Fast-food fan or not, you’ve likely been bombarded with news of a fracas over fried chicken this past week, as Popeyes and Chick-fil-A have engaged in an all-out sandwich war on social media. Poultry purists have flocked to Popeyes in such a frenzy that the long lines have even caused traffic accidents.
But pull your car back into the garage and save yourself a phone call to Geico. There are other ways to get a chicken sandwich.
The Fast-Food Route
If you can’t be bothered with brining, flouring and frying a sandwich that you’ll eat in under 90 seconds, congratulations ― you’re human. Fast-food options for fried chicken sandwiches abound, but there’s really only one clear competitor with Popeyes and Chick-fil-A when it comes to national chains, and that’s Shake Shack. Sure, McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Arby’s and KFC all carry passable fried chicken sandwiches, but the Chick’n Shack makes them all seem like wet garbage by comparison.
Introduced in 2016, the Chick’n Shack is made from 100% all-natural and antibiotic-free chicken breast with lettuce, pickles and buttermilk herb mayo, and it’s been lauded as better than Chick-fil-A. And now that Shake Shack is becoming increasingly ubiquitous with its 130 U.S. locations, it’s not as hard to get your hands on as it used to be.
The Homemade Route
If you’ve got bigger ambitions, roll up your sleeves and make a chicken sandwich yourself. But prepare yourself for the endeavor you’re about to pursue. As someone who doesn’t mind spending weeks nurturing a sourdough starter or taking three days to make the components of a Momofuku layer cake, I’m happy to spend ridiculous amounts of time in the kitchen. However, if I went through the time-consuming and messy process of making one lone chicken sandwich that would be gobbled down in seconds, I might never cook again. So take heed: If you do this, invite a horde of friends to enjoy the feast with you, because making a single sandwich is a fool’s journey.
Each of the recipes below varies, but keep in mind these key tips to making the best fried chicken:
Start with a brine: Sure, you can skip this step, but you can also choose to throw all your money into a river. (Don’t skip this step.) As James Beard Award-winning chef RJ Cooper has previously told HuffPost, he puts pieces of raw chicken in a buttermilk brine and refrigerates the meat for 12 hours before coating it in flour and frying it. His mixture contains buttermilk, fresh sage, rosemary, thyme and garlic, but you can use whatever you want to replicate the fast-food sandwich of your choice, whether it’s spicy or mild.
Season your flour: The brine will keep your chicken moist and give it some flavor, but the flour you dredge it in is the first flavor bomb that’ll hit your tongue. Make sure it’s seasoned well with salt and pepper, but kick it up with spices like garlic powder, paprika, cayenne and anything else you want.
Fry it low and slow: In case no one’s told you, burned chicken skin is not delicious. Nor is raw chicken flesh. To avoid both, keep your oil around 320 degrees Fahrenheit and use a meat thermometer to ensure the inside of the chicken is cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, as per guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Condiments are everything: If you cook your chicken to perfection, it’ll taste great naked. But everyone can benefit from accessorizing, so take some time to prepare a homemade ranch sauce, some fresh slaw or whatever floats your boat. The recipes below will give you inspiration.
Now get frying, and see if you can give Popeyes a run for its money.