
- Place the breasts in the breadcrumb mixture, sprinkle with crumbs to cover, and press so the coating adheres. Turn the chicken over and repeat the process.
- Gently shake off any excess crumbs and place the coated breasts on the rack set on the baking sheet.
- Bake until the chicken is golden brown and the juices run clear, about 20-25 minutes depending on the thickness of the chicken.
* I do have to admit that I have caved a handful of times since giving up fast food. People have brought Chik-fil-A for everyone to my office as a nice gesture and I’m not one to turn down a nice gesture. I’ve also eaten Kentucky Fried Chicken on Easter as it’s was there and I have to admit that I like fried chicken way more than I like baked ham. And one day I was having a bad day at work and a Filet-o-Fish from McDonald’s seemed like a good idea for lunch. I also do not count Subway as fast food, if for no other reason than they don’t sell french fries or deep fried sandwich components.