Way back in February 2021 a place called Taco Bell announced a Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco (most real writers would shorten this to CCST or something but instead I’m going to spell it out every time because it’s fun). I spontaneously tried to make it that week and did OK, not great. There were things I knew I needed to change and this week I finally tried Taco Bell’s version and I set out to make my recipes better.
The Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco (NOT CCST) comes in two flavors. Spicy and Not Spicy/Regular. The only difference is the Spicy one has five or six pickled jalapenos on it. Taco Bell did not use much creativity with the differences here.
Both Crispy Chicken Sandwich Tacos have a soft and puffy flatbread, spicy chipotle sauce and one small chicken tender that is tortilla crusted and fried.
If you look closely, the puffy flatbread looks different in promo materials now compared to how it looked to me back in February. The photo from February (below) had a very consistently browned puffy shell and the one in the promo materials now (above) looks much more like a pita or regular flatbread.
When I saw it back in February and I noticed the consistent browning I was questioning how it was cooked. A tortilla or flatbread will hit the hot surface and it will not get consistent brown color because the baking soda (for a tortilla), or in this case yeast (for a flatbread) will make things start to bubble and the dough won’t consistently touch the surface.
Because of this image, back in February, I figured it had to be made in some sort of hot press to get solid consistent browning. Like the photo below. Also, it looked to me like the flatbread might have been pan seared in oil.
At that time, my thought was to make flatbread in a panini press instead of in a skillet like most other flatbread recipes. This led to my test breads being thinner and not as puffy I wanted.
Fast forward to now and I see all their promo stuff no longer has that consistent browning and it just looks like a soft pita or super thick tortilla.
I made the tweet below back in February when they announced that this taco was coming.
At that point I had good tortilla crusted chicken, decent chipotle sauce and store-bought pickled jalapenos. My flatbread was pressed too hard in an attempt to get that consistent color, but everything was still really good.
Fast forward to now and none of the flatbreads in Taco Bell’s Sandwich Tacos have any browning or consistent color at all.
Trying the Taco Bell Crispy Chicken Sandwich Tacos
Here’s the Crispy Chicken Sandwich Tacos that I bought last week. I had a wild idea to put some cheese sauce on one of them, so I added chips and nacho cheese to my order to see how that worked. It was ok, but the cheese sauce didn’t really help anything.
These Sandwich Tacos are not very big. The chicken breast piece is basically the size of 2 chicken nuggets. I got out my kitchen measuring tape (you have one of these, right?) and the flatbread was right around 4 to 4.5 inches diameter.
The Sandwich Taco experience
These were way better than I expected. The flatbread was soft and pillowy. The chicken was moist and a tiny bit crispy on the outside and each sandwich taco was sauced fairly well. There wasn’t a whole lot of flavor in the chicken or the breading and it would have been better if the chicken had been a bit crunchier to contrast the soft flatbread. But overall, this was a good experience.
I think my biggest complaint here is that there’s a severe lack of creativity in the two versions. The only difference is the pickled jalapenos? I think it would have been good to have had a version with Taco Bell’s jalapeno ranch and maybe some lettuce or diced up tomato on top. When I mentioned this to my wife, she told me that you could recreate this jalapeno ranch version while ordering online or with the app, but I didn’t consider this until after I made my yearly Taco Bell trip.
Another idea for Taco Bell would be to make a sauce like a Nashville Hot sauce and dunk the tender in that and serve it with pickles or pickled jalapenos. Taco Bell is owned by the same ownership as KFC so they can figure this out and make this Sandwich Taco line expand. If you’re reading this, Taco Bell, pay me my money.
Let’s make our own Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco
First, we have to get together all of our ingredients.
The spicy chipotle sauce
This is my third or fourth iteration of this chipotle sauce recipe. Even if you don’t plan to make Crispy Chicken Sandwich Tacos, this sauce is great on things like mashed or baked potatoes. Make the sauce and use it for a dip for fries or spread it on your next sausage biscuit. It’s a great sauce and easy to make.
The pickled jalapenos
The only thing that makes the Spicy and Non-spicy Crispy Chicken Sandwich Tacos different from each other is the pickled jalapenos. I’ve got an easy recipe for those that is based off of my Spicy MSG pickle recipe. Make up a batch of these for your next nacho or taco night. Or just add them whenever you want to add a bit of heat and texture to a sandwich.
