Eric Akis: Satisfying a fast-food craving with fried chicken sandwiches

Eric Akis

Sometimes, I get a craving for a food I don’t eat very often and in my youth, would have headed to a drive-through window of a fast-food restaurant to get it.

An example of that is a fried chicken sandwich. Not sure the last time I had one at a fast food chain, but I recall it being way too salty and was left wondering what percentage of the sandwich was actually chicken.

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So nowadays, when I get a craving for a fried-chicken sandwich, as I did last week, I make it myself. It was so good I decided to share the recipe today.

To make it, I fried boneless, skinless chicken breast, southern-style, a process that started by marinating chicken in buttermilk with hot pepper sauce. The chicken is then deeply dredged in a flour mixture flavoured with seven types of herbs and spices. Once coated, I let the chicken sit awhile, as that allows the flour mixture to be absorbed by the moisture on the chicken, set and become crispy when fried.

Southern-style fried chicken is not traditionally deep-fried. It’s shallow, skillet-fried in one inch or so of oil. For today’s recipe, I used two skillets to ensure each piece of chicken had ample room to cook. But if you don’t have two suitable skillets, you could cook the chicken in batches and keep the cooked ones warm in the oven until the others are done.

When cooked, the chicken is sandwiched in tender buns with coleslaw and pickles. It will make a very tasty, late-spring supper you could serve with lemonade or iced tea and corn on the cob.

Southern-style Fried Chicken Sandwiches

Buttermilk-marinated chicken is dredged in a richly seasoned flour mixture, fried until golden and then sandwiched in buns with tangy coleslaw and pickles.

Preparation time: 25 minutes, plus marinating and coating time

Cooking time: Five to six minutes

Makes: Four servings

2 (275 gram) boneless, skinless, chicken breasts

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 tsp hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco, or to taste

1 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/4 tsp ground sage

1/4 tsp marjoram

1/4 tsp onion powder

1/4 tsp garlic powder

1/4 tsp paprika

1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

• peanut or vegetable oil, for frying

4 split and toasted buns (see Note)

• mayonnaise, to taste

4 butter or leaf lettuce leaves

• creamy tangy coleslaw (see recipe below)

• bread and butter or sliced dill pickles, to taste

Combine buttermilk and hot pepper sauce in a medium bowl. Cut each chicken breast in half, crosswise. Add chicken to the buttermilk and toss to coat. Cover, marinate and refrigerate chicken for two to four hours.

Thoroughly combine the flour, salt, black pepper, sage, marjoram, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika and cayenne pepper in a shallow-sided dish, such as a pie plate.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using one hand, remove a piece of the chicken breast from the buttermilk, let excess drip away and then set in the flour mixture. Use your clean hand to turn, deeply dredge and coat the chicken in the flour mixture. Shake off the excess flour and then set chicken on the baking sheet. Coat the remaining pieces of chicken in this manner, ensuring they do not touch when set on the baking sheet. Let chicken sit 15 minutes to allow the flour mixture to set.

Pour one inch of oil in each of two, 10-inch cast iron or other heavy skillets. Set skillets over medium, to medium-high heat and heat oil until it reaches 350 F on an instant-read meat thermometer. Adjust the heat to maintain that temperature.

Carefully slip two coated chicken breasts into each skillet and cook 2 1/2 to three minutes per side, or until cooked through and golden brown. Drain chicken on paper towels.

Spread the cut side of each bun with a little mayonnaise. Set a lettuce leaf on each bottom bun and then top with a piece of fried chicken breast. Top each chicken breast with coleslaw and pickles, set on top buns and enjoy. Serve any leftover coleslaw alongside the chicken sandwiches.

Note: A tender bun one can easily bite through is ideal for these sandwiches. For this recipe, I used Portofino Bakery brioche buns. If you use a chewy bun, the chicken will likely slide out of it when trying to eat the sandwich. You can toast the cut sides of the buns in a toaster oven. You could also lightly butter the cut sides of the buns and toast them by setting them cut-side down on a griddle over medium heat.

Eric options: In the recipe, I used the spices and herbs I most often flavour my fried chicken with. If you don’t have all of them, though, or simply want to add your own twist to this recipe, feel free to adjust what I have suggested.

Creamy Tangy Coleslaw

Pile this easy-to-make slaw on your fried chicken-breast sandwich.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: None

Makes: Four servings

2 Tbsp mayonnaise

1 Tbsp buttermilk

1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard

1 tsp honey

• salt to taste

2 to 2 1/2 cups thinly shredded green cabbage

1/4 cup grated carrot

1 large green onion, very thinly sliced

1 to 2 Tbsp finely chopped Fresno pepper (see Note)

Combine mayonnaise, buttermilk, mustard, honey and salt in a medium bowl. Add remaining ingredients and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve with the chicken. For crisp coleslaw, serve it soon after making it.

Note: Fresno pepper is a red jalapeño. It is sold at some supermarkets. If you can’t find it, you could use green jalapeño. Or, for a milder taste, red bell pepper.

Wickaninnish cookbook signing at Bolen Books

If you’re a fan of the cuisine served at Tofino’s renowned Wickaninnish Inn, but only get there once in while, that problem has been solved. That’s because The Wickaninnish Cookbook: Rustic Elegance on Nature’s Edge (Appetite by Random House, $45), has just been published, and it’s filled with delicious recipes that allow you to make some of their signature dishes at home, recipes such as crab cappuccino and pan-seared halibut with avocado risotto.

Thursday at Bolen Books, Wickaninnish chef Warren Barr and the inn’s managing director, Charles McDiarmid, will be talking about the book and signing copies. This event is free and begins at 7 p.m.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks, including seven in his Everyone Can Cook series. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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