Nigella Lawson's Fried Chicken Sandwich
‘Fried’, ‘Chicken’ and ‘Sandwich’: three alluring enough words on their own; together, they promise pure, unbridled pleasure. And, frankly, that’s the only kind of pleasure I’m interested in. For this reason, I rarely feel the urge to eat this out. Or perhaps, it’s truer to say, it’s an urge I am unlikely to act upon. I’m not saying I never would, or never have, but I am increasingly squeamish about the kind of chicken I’m going to get, and am so much happier, so very much happier, making my own at home when I can have a quiet – or rather, noisily crunchy – dinner alone. And it’s simple enough to do. I concede the idea of deep-frying can make one hesitate, but frying one single chicken thigh is a very much less hot and bothersome activity than you might imagine. I use my 22cm heavy-based pan for this but do use a wok if you prefer.
It’s hardly a takeaway-at-home impulse dinner, however, as the chicken ideally needs to marinate for quite a few hours (although, in extremis, you can leave it out on the kitchen counter for 20 minutes instead). But I like working my way up to this very special solo supper, and I plan it lovingly, making sure I get the chicken thigh fillet in its sharp, spicy marinade a good day before I’m going to be eating it. And while I have stipulated in the ingredients list what else you’ll need for your sandwich, I am merely reporting on how I like to eat it. You may choose to ignore my suggestions entirely: there is no more personal food than a sandwich and I expect you to have your own strongly held views as to what to put in yours.
Chinese Chilli Crisp oil is a staple in my kitchen but really, any chilli component works along with the mayonnaise; if using a sweeter sauce though omit the honey. For me, shredded iceberg is pretty well non-negotiable, but I’ll use cos (which you may know as romaine) uncomplainingly in its stead. And while I used to consider pickles essential, I increasingly want some sour-sharp kimchi in their place. If I don’t have any, then I swap in some coarsely grated carrot and a fierily generous splodge of the Fermented Hot Sauce from p.300 of Cook, Eat, Repeat, which is just perfect with the crisp-coated, juicy-fleshed chicken. And it would be so very wrong of me not to tell you that the Caesar Mayo (p.16) makes this into a rich and sumptuous surf ’n’ turf feast.
I always have kefir in the house, since I make it daily, but do use buttermilk or plain yogurt in its place. As for the bread you will be using for your sandwich, a burger bun might seem the obvious choice, but I am not always happy about the burger buns you can buy. If you strike lucky, go for it. Otherwise, I think regular soft white bread, whether out of a packet, or cut from a loaf, is the way to go. The Old-Fashioned Sandwich Loaf on p.43 is just made for this and, incidentally, there’s no reason, I suppose, that you couldn’t use the dough to make burger buns.
During lockdown, when I was running down my supplies before shopping again, I made this once with duck fat and once with schmaltz, that’s to say, chicken fat (which I got out of a jar, rather than rendering down the fat from the skins from hundreds of chickens) and it was sensational with both. But then, it is when fried in oil, too.
|75ml||kefir, buttermilk or plain yogurt|
|½ tsp||hot smoked paprika, plus ¼ tsp for flour, below|
|½ tsp||fine sea salt, plus ¼ teaspoon for flour, below|
|1 tsp||lemon juice|
|½ tsp||Dijon mustard|
|½ tsp||maple syrup|
|1||fat clove of garlic|
|1||small chicken thigh fillet|
|4-5 tbsp (50g)||plain flour|
|sunflower oil for frying, around 1.5 litres for a 22cm pan, more for a wok|
|4 x 15ml tbsp (60ml)||garlic mayonnaise|
|1 tsp||Chilli Crisp oil or other chilli sauce|
|1||burger bun or 2 slices of white bread|
|a few leaves of||iceberg lettuce, shredded|
|kimchi or pickles of your choice|
1. Pour the kefir, or buttermilk, or yogurt into a small dish and stir in the ½ teaspoon of hot smoked paprika, ½ teaspoon of salt, lemon juice, Dijon mustard and maple syrup. Peel the garlic and mince or grate it in, too. Give a good stir, then add the chicken thigh fillet and turn it in the marinade to make sure it’s well coated. Cover the dish, then leave for at least 4 hours or up to 2 days in the fridge. (If you simply cannot wait that long, leave the chicken in its marinade out on the kitchen counter for 20–40 minutes.)
2. Take the chicken, in its marinade, out of the fridge in good time to get to room temperature before you start to cook it.
3. Mix the flour with the remaining ¼ teaspoon each of hot smoked paprika and salt in a shallow dish. Lift the chicken out of the marinade, but don’t try and shake it off. Dredge both sides of the chicken in the seasoned flour, then dip briefly back into the marinade and dredge again. This double-dredging is essential to get a thick, shaggy coating. You can leave the coated chicken in the flour dish until you fry.
4. Mix the garlic mayonnaise with the Chilli Crisp oil and honey, and spread both pieces of a split burger bun (or a couple of slices of bread) with it. Put a plate lined with kitchen paper by (but not dangerously near) the hob, if you want to get rid of any excess fat once the chicken’s cooked.
5. Pour enough oil into your chosen pan to come about 3½cm up the sides. Heat until a small piece of bread becomes golden and crisp almost instantly; if you want to be precise, and have a food thermometer, then you want the fat to be at 190ºC when the chicken goes in (and about 180ºC as it cooks).
6. Using tongs, gently lower the chicken thigh into the hot oil, and cook for 3–4 minutes on each side, by which time the coating should be deep gold and very crisp and the chicken completely cooked through. Remove to the waiting paper-lined plate, remembering to take the pan of oil off the heat, and leave to stand for a couple of minutes while you shred some iceberg lettuce and get out your pickles. Put a handful of shredded lettuce on top on the mayo on the bottom slice, top with the fried chicken, add kimchi, pink-pickled onions and any other pickles you want. Scatter with a bit more lettuce and squidge on the top of the bun or second slice of bread. Go in cautiously: I have more than once burned my mouth.