Even though as a personal chef and recipe developer I predominantly rely on whole foods and healthful ingredients when preparing meals for my clients and my own family, or when developing recipes to share here on the site, I have a little confession to make: I love the taste of fast food.
Now, I’m tempted to call it my “guilty pleasure”, as if there should be some shame associated with that particular little admission; but the thing is, there isn’t any. Not one iota. I’m owning my love for the taste of certain fast foods outright, fully and proudly. And because so much of my time is spent in either my own kitchen or someone else’s, every once in a while, maybe twice a month or so, sheer laziness gets the better of me, and I really appreciate the ease of simply ordering up and wrapping my mouth around something that has all of those savory, creamy, meaty and cheesy flavors layered with a little crunch of greens and tang of fresh tomato, or some other equally tasty toppings, all piled up between two soft and pillowy buns.
And then…then there are those special occasions when I want my fast food “slowed down” a bit, and I’m even willing to prepare it myself. So when that’s the case, back into that kitchen I go!
As I write this post, I’m totally craving one of my go-to faves (which just happens to be a Spicy Asiago Ranch Chicken Club from Wendy’s—ever had one?), and I thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to get creative with my own take on a crispy chicken sandwich that would be equally delectable, yet made from scratch with fresh, homemade ingredients, and prepared in a more take-my-time-with-it kind of way.
You getting hungry yet? I know I sure am.
I have so much fun taking inspiration from some of the simple things in life that I love, and a hot, crispy chicken sandwich is definitely one of them. Fresh out of the fryer and topped with melty cheese, drizzled with a creamy sauce and layered with fresh toppings, I think that a tasty little sandwich like this is definitely worth making at home in my own kitchen. I thought about what it was that I loved about the one from Wendy’s, and it was that combination of creamy, tangy and salty “juiciness”—that perfect combination of flavors that goes hand in hand with a succulent, crispy-fried chicken breast.
For my take, I thought I’d go with some of those bold and zippy flavors from a chicken caesar salad that I love so much, like a tangy and creamy garlic-parmesan sauce, and then combine those with the gooeyness of mozzarella, the kick from parmesan, fresh greens and sliced tomato, and add in that deliciously crispy-salty aspect of a strip or two of bacon that I like on the fast food version. It’s the slower, slightly healthier version of my fast food fave, and it’d be something I could make in my kitchen whenever the craving for it came. (And mine even comes complete with Sea Salt Oven Fries! What could be better?)
I love not having to go out to get fast food in order to be able to enjoy some of those particular flavors that I get hungry for on occasion. And while it’s perfectly fine (not to mention convenient) to go through the drive-thru and order up some food from the window every now and again, I kinda like the idea of being able to take the “fast” out of “fast food” and slow it down in order to get an even fuller and more nuanced flavor, not to mention something that’s a little on the fresher and healthier side, as well.
This Spicy & Crispy Chicken Caesar Club is my own homemade version of one of my favorite fast food sandwiches; the only thing is, don’t be surprised if just one bite of this hot, crispy little sandwich leaves you asking, “Wendy? Who the heck’s Wendy?”
Taste what’s good and pass it on.
P.S. We love you, Wendy!
Spicy & Crispy Chicken Caesar Club with Melted Parmesan & Mozzarella Cheeses, Creamy Garlic-Parmesan Sauce, Bacon, Fresh Greens & Sliced Tomatoes, with Sea Salt Oven Fries
by Ingrid Beer
Yield: Makes 4 sandwiches
• 2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, sliced in half lengthwise to create 4, thinner cutlets
• 1 cup buttermilk, plus 1 tablespoon, divided use
• Tabasco sauce
• 2 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press
• 1 ½ cups flour
• 1 teaspoon black pepper
• 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
• 1 teaspoon granulated onion
• ½ teaspoon paprika
• ½ teaspoon Italian seasoning
• ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more, if you like it “extra spicy”)
• Peanut oil, for frying
• ¼ cup grated or shredded parmesan cheese
• 4 slices mozzarella cheese
• 4 buns, toasted
• Creamy Garlic-Parmesan Sauce (recipe below)
• Romaine leaves, for topping
• Tomato slices, for topping
• 4 strips crispy bacon, cut in half, for topping
• Sea Salt Oven Fries (recipe below)
-Place the 4 chicken cutlets into a medium-size bowl, and pour over the buttermilk; next, add in as many dashes of Tabasco sauce as you’d like (I like mine spicy, so I added quite a few), followed by 1 teaspoon of salt and the pressed garlic cloves; using your hands, mix the marinade into the chicken breasts, and allow them to marinate for at least 20 minutes, or up to 24 hours.
