Our version of the ultimate, best-ever fried chicken sandwich: crisp, craggy crust, juicy, tender meat topped with a fresh Basil Green Goddess slaw. It’s unbelievably good.
As a writer, I die a little inside every time I use an exclamation mark (enough already, Internet. I get it, you’re excited). But if ever a sandwich deserved some un-ironic enthusiasm, it’s this one. It’s crispy! It’s spicy! It’s tender and juicy and slathered with basil mayo!
I know I sound completely, utterly ridiculous but I don’t care! It’s that good.
Okay, I’m done shouting (for now).
A little background on how we came to make this beautiful specimen of edible glory … the last week has been very hot and very stormy. So what do two knifey nerds do when stuck in the house all weekend? If you said “watch the entire season of Stranger Things and make fried chicken sandwiches”, you’d be right! And oddly prescient.
But not just any fried chicken, no, no, no. Because, my little Nerdlettes, and I think you’ll agree with me here, if you’re going to make something decadent, it better be really, really good. It has to be worth the work (and the calories).
I understand you might be thinking that this seems like a whole lot of hoopla for a fried chicken sandwich but often the simplest things are the hardest to get right. Sure, you could just fry up a bit of chicken and throw that sucker on a bun but you’ll likely wind up with tough, rubbery meat and greasy, tasteless breading. No thank you, sir.
In order to ensure fried chicken perfection, you have to engage in just a little bit of science. Don’t freak out, I’m not talking lab coats and molecular gastronomy, simply a few tricks that will keep the chicken moist and the crust crispy and full of flavor.
Tip #1: Brine
Brining chicken (or any protein) adds moisture and flavor by hydrating the cells of muscle tissue. Often it’s done in a salt water solution (pickle juice is a popular fried chicken brine) but can also be done without any liquid at all. I decided to go with a dry brine. This keeps the chicken from exuding excess moisture when it cooks which can make the breading fall off. We use a combination of coarse kosher salt (don’t use table salt, it will taste too salty), brown sugar and a little baking soda.
The baking soda might seem odd but it’s the secret weapon in getting extra crispy, deep brown chicken skin because it breaks down skin proteins. In this case we’re using skinless chicken but it also helps dry the surface of the meat so the crust sticks better and forms tiny bubbles that add extra crunch.
Tip #2: Dredge
Adding some corn starch to the flour helps the crust stay extra crispy and light. Your mixture should be seasoned well, but not overwhelmingly so. We use a mix of spices but just a few heavy grinds of black pepper would do in a pinch. The most important trick when it comes to dredging is to drizzle some of the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture and work it with your fingers to form little clumps that become craggy, crunchy little jewels when fried.
Tip #3: Fry
You can either use a deep cast iron skillet or a dutch oven. If you use the skillet, make sure the oil comes up over the side of the chicken or the edges won’t brown (but don’t overfill it either). In a dutch oven, 3-4 inches of oil is fine. We like using peanut oil because it has a high smoking point and a clean taste. Temperature is key. You want to fry the chicken in 350ºF oil, so heat it to 365º so when you add the chicken, the temperature will be about right. Use a thermometer and adjust the heat as needed.
Last but not least, we wanted to top our fried chicken sandwich off with something fresh and full of flavor. Our herb garden is bursting so we went with a crunchy slaw made with the most delicious dressing ever, Basil Green Goddess. It’s creamy and tart and goes perfectly with the spicy chicken. A few bread and butter pickles, some extra hot sauce and a good potato bun and you have yourself the Ultimate Fried Chicken Sandwich.
- 2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 4-6 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
- 1¼ cups (150g) all-purpose flour
- ⅓ cup (40g) cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 teaspoon mustard powder
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
- 1 large egg, beaten to blend
- 1 cup (8 fl.oz.) buttermilk
- 2 tablespoons bourbon (optional)
- 3 tablespoons hot sauce (recommended: Frank’s); plus more for serving (optional)
- Peanut or vegetable oil (for frying; about 6 cups or 50 fl.oz.)
- Basil Green Goddess Slaw
- ¼ cup (2 fl. oz.) Basil Green Goddess Dressing (plus more for buns)
- 2 cups (200g) green cabbage, thinly sliced
- 2 cups (200g) red cabbage, thinly sliced
- Hamburger buns (recommended, Martin’s potato buns), lightly toasted
- Bread-and-Butter Pickles (for serving)
- Mix salt, sugar, and baking powder in a small bowl. Season chicken all over with mixture. Chill uncovered on a wire rack set inside a rimmed baking sheet, at least 2 hours and up to 1 day.
- Whisk flour, cornstarch, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, mustard powder, cayenne, and 2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt in a medium bowl. Whisk egg, buttermilk, bourbon (if using), and hot sauce in another medium bowl. Working with one piece at a time, dredge chicken in flour mixture, making sure to work into crevices. Shake to remove excess; return to rack. Drizzle 3-4 tablespoons buttermilk mixture into seasoned flour and work in with your fingers until small clumps form. Dip chicken into remaining buttermilk mixture, allow excess to drip off, then dredge in flour mixture. Using fingers, press some flour clumps onto chicken so they adhere. Gently shake off excess; return to rack. Chill at least 10 minutes and up to 12 hours.
- Pour enough oil into a large heavy pot to come a little less than halfway up sides. Heat over medium-high until thermometer registers 365°F / 185ºC. Working in batches, fry chicken, turning every so often and adjusting heat to maintain a temperature of 350ºF /175ºC, until deep golden brown, 5–7 minutes per batch. Transfer to a wire rack set over paper towels to drain.
- Add cabbage to a large bowl and toss with 3-4 tbsp. Basil Green Goddess Dressing until lightly coated. Taste for seasoning. Best if allowed to sit for at least 30 minutes.
- Spread some basil green goddess dressing over cut sides of lightly toasted buns buns. Build sandwiches with pickles, fried chicken, slaw, and a few shakes of hot sauce, if desired.