The Perfect Fried Chicken Sandwich
Watch ICE Director of Culinary Development and bona fide southerner, James Briscione, craft his ideal chicken sandwich.
The fried chicken sandwich, by law, may only contain bread, chicken, pickles and sauce. Nevermind which law that is — the point is this: if you try to put anything more on my sandwich, we are going to have problems. With just four components to build it out, this sandwich is perfect in its simplicity, so each ingredient that goes into it better be perfect, too. Any missteps or half measures are going to stand out big time and completely throw off your chicken sandwich mojo.
Now don’t worry, you have me to take you through it step by step. First, the sandwich components:
- The bun: Only a soft potato roll will do. Period.
- The pickles: Dill chips are really the way to go (but if you have another preference I won’t fight you on this one).
- The chicken: Fried, of course — but also brined.
- The sauce: It’s gotta be special.
Now, let’s get to the meat of the sandwich: fried chicken. Two important things need to happen: first brine, then fry. Brining — the process of soaking your chicken in a solution of salt and sugar — is an essential step that helps the meat retain moisture and stay juicy throughout the cooking process.
Proper frying at home is easier than you might think. For starters, you don’t need as much oil as you think you do. If the chicken has been butterflied or properly pounded out, you’ll need the oil to be no more than an inch and a half deep in the pot. And what about that special sauce? Mayonnaise on a chicken sandwich is great. Umami mayonnaise on a chicken sandwich will change your life.
Umami — known as the fifth taste (after sweet, salty, sour and bitter) — is what we think of when something is savory and gives food a rich and satisfying taste. Umami is found naturally in tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, mushrooms, soy sauce and meats. For our chicken sandwich sauce, we build layers of umami with roasted shallots, garlic, shrimp paste (optional) and fish sauce. Trust me: once you have this condiment in your arsenal, you’ll find many more uses for it beyond your chicken sandwich. There’s no law for that.
- The umami mayo can be made in batches and keeps for up to two weeks in the refrigerator.
- Frying temperature is crucial: 350˚F is your ideal cooking temperature — if things dip below 300˚F, the chicken ends up a bit greasy. The best way to avoid this is to begin with oil hotter than you need it, around 370˚F; that way when the temp drops after adding your chicken, you’ll land right at your ideal cooking temperature.
- After cooking, rest the chicken on a rack, not paper towels. The rack will allow oil to drip away and keep the chicken from getting soggy on the bottom.
Classic Fried Chicken with Umami Mayo
Makes 4 sandwiches
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast filets
- 1 quart water
- ½ cup kosher salt
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 2 cups flour
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
For the sandwich:
- Umami mayonnaise (recipe follows)
- 16 slices dill pickle or more as desired
- 4 potato rolls
- 1 shallot, cut in half, peeled, root removed
- 1 head garlic, top trimmed, root intact
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon shrimp paste, with chiles (optional)
- Sriracha hot sauce, to taste
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 cup vegetable or canola oil
For the sandwiches:
- Butterfly each of the chicken breast filets. Combine the water, salt and sugar in a bowl and whisk until dissolved. Add the chicken and leave to brine for at least two hours, or let it brine overnight.
- Make the flour mixture: add the flour, salt, granulated garlic, black pepper and cayenne together in a large bowl, and whisk to combine.
- Remove the chicken from the brine and pat dry. Season each piece lightly with salt and pepper. Dip each chicken breast into the flour mixture and press to coat well on both sides. Remove the floured pieces to a pan and rest briefly before frying.
- Add the chicken to a pot of oil heated to 370˚F. Work in batches, fry one or two pieces at a time until golden brown, about 6-8 minutes. Remove to a rack to rest and season immediately with salt.
- Split each roll, spread the bun with umami mayonnaise, add pickle slices and top with fried chicken.
For the mayo:
- Place the shallot, garlic and olive oil in a small pan and cover with foil. Roast in a 350˚F oven for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and, when cool enough to handle, add the shallot and garlic to a blender, squeezing the roasted garlic cloves from the skin, and reserving the oil from the pan for later.
- Add the fish sauce, Sriracha, shrimp paste (if using) and egg yolks to the blender and process until smooth. Turn the blender to low and slowly drizzle in the canola oil and reserved olive oil until the mixture has emulsified.
- Keep refrigerated up to two weeks.