I like to make a lot of the components for my sandwiches from scratch. But I am very aware that many of you reading this are happy buying ingredients that will make your life easier while still producing a great sandwich result.
This week I attempted to make a good sandwich with only FIVE components that you can make yourself at home (with a little effort). Then I evaluated my experience and tried to decide whether it was worth it to make these ingredients or buy them.
The five components of my pesto chicken sandwich recipe are:
- grilled chicken thighs
- walnut pesto sauce
- roasted red peppers
- mozzarella cheese
- Dutch crunch rolls.
If you’ve been following my blog long enough and you have a great memory, you might know that I have shared individual recipes for all these components throughout the last year and a half. I didn’t put them into one sandwich where they were all combined, but today I’m pulling them all together for this very tasty sandwich.
You can buy the pesto sauce, mozzarella, and roasted red peppers and you could even substitute the grilled chicken for hunks of grocery store rotisserie chicken for a super quick sandwich. Let’s talk about each of the five components and decide if I think it’s worth it to make the component or add it to your next shopping list.
|Ingredients (click name to jump to section)||Price (at Chicago stores)|
|Grilled chicken||$6.99 (in-house rotisserie chicken)|
|Walnut pesto sauce||$3.79 (8 oz – Classico brand)|
|Roasted red peppers||$1.99 (12 oz – Orlando brand)|
|Fresh mozzarella||$3.99 (8 oz – BelGioioso brand)|
|Dutch crunch sandwich rolls||$4.99 (4 count ciabatta – Panera brand)|
|$21.75 / 4 = $5.43 per sandwich|
If you are one of those who like to skip to the end of the book to see what happens at the end, you can go skip to the results here. But don’t. Read on!
First, we need our protein. For these sandwiches, I grilled some of the chicken outside on my gas grill and I cooked the last two thighs inside on a grill pan right before eating them. If you just season the chicken with salt and pepper and your favorite dried spices (meaning: no marinade time) you can get the meat all cooked up and ready to sandwich in 15 minutes or so. When you cook the chicken yourself, you obviously have full control over the seasoning and flavor and when you buy a rotisserie chicken, you get what you get (which is still usually tasty in my experience).
Swapping grilled, whole chicken parts for rotisserie chicken meat isn’t really a 1 for 1, equal swap. But if price or speed to the table is a requirement for you, the rotisserie option can be a good one.
Chicken is expensive at the moment, but these rotisserie chickens seem to be immune to big price changes caused by inflation. I’m pretty sure you can’t get the equivalent raw chicken parts anywhere near as cheap as buying a rotisserie chicken.
BUY OR MAKE?
BOTH ARE GOOD OPTIONS: I like the flavor and spicing options you get when you grill your own chicken, but it’s hard to argue with a cooked chicken that costs less than raw. Also: go the rotisserie chicken route if you want to save money.
Here’s a quick recipe for grilled chicken thighs. This one does have a marinade so it will take you longer than 20 minutes, but if you want to try it yourself it’s a good, simple recipe. You can skip the marinade and just hit each piece of chicken with a pinch of salt and pepper if you really need to sandwich quickly.
Walnut pesto sauce
Pesto is a flavorful sauce for a tomato and mozzarella sandwich as well as spreading over sliced steak or even topping some scrambled eggs. The garlic pungency and texture of the pulverized nuts in the sauce really come through in the taste and this pesto will elevate grilled meats very well.
I chose to use walnuts in this sauce, but you can use the traditional pesto ingredient, pine nuts, as well. The walnuts in my stores are cheaper than pine nuts and there’s not a noticeable nut flavor that comes through in the final sauce.
BUY OR MAKE?
MAKE THIS: the flavor is just so much better in homemade versions of pesto. If you’ve never made pesto, it’s also helpful to know how to make it because you can make some version of it from almost any nut and almost any leafy green herb (like cilantro).
Here’s the walnut pesto sauce recipe that I use. It makes enough pesto for a week’s worth of sandwiches, so get ready to get creative and try it on other things while it’s in the fridge.
