The fast-food chain Chick-fil-A is based here in Atlanta. They’re closed on Sunday for religious reasons. I respect that. But why is it that I crave a Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich almost exclusively on Sundays? It’s like clockwork. I wake up on Sunday morning and think, “You know what would be really good right now? A Chick-fil-A sandwich.” Like most food companies, they guard their secret recipe. But it’s a breaded fried chicken breast on a bun with pickles. I figured I could come up with something pretty close. First, it’s important to buy a pasture-raised bird. Start with the most flavorful chicken you can. Here’s my proprietary recipe: I brine the chicken in pickle juice along with Hidden Valley Ranch salad dressing packets. Not the Hidden Valley prepared wet dressing or dip, but the dry mix they sell in a blister pack. It sounds strange, but the spice blend in that mix is really intense. I also add a little of it to the breading. You fry the chicken, toast the buns in honey butter, slather on some spicy pickle mayo, and then slap on the breaded chicken. For buns, I use King’s Hawaiian sandwich buns, which are pretty widely available in the bakery or deli department of grocery stores. They have the perfect soft texture and sweet taste.
Feeds 4 hungry folks (especially after late-Sunday-morning church service)
Chicken breasts – 4, boneless and skinless
Dill pickle chips, preferably Mt. Olive – 1 jar, 16 ounces
Water – 2 cups
Hidden Valley Ranch Original dry salad dressing mix – 5 packets, 1 ounce each
Sugar – 1/4 cup
Salt – 3 tablespoons
Canola oil for frying
All-purpose flour – 1 cup
Espelette pepper – 1 tablespoon
Ground black pepper – 1 teaspoon
Butter – 4 tablespoons
Honey – 2 tablespoons
King’s Hawaiian sandwich buns or brioche rolls – 8
Spicy pickle mayonnaise (recipe below) – about 1 cup
1. Trim the connective tissue from the chicken breasts. Lightly pound the thickest end of the breast to match the rest of breast in thickness; it’s important that the chicken be evenly thick for even cooking. Don’t worry if the pounded breasts seem a little thin and larger than the buns; the chicken will shrink and puff up during cooking.
2. Strain the pickles over a large bowl, reserving the pickles and juice separately; you should have about 1 cup juice. Whisk the water, 4 packets of the salad dressing mix, the sugar, and 1 tablespoon of the salt into the pickle juice to make a brine. Pour the brine into a large zip-top bag and add the chicken; press out the air, seal, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 3 hours. Don’t go past 3 hours, though; too much time in the brine will toughen the chicken.
3. Heat the oil in a deep fryer to 330°F. The somewhat low frying temperature is important so that the chicken will cook through completely before the crust gets too dark.
4. Line a baking sheet with paper towels and top with a cooling rack.
5. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, the remaining packet of salad dressing mix, the remaining 2 tablespoons salt, the Espelette pepper, and the black pepper.
6. One at a time, pull the chicken breasts from the brine and, while still wet, dredge in the flour mixture. Shake off the excess flour, set the chicken on the rack, and repeat until all the chicken is coated. Let the chicken rest until the flour has absorbed the brine and the breading sets and gets a little sticky, about 5 minutes. One by one, toss the chicken pieces back into the flour mixture and shake off the excess.
7. Deep-fry the breasts until cooked through and GBD, about 8 minutes. Meanwhile, thoroughly wash and dry the cooling rack and place over a clean baking sheet. Transfer the cooked chicken to the rack to drain.
8. Heat a large skillet or flattop griddle over medium heat.
9. Melt the butter in a small saucepan and whisk in the honey. Bring the mixture to a simmer and remove from the heat. Split open the rolls and brush both cut sides with the honey butter. Toast the rolls in the skillet or on the griddle, cut side down, until golden brown, about 1 minute.
10. Spread a thin layer of spicy pickle mayonnaise on the bottom half of the cut side of the roll and top with a chicken breast. Spread a little more mayonnaise on the chicken and close the sandwich with the top of the roll.
Spicy Pickle Mayonnaise
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
Egg yolks – 2
Garlic – 1 clove, peeled
Frank’s RedHot Xtra Hot – cayenne pepper sauce – 1/4 cup
Salt – 1/4 teaspoon
Dill pickle chips – 1/2 cup patted dry and firmly packed
Grapeseed oil – about 1 1/2 cups
1. Slip the egg yolks into the bowl of a small food processor fitted with the metal blade. Add the garlic and hot sauce, and process until the mixture looks fluffy, about 30 seconds. Add the salt and all but 2 tablespoons of the pickles and process for another 30 seconds. With the processor running, gradually add 1 tablespoon of the oil, drop by drop, to establish the base for the emulsion. Continue to very slowly drizzle in the oil until the processor makes a gurgling sound and then a quieter, choppy sound as the oil becomes incorporated and the mixture thickens. Turn off the processor and add the rest of the pickles; pulse just to combine. Taste the mayonnaise and adjust the flavor with more salt or hot sauce; you can also adjust the thickness by adding a little water to thin it out. If you add ingredients, cover the processor and process for a final 10 seconds. To store, cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week.