The flatbread I made this week isn’t quite as light as Taco Bell’s but it’s still really soft. The recipe isn’t a super approachable recipe for beginners, simply because the dough turns out wet and sticky. I had to use a lot of flour when shaping the pre-cooked flatbreads to get it to shape in circle-ish shapes. You could add more flour to the dough at the beginning and that would make the shaping process easier, but then you’d end up with a denser flatbread.
This flatbread recipe is a whole lot closer to the actual Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco than my last attempt when I cooked it in a flat panini press. This is more like just making fat flour tortillas.
When you’re making flatbread like this, make sure you give it some time wrapped in a clean towel after you cook it to steam and get soft. If you need to reheat one of these puffy flatbreads, do so in the microwave covered with a damp paper towel for 30 seconds or so. This will bring it back to a softened and pliable state.
I measured the official Taco Bell Crispy Chicken Sandwich Tacos, and they were around 4 to 4.5 inches long. I shot for that diameter in my flatbreads and got close.
I made buttermilk jalapeno brined chicken that was crusted with tortilla chips and then fried. The whole recipe for this sandwich is down at the bottom of this post.
The final showdown
Here’s Taco Bell’s on the left versus mine on the right. I got damn close. My flatbread is soft and pillowy, but not nearly as light as the one Taco Bell makes. I think they probably have flatbread scientists working on theirs.
My chicken was much crunchier and the whole thing was warmer, since I ate mine just a couple minutes after frying. But my chicken also had more spice and flavor when eaten on its own.
The sauce and the pickled jalapenos in mine were at least as good if not better than the Taco Bell ones. My chipotle sauce is a tiny bit spicier than Taco Bell’s. Overall, this was a success. It just took figuring out what direction they were taking with the flatbreads to understand where I needed to head for copying them. Now I know and knowing is clearly half the battle.
I even made an image compare for you to see how close they are. This might be easier for phone or small screen comparisons. Check down below for the whole recipe.
A copycat recipe to recreate a Taco Bell Spicy Crispy Chicken Sandwich Taco. Spicy and crispy fried chicken in a puffy flatbread with a creamy chipotle sauce and pickled jalapenos.
Ingredients:Buttermilk jalapeno marinade
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1⁄2 cup pickled jalapeno liquid
- 3 tablespoons of your favorite hot sauce
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 large chicken breast cut into four even pieces
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1⁄2 cup crushed tortilla chips
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- peanut oil for frying (2 inches high in your large pan)
In a medium sized bowl add buttermilk, pickled jalapeno liquid, hot sauce, kosher salt and black pepper and whisk to combine. Put chicken in a zip top bag or bowl with a lid. Pour buttermilk jalapeno marinade over chicken and store in fridge for at least an hour or overnight.
Make seasoned flour by combining flour and crushed up tortilla chips with all the spices, salt and pepper in a bowl, plate or pan.
Remove one piece of chicken at a time from the marinade and dredge in the seasoned flour mixture until thoroughly coated on all sides. Press firmly to make sure there are no dry spots on the chicken. Place fully coated chicken onto a piece of parchment or the rack of a sheetpan to rest.
Heat 2 inches of peanut oil in a skillet to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
Fry each piece of chicken for 5 to 6 minutes or until it reaches 165 degrees internal temperature. You'll probably want to fry for 3 minutes on the first side and then flip it to make sure you're getting the level of browning that you want. Continue cooking on the other side.
After frying, place finished chicken on a cooling rack over paper towels to drain some of the oil away.
Assemble each of your Crispy Chicken Sandwich Tacos with a good squirt of your spicy chipotle sauce on the puffy flatbread. Add a piece of fried chicken on top and garnish with four or five pickled jalapenos.
Serve and enjoy
If you don't make the puffy flatbread, you could buy super soft tortillas or even buy store bought naan and cut it to the shapes that you need with a knife.
Final Crispy Chicken Sandwich Tacos
Here’s a few more photos of my final Crispy Chicken Sandwich Tacos. This was a great Sandwich Taco, probably the best Sandwich Tacos I’ve ever made. Even if you don’t want to make your own Sandwich Tacos, you could use some of the other recipes I’ve shared to make other things that aren’t Sandwich Tacos.
Hopefully you all enjoyed my foray into Sandwich Tacos. Maybe next week we’ll tackle something closer to normal. Or maybe I’ll make a Curderburger?