Roasted red peppers
There are at least two ways that I have roasted red bell peppers. One is an oven method which is included in the recipe down below. The other is to simply char the heck out of them over a grill or even like I did this most recipe batch, directly over your stove eye. The goal of roasting red peppers isn’t necessarily to blacken them, it’s to burn and blister the skin so that it’s easier to remove. The secondary goal of the roasting process is to cover the blacked peppers in a covered bowl while they steam themselves making the skins even easier to peel off.
At the time of writing this, I could buy 3 red bell peppers for right around $3.49 (my store had them priced at 3.49/lb.). And you could get 12 ounces of them already roasted for $1.99. So, depending on the day it might be cheaper to buy pre-roasted peppers than to roast them yourself.
I like the flavor of roasted red peppers, but I don’t know if it’s worth the time for me. I think the pre-roasted red peppers you can buy are of pretty good quality and flavor which would help sway my decision.
BUY OR MAKE?
BUY THESE: making your own roasted red peppers is cheaper, but the benefit doesn’t really outweigh the results. I find peeling roasted peppers annoying and would easily pay 2 dollars for the amount of time/effort involved in making these myself.
Here’s a roasted red pepper recipe. It’s very easy but at this point, I’ve effectively told you to go buy it instead.
I’ve made mozzarella twice now. Neither time was a perfect experience but I’m glad that I’ve given it a try. The recipe that I use is Kitchn’s Homemade Fresh Mozzarella. The recipe requires two ingredients that you likely do not have in your pantry, citric acid, and liquid rennet. Other than those two things, you need milk and salt and you’re pretty much ready to make cheese.
The mozzarella making process requires monitoring temperature, so you’ll need a thermometer. You also must handle the cheese curds while they are fairly hot so as the recipe recommends, get some somewhat thick kitchen gloves to make that part bearable.
I am glad I have learned how to make mozzarella, but I don’t know if I ever really want to become an expert in the process. The fact that you must buy citric acid and liquid rennet makes this component of the sandwich a bit more challenging than everything else. Since the recipe requires a whole gallon of milk, you could see some financial savings if you made a lot of batches of mozzarella. But if you think there’s a chance that you might only make 2 or 3 batches (like me) then it will be much cheaper to just buy store-bought mozzarella.
BUY OR MAKE?
DON’T MAKE THIS: making your own mozzarella is fun for a science experiment and it does taste good, but it costs more and takes A LOT longer than just buying it.
Here’s the link again to Kitchn’s Homemade Mozzarella recipe if you really want to give it a shot.
Dutch crunch sandwich rolls
Dutch crunch, sometimes called tiger bread, is a San Francisco sandwich shop staple. The exterior crunch is formed by a thin glue-like batter made from rice flour, yeast, oil, and sugar. That coating takes on a fun patterned crackle on the top of the bread that adds texture and flavor to the roll. My recipe isn’t a traditional Dutch crunch roll, because it’s more important to me to have a soft sandwich roll and then add Dutch crunch to that.
You probably can’t get Dutch crunch rolls at your local bakery unless you live near San Francisco, but you should have access to some good sandwich buns or rolls to put chicken pesto on. Bread is fairly cheap, and you should be able to replicate this sandwich with another type of roll if you’re not a baker.
White rice flour makes up a good portion of the glaze that is painted on each roll. The glaze is thick and gloopy, so spreading evenly takes a little bit of effort, but it pays off in the end.
One of the first things you learn when you start baking your own sandwich buns or rolls (or any type of bread for that matter) is that you need to ensure that the bread is 100% cooled off before you put it in a bag or sealed container. It is super important to cool this particular type of bread because the whole point of a Dutch crunch roll is to have a crunchy exterior. We worked hard to get that crust and if your bread is even a tiny bit warm when you package it up it will steam inside the bag and make the crunchy crust soggy. I learned this the hard way with my first ever batch of this recipe.
