By James Briscione — Director of Culinary Research
The fried chicken sandwich, by law, may only contain bread, chicken, pickles and sauce. Never mind 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.
The Perfect Fried Chicken Sandwich with Umami Mayo
Makes 4 sandwiches
For the Fried Chicken
1 quart water
½ cup kosher salt
¼ cup granulated sugar
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast filets
- In a large bowl, combine the water, salt and sugar in a bowl and whisk until dissolved.
- Butterfly each of the chicken breast filets. Add chicken filets to the brine and leave to brine for at least two hours, or let it brine overnight.
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Add the flour, salt, granulated garlic, black pepper and cayenne together in a large bowl, and whisk to combine.
Salt and pepper, to taste
Oil, for frying
- 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.
- Heat a pot of oil to 370˚F. Add chicken, working in batches of two pieces at a time, and cook until golden brown, about 6-8 minutes. Remove to a rack to rest and season immediately with salt.
For the Sandwiches
4 potato rolls
Umami Mayonnaise (recipe below)
16 slices dill pickle or more as desired
- Split each roll, spread the bun with umami mayonnaise, add pickle slices and top with fried chicken.
For the Umami Mayonnaise
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
- 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.
- Umami mayonnaise can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to two weeks.
To learn how you can study with Chef James, click here.