Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A famously claims that they didn't invent the chicken, just the fried chicken sandwich. There is no denying that the fried chicken sandwich is a classic and crave-able combination. Before I started making my own version of the sandwich it was always the first thing I would eat when I visited my hometown.
Six years ago, I created my version for one of my restaurants and called it the "chickwich." It was my public homage to the sandwiches that I knew and loved from growing up eating Chick-fil-A. For my version, I use aromatic buttermilk brine for the boneless skinless chicken breasts to keep them juicy and then dip them three times: First in seasoned flour, then an egg wash and finally crushed saltines to make the crust extra crispy.
If you have a large sauté pan or a griddle, a buttered and griddled bun is nice, but the bun is just fine without any prep. The sliced pickles — the only condiment in this sandwich — are key, and if you are like me and want them in every bite, make sure to layer the entire top bun with pickles. I like tangy and sour dill pickle slices but if you prefer bread-and-butter or sweet pickles, they'll work equally well.
The sandwich can be served hot or cold. If you are packing this for an al fresco dining experience, bring the three components in separate containers and assemble the sandwiches just before eating. Otherwise, you run the risk of a soggy sandwich.
Start to finish: One hour and 20 minutes
4 small boneless, skinless chicken breasts, brined and patted dry (see recipe below)
2 large eggs plus 2 tablespoons milk, whisked
2 cups self-rising flour
Seasoned Flour *
1 sleeve of saltines, pounded fine by hand to make uneven crumbs
Peanut or cottonseed oil, for frying
3 cups hot water
1 cup kosher salt
1 cup packed dark brown sugar ?
2 generous sprigs of fresh rosemary or 2 tablespoons dried rosemary, leaves ?
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns?
4 cups cold buttermilk?
1 teaspoon hot sauce or cayenne pepper
21?2 teaspoons granulated garlic?
2 teaspoons onion powder?
2 teaspoons smoked Spanish paprika
1 Tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 to 1 cup pickles
In a large saucepan over high heat, bring the water, salt, sugar, rosemary, and peppercorns to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Stir and let cool to warm/room temperature.
Add 4 cups of ice cubes, the buttermilk, and hot sauce or cayenne. Whisk well. When the brine is cool to the touch, submerge the food in the brine. Refrigerate covered for 15-20 minutes.
Brine chicken breasts for 15-20 minutes. Remove and pat dry. Discard brine.
Add chicken rub to 2 cups of self-rising flour and mix well.
When ready to fry, remove tender from the back of the chicken breast, if it is still intact. Coat breasts lightly and evenly with seasoned flour. One at a time, dip into egg mixture and immediately into cracker crumbs. Pat cracker crumbs into all sides.
Let sit for 5 minutes to make sure crust is solid before frying.
Heat a cast-iron skillet with at least ½ inch of peanut or cottonseed oil.
When the oil reaches 325 F, place chicken in the skillet and cook for 3-4 minutes with the lid on. Remove the lid and turn chicken over. Cook with the lid off for another 4 minutes or until desired color of brownness.
To keep chicken warm and crispy before assembling sandwich, place fried chicken on a rack set in a sheet pan and place in a 300 F oven
To assemble sandwich; open potato bun and layer one side with sliced pickles, place chicken on the other side and close bun. Enjoy immediately.
To up the ante, you can butter and grill the inside of the bun before making the sandwich.
Nutrition information per serving: 650 calories; 148 calories from fat; 17 g fat (4 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 160 mg cholesterol; 2186 mg sodium; 89 g carbohydrate; 4 g fiber; 6 g sugar; 35 g protein.
Elizabeth Karmel is a barbecue and Southern foods expert. She is the chef and pitmaster at online retailer CarolinaCueToGo.com and author of three books.