Pickle-Brined Fried Chicken Sandwiches
We have a venerable fast-food institution in the South known as Chick-fil-A. It has gained renown for its chicken sandwich: golden fried chicken breast served on a steamed hamburger bun with only two slices of dill pickle to adorn the sacred sandwich. Truett Cathay, its founder, kept his restaurants closed on Sundays in light of religious observance, leaving legions of fried chicken sandwich addicts adrift one day a week. Cooks have tried to achieve the same flavors at home, but remain second-rate to Cathay’s esteemed fried boneless breast. Although variations abound, it is clear to me that the chicken breasts are pickle-brined. Here is my experiment reminiscent of the lauded sandwich. I save the juice from two jars of dill pickles to make the brine.
  1. Flatten the chicken breasts between two sheets of wax paper to 1/2 inch thick. Cut each breast into two roughly equal pieces. Move the chicken pieces to a large resealable plastic bag. Pour the pickle juice over the chicken, seal the bag, and refrigerate for 2–4 hours.
  2. When ready to cook, fit two rimmed baking sheets with wire racks and set aside. Open the hamburger buns and coat the inside of each with melted butter and place them on one of the prepared racks. Lay two pickle slices on one side of each bun. Remove the breasts from the brine and place them on the second prepared rack.
  3. Whisk the egg, baking powder, baking soda, and buttermilk together in a large wide bowl. Whisk together the flour, paprika, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, Italian seasoning, and cayenne in a separate large wide bowl.
  4. Fill a heavy skillet or Dutch oven with oil to a depth of 1 inch (or with enough shortening that when melted it is 1 inch deep). Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Dip each piece into the egg wash to coat, then dredge in the flour mixture. Shake off excess and return to the rack.
  5. When the oil has reached 325°, cook the chicken breasts, in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding, for 5–6 minutes per side, or until the chicken is cooked through and the thickest part of a breast reaches 165° on an instant-read thermometer. Remove the chicken to the prepared rack to drain briefly, then move to the prepared buns. Cover with a sheet of aluminum foil to steam-heat the buns. Serve hot.
Recipe Notes

From CHICKEN: a Savor the South® cookbook by Cynthia Graubart. Copyright © 2016 by the University of North Carolina Press.  Used by permission of the publisher. www.uncpress.org

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