“Let’s take a quick moment of silence for the fact that we may never eat Chick-fil-A again…”
“Eh-hem… What uhh, what if we could still eat Chick-fil-A?”
“That’s preposterous Jimmy, you know that if you eat Chick-fil-A, the vegan police will come and lock you up forever.”
“You don’t think I know that? I’m just saying, what if there was a sandwich out there that’s just as crispy, salty, and meaty as a Chick-fil-A sandwich, only it’s completely vegan?”
“You’re filling your head with lies, Jimmy – that day will never come!”
All that cheezy dialogue just for me to say: that day has finally come. A sandwich with soft, butter-toasted buns, sweet & tangy pickles, crunchy iceberg lettuce, smoky honey mustard sauce (aka Chick-fil-A Sauce), and crunchy, salty, buttermilk deep-fried chicken. Put the word “vegan” in front of it and that’s what you have in front of you today.
I know you’re itching to sink your teeth into the sandwich already, but let’s cover a few bases before diving in. First thing’s first, we’ve gotta talk about vegan chicken alternatives. We love tofu and tempeh as much as the next plant-head, but they’re not gonna cut it as far as mimicking the texture of chicken, which leaves us with frozen, vegan alternatives typically made from a mixture of soy, wheat, and pea protein. When searching through the freezer section of your local store, you want to choose a cutlet or “breast” that’s lightly seasoned and isn’t breaded.
While making this recipe, we experimented with two different types of soy meat: Gardein’s “Chick’n Scallopini,” which can be found at most American health marts like Sprouts & Whole Foods, and VeriSoy’s “Chicken Cutlets,” a brand commonly found in Asian markets. Among our 6 taste-testers, it was nearly impossible to pick one over the other, however, our conclusion is that if you’re lucky enough to have an Oriental market nearby with a “vegetarian” section, then go with VeriSoy’s Chicken Cutlets as they’re a tad bit meatier. Otherwise, Gardein is the best choice for most people since it’s readily accessible.
Okay, moving onto the frying part of class! Chick-fil-A chicken normally endures several steps of preparation, progressing in this order: brine, dip in liquid, dip in flour mixture, and deep fry. Because vegan meat doesn’t quite interact with brines the same way actual meat does – and because vegan meats are seasoned with salt as is – we can go ahead and skip the brine phase. Now, most fried chicken is dipped into buttermilk (thick and tangy cultured milk) that we’re going to replace with coconut cream and vinegar. Coconut cream is thick and actually has a slightly higher fat content than buttermilk, which will lead to a thicker coating (and no it won’t taste like coconut). The vinegar will mimic buttermilk’s tanginess, which is crucial to creating a mouth-watering effect when you bite into the chicken.
For the dry part, you want a coating that can be packed on heavy, as well as have a little bit of grit, for big crunch. My solution: a half & half mixture of sorghum and cassava flour plus a touch of coconut milk powder. Cassava is a fine flour, like all-purpose, and therefore it can be easily clumped up, which is a good thing here. Sorghum flour is mealy, akin to fine corneal, which will provide the grit aspect we’re looking for. Coconut milk powder contains a fair amount of fat in it which will create a beautiful golden-brown exterior. By stirring in a couple tablespoons of the coconut buttermilk into the dry mixture before dredging, small clumps are created throughout, which adds further crispiness.
Let’s get to the scary part of the recipe: deep frying. Health nuts have a reputation of outlawing deep-fried foods from their diet, and from a personal perspective, we’ve been hesitant to deep-fry simply for the amount of oils it requires. After sucking it up and buying a big container of oil, we’ve realized that – wait for it – deep frying isn’t that bad. Here are some perks:
- You can stick a candy thermometer into the oil, making temperature control easy
- Because there’s so much oil, when the food enters, the temperature doesn’t drop drastically
- In the end, very little is actually absorbed in the food. I’ve found that pan-frying actually leads to greasier food than deep-frying does
There are many oil options to choose from, but because you’re going to use so much, don’t sweat buying a “premium” or “healthy” oil. We went with simple soybean oil as it has a high smoke point and it’s affordable. Other good frying oils include: refined coconut oil, refined avocado oil, vegan shortening, grapeseed oil, and sunflower oil.
Now for the third and final phase of class – assembling your masterpiece. Chick-fil-A sandwiches are completely focused on the chicken, so toppings are normally limited to just two pickles. We wanted to step it up just a little bit, so we went with sweet & crunchy “bread and butter” pickle slices and crisp, shredded iceberg lettuce. The pickles’ bite compliments the savoriness of the chicken while the iceberg lettuce acts as a fresh distributor of flavor.
