They say imitation is the best form of flattery and in most arenas that is true, but for chefs in restaurants and home cooks with secret family recipes, I’m not too sure that statement applies. Closely guarded restaurant specialties and family secret dishes handed down from one generation to the next are closely guarded secrets.

I find great pleasure in enjoying a dish at a restaurant and then, if the recipe is not shared by the chef, recreating it at home by trial and error. Yes, I usually have more error than I would prefer but oh, the satisfaction when the dish comes out tasting of the original! It is like I have a permanent souvenir from the restaurant or dinner at friends that when I make it again brings up delicious memories of the dining event.

The title of this column is “Copycat recipes…Take 2.” I’m not repeating recipes I’ve written about, but this theme is one of my most sought-after requests. We all want to say we have XYZ’s famous dish recipe and when we share it, the secret is out. So “Please Join Our Table” as I share with you a few of my copycat recipes, including my version of Southwestern Rigatoni like the one served in our favorite Italian restaurant here in Kingwood. Send me your copycat recipes at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. so that we can share them in this column.

Almost a Chick-fil-A Chicken Sandwich

2 thick, boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced halfway through the thick part of the breast
1/4 cup (or enough to cover chicken) concentrated lemon juice
1/4 cup ice cold water
1 egg
1/4 cup whole milk 
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon celery salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon granulated onion powder
1/2-1 cup peanut oil for frying (enough until pan is 1/2-inch deep) 
2 good-size hamburger buns
1 tablespoon butter, melted
6 dill pickle slices 

Place chicken breasts in a large Ziploc bag, pour lemon juice over chicken, shake gently and marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour. While the chicken is marinating, make your coating. In a large Ziploc bag combine the flour, sugar and spices and set aside. In a shallow pan (I use a pie pan), beat the egg with the milk. Take the chicken out of the refrigerator the last 15 minutes and bring to room temperature. Blot the breasts dry with a paper towel and place them one a time in the Ziploc bag with the flour mixture, shake well, remove from the bag and dip the chicken pieces into the egg mixture, coating both sides. Then carefully put them back into the Ziploc bag with the flour mixture and coat the chicken in the flour mixture. Set the chicken breasts on a cookie cooling rack that is on a baking sheet; if needed, sprinkle with a little more of the flour mixture and let rest while you heat up the oil. Heat the peanut oil (about a cup depending on the size of your skillet; I use a cast-iron skillet) until it's 345-350 degrees. Sprinkle some of the flour into the pan and if it bubbles and sizzles it is probably hot enough. This is an important part to mimic a commercial fryer/broaster: Place chicken pieces in the skillet with lid off and fry about 5 minutes until bottom is lightly golden. Now, turn pieces over, cover with a tight-fitting lid, reduce heat to low immediately, and fry for 5 more minutes. Remove lid, turn pieces back over, return heat to medium, and fry 5 more minutes with lid off. Do not overcrowd the pan, or you will poach the chicken instead of frying it. Serve on toasted buttered buns with three pickle slices on bottom bun.

* To make a spicy sandwich, add a teaspoon of Tabasco to the marinade and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper in the flour mixture. Serve with pepper jack cheese on the sandwich and the three pickles. 

* To make a deluxe, put pickles on the bottom bun, then chicken, then lettuce, two tomato slices, and a slice of cheese. Top with a buttered toasted bun. 

I have had numerous requests for Amedeo’s Southwest Rigatoni, you know the one; it has grilled chicken or shrimp, roasted corn, jalapeno, fresh cilantro and garlicky Parmesan panko breadcrumbs. Still waiting for the original recipe from Tony and Leslie Raffa, but here is a yummy version you can try!

My Version of Tony’s Southwest Rigatoni
(Chicken or Shrimp with Roasted Corn and Pepper Pasta)

1 pound penne pasta, cooked al dente 
2 pounds peeled shrimp or 1-inch chunks of boneless chicken, seasoned with Old Bay Seasoning
1 cup fresh corn kernels, roasted in husk 
2 ounces butter 
1/2 teaspoon shallot, minced 
1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced 
1 cup red bell peppers, seeded and diced 
1/4 cup poblano peppers, seeded and diced 
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and rough chopped 
1 bunch green onions (white bulb parts only), minced 
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, minced
1/4 cup chicken stock 
1/3 cup Campbell’s cream of lobster or shrimp soup, do not dilute 
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste 
Shaved Parmesan cheese to garnish and fresh cilantro sprigs to garnish 

Melt butter in a large pan. Add garlic, onion, roasted corn kernels, red bell pepper, poblano pepper, jalapeno pepper and scallions. Sauté over medium high heat until tender. Add chicken stock and soup concentrate and bring to simmer. Reduce heat and add nutmeg and cilantro. Simmer until sauce thickens slightly. In a large sauté pan, heat 1-2 tablespoons olive oil, add the shrimp or chicken and sauté 3-5 minutes until done; set aside. Heat cooked penne pasta in lightly salted, simmering water. Drain pasta well and add to roasted corn and pepper mixture. Toss and cook until heated through. Top with shrimp/chicken and season with salt and pepper. Divide onto plates and top with shaved Parmesan cheese. Garnish with fresh cilantro sprigs.

Karen Boughton
Author: Karen BoughtonEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
I grew up in a big, Greek, cooking family. I married my high school sweetheart and soon had three daughters. My husband and I worked in the family’s Greek restaurant, “Zorba’s,” for several years before moving to Baton Rouge and eventually Corpus Christi. There I taught microwave cooking classes for studio and on television for three years before moving to Kingwood in the late '80s. I reached out to learn more about regional and international foods, spending 16 years in management in private athletic/dining/country clubs for ClubCorp, where I embraced health and cooking. In 2008 I joined the Tribune Newspapers as food editor, the same time that I became a nutrition advisor and USANA Health Sciences Associate. These two passions have given me better health and the freedom to live life my way.

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