Because I respect the crusts of my baked goods, I typically will leave my buns or rolls on a cooling rack on the counter in my kitchen for at least 2 hours. It might seem weird to leave food out on the counter, but you’ll get used to it.
BUY OR MAKE?
MAKE THESE: if you’re a baker, make this recipe. If you’re not a baker, well, I guess you have to buy your bread or better yet, become a baker!
Here’s my Dutch crunch sandwich roll recipe. Give it a shot for your next sub sandwich craving!
Dutch crunch potato rolls
Great crunch and a soft interior on rolls with a sweet and flavorful crust make for very good sandwiching. This recipe requires three ingredients that you might not have, but it's well worth the investment. Dutch crunch is also known as Tiger Bread in some parts of the world.Get Recipe
This is equivalent to the last page in the book and you’ve either read all your way here or skipped and no one will ever know the wiser. Technically, if you’ve read the whole way you already know the results, but here they are collected in one spot.
Click the links to jump back up or keep reading downward for my pesto chicken sandwich recipe and probably too many photos of this sandwich.
|Ingredients||Make or Buy or Either?|
|Roasted red peppers||Buy|
|Dutch crunch sandwich rolls||Make (if you are able)|
The sandwich recipe
Now, all we gotta do is put all these five components together and sandwich them up.
Pesto chicken sandwiches
Pesto brings savory garlic and herb flavors to a creamy mozzarella chicken sandwich. The roasted red bell peppers will contribute sharpness that balances out this flavor bomb of a sandwich.
- 4 chicken thighs or sandwich sized breast pieces
- 4 to 8 slices of fresh mozzarella cheese
- pesto sauce (link to recipe)
- roasted red peppers (link to recipe)
- 4 six-inch sub rolls (my Dutch crunch roll recipe)
Season chicken with salt and pepper
Grill Instructions: If you're using an outdoor grill: pre-heat the grill for at least 10 minutes. Cook chicken on grill grates for 4 to 5 minutes per side for thighs and 5 to 6 minutes per side for chicken breasts. If you have very large chicken breasts you might want to grill them for 7 minutes.
Skillet/grill pan instructions: If you're using an indoor grill pan or skillet, pre-heat for 5 minutes over medium-high heat. cook on a pre-heated pan for 4 to 5 minutes per side for thighs and at least 5 to 6 minutes per side for chicken breasts.
If you have a probe thermometer you should be looking for 165 degrees F (73 C) for all of your chicken pieces. You should be able to pull the chicken off the grill or out of the pan at 5 degrees less than your target temperature and it will carry over cook those 5 extra degrees.
Let chicken rest 5 minutes after cooking and before slicing.
If you have a broiler, turn it on when the 5 minutes of chicken rest time have ended. Otherwise, turn your oven to 350 degrees F (165 C). The broiler or oven is to warm the sandwich through and potentially melt the mozzarella.
If each chicken piece is oddly sized or too small for your rolls, slice the chicken to fit the sandwich rolls.
Toast your rolls if desired.
Add a generous amount of pesto to the bottom roll. Add a few roasted red pepper pieces on top of the pesto sauce.
Top the pesto and peppers with chicken and then lay a couple of slices of mozzarella on top of the chicken.
Add each bottom bun, topped with pesto, peppers, chicken, and mozzarella to a sheet pan and place under the broiler or into the oven. If you are broiling, pay very close attention and broil for 2 to 3 minutes. The broiler could burn everything really quickly so be careful. If you are using your oven set to 350 F/165 C, leave the mozzarella-topped chicken sandwich bottoms in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes or until the mozzarella becomes soft and melty.
Remove sandwich bottoms from the oven when the mozzarella starts to look like it's melting.
Add more pesto to the inside of the top roll if you want. Then add the roll tops to enclose the sandwiches.
Serve sandwiches and enjoy.
Make pesto chicken sandwiches
Whether you make all the ingredients or make none of the ingredients, give this sandwich combination a shot. It’s easy and quick to get on a plate.
Check back next week when I’ll be writing about sandwiches made from bread shaped like the letter O.