What I really want to talk about is that. sauce. tho. We previously made a recipe for Polynesian Sauce, so if you’re team Polynesian, click here to satisfy your tastebuds. To better balance the flavors of a fried chicken sandwich however, we’re going with a variation of “Chick-fil-A Sauce,” which is a mayonnaise-based sauce flavored with smoky barbecue and dijon honey mustard. Because we like to make everything from-scratch, we combine our homemade Avocado Oil Mayo, Smoky Maple BBQ Sauce, dijon mustard, and a few other ingredients to come up with a flavor akin to Chick-fil-A’s signature sauce.
Before the bell rings, let’s recap! Use a soy-based chicken breast or cutlet, mix coconut cream with vinegar to create vegan buttermilk, mix a fine and gritty flour together for a perfect crunch, deep frying > pan frying, go light on toppings, and whip your own Chick-fil-A or Polynesian Sauce. Keep those tips in mind and you’ll accomplish an experience so identical to Chick-fil-A that you’ll be thinking that you actually Postmated the real thing.
Vegan Chick-fil-A Sandwich
Crunchy fried chicken, soft butter-toasted buns, sweet & tangy pickles, crisp iceberg lettuce, and creamy, smoky sweet mustard sauce. The most realistic vegan take on Chick-fil-A's original sandwich.
- 1/2 gallon refined oil (coconut, soybean, avocado, grapeseed, or sunflower all work)
- 4 vegan chicken cutlets or “breasts” (Gardein’s ‘Chick’n Scallopini’ or VeriSoy’s ‘Chicken Cutlets’)
- 1/2 cup coconut cream
- 1 tbsp distilled, white wine, or rice vinegar
- 1/2 tbsp powdered sugar or powdered Swerve
- 1/4 cup cassava flour
- 1/4 cup sorghum flour
- 2 tbsps coconut milk powder or soy milk powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1/2 tsp onion powder
- 3 oz (1/4 cup + 2 tbsps) vegan mayonnaise
- 1.5 oz (3 tbsps) barbecue sauce
- 1 tbsp powdered sugar or powdered Swerve
- 1 tbsp distilled, white wine, or rice vinegar
- 2 tsps dijon mustard
- 1 tsp yellow mustard
- 2-4 soft, vegan-friendly white hamburger buns (2 if doing double-stacked, 4 if doing single sandwiches)
- vegan butter, softened
- bread & butter pickles
- 1/8 iceberg lettuce head, finely shredded
- Pull chicken out of packaging and allow it to thaw at room temperature while prepping everything else.
- In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together all of the “Chick-fil-A Sauce” ingredients until smooth. Set aside in the fridge for now.
- Place oil into a heavy dutch oven or an electric deep fryer and heat to 350-375° F.
- In a shallow bowl, whisk together cassava flour, sorghum flour, coconut milk powder, salt, paprika, and onion powder.
- In a separate shallow bowl, whisk together coconut cream, vinegar, and powdered sweetener. Pour two tablespoons of coconut cream mixture into dry mixture and stir until small clumps form.
- Set up your frying station: Place your chicken and batter mixtures to one side of the pot. On the other side, place a cooling rack upside down on top of a flipped over cookie sheet lined with paper towels. The paper will wick-away oil while the cooling rack keeps it away from the food.
- When oil reaches the 350-375° F range, dip a chicken cutlet into the wet mixture and coat it evenly. Then dip it into the dry mixture, being sure to get a heavy coat of flour on it. Gently shake off any excess flour.
- Carefully drop into oil and repeat for another cutlet; don’t fry more than two at a time. Cook until chicken is deep golden brown – 3-4 minutes – gently moving them around once or twice. Transfer to your draining rig and repeat steps 7-8 for remaining chicken.
- While second batch fries, spread a thin layer of vegan butter on the cut-side of your buns. Heat a medium-large sauté pan over medium heat. Once hot, place buns butter-side down and cook until lightly browned; 1-2 minutes.
- To assemble, place a couple of pickles on the bottom bun, followed by a piece of chicken, a spoonful of Chick-fil-A sauce, and a handful of iceberg lettuce. Repeat that order if making a double-stacked sandwich or cap it off with another bun for a single-stacked sandwich. Enjoy while fresh!