-Prepare your flour coating by adding the flour, the black pepper, granulated garlic and onion, paprika, Italian seasoning, cayenne pepper, and 1 ½ teaspoons of salt into a large bowl, and mix to combine; drizzle in the 1 tablespoon of buttermilk, and using your fingers, mix the buttermilk into the flour creating little “chunky” flour bits (this is good for a little extra crispiness when it fries).
-To coat your chicken, take 1 breast cutlet out of the buttermilk, and allow the excess to drip off; next, add the chicken to the seasoned flour, pressing it in and turning to coat both sides, then place the coated chicken on a clean plate; repeat the process until all chicken cutlets are flour coated. (I like mine a little “extra crispy”, so I re-dredge each breast, one at a time, back in the buttermilk, then once again into the seasoned flour, and back to the plate, and repeat until all cutlets are double-dredged.)
-Add about 4-6 cups of oil to a Dutch oven or heavy bottom deeper pan, so that the oil comes roughly halfway up the sides; place a clip-on digital thermometer onto the side, and bring the oil up to 350°.
-Once the oil is hot, work in batches by adding 2 of the breasts into the oil, allowing them to fry for a total of about 6 minutes, about 3 minutes per side (you can turn them frequently as I did, if you see that they’re browning too much on one side), or until golden-brown and cooked through (you can also turn down the temp of the oil slightly if the breasts are browning too quickly); remove from pan and allow the chicken to drain on a paper towel-lined plate; repeat with the remaining chicken, and then allow the chicken to “rest” for just a few minutes out of the oil.
-Top each crispy fried chicken breast with 1 tablespoon’s worth of the grated or shredded parmesan cheese, then lay a slice of the mozzarella cheese over that; place the cheese-topped chicken breasts onto a foil-lined baking sheet, and place them into the oven on a “low” broil to very quickly melt the cheese, just for a moment.
-Assemble your sandwiches by slathering on a good amount of the Creamy Garlic-Parmesan Sauce onto both the top and bottom buns, then lay a leaf or two of romaine on the bottom bun, followed by a chicken filet, tomato slices, then 2 bacon halves, then the top bun; serve hot with Sea Salt Oven Fries, if desired.
Creamy Garlic-Parmesan Sauce Ingredients:
• 1 cup sour cream
• ¼ cup, plus 2 tablespoons, mayonnaise
• ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
• 2 garlic cloves
• Zest of 1 lemon
• 2 teaspoons of lemon juice
• ½ teaspoon freshly cracked pepper
• ¼ teaspoon salt, plus an extra pinch, if needed
-Place all ingredients into the bowl of a food processor, and process until completely smooth and creamy; store in a covered container, and keep any extra in fridge.
Sea Salt Oven Fries Ingredients:
• 2 large russet potatoes (washed, scrubbed and dried), cut lengthwise into 4th ‘s, then sliced into thick matchsticks
• Olive oil
• Sea salt
• Freshly cracked black pepper
• ¼ teaspoon paprika
-Preheat the oven to 400°; line a baking sheet with foil that has been misted with cooking spray.
-Toss the matchstick russet potatoes with about 2 tablespoons of oil, a couple of good pinches of sea salt and black pepper, plus the paprika, and toss the ingredients together; turn the seasoned potatoes out onto the prepared baking sheet in as much of a single layer as possible, and bake the fries for about 45 minutes, or until golden-brown and tender.