This recipe is part of Crispianity: a column devoted to all foods crispy and crunchy, two of the most underappreciated attributes of a great dish. Author Adeena Sussman is a food writer and recipe developer, pairing here with a friend, photographer Evan Sung. Sussman’s most recent cookbook, coauthored with Lee Brian Schrager, is America’s Best Breakfasts: Favorite Local Recipes From Coast to Coast (and check out their fried chicken book, too!).
In Fried and True, the fried chicken cookbook I coauthored with Lee Schrager in 2014, I explored every aspect of the crispy bird. Many of my favorite recipes began with a bone-in chicken, but I emerged from the project with an abiding love for the boneless fried chicken sandwich. Not only does making the chicken this way allow you to fry the chicken faster and more evenly, it allows you to get right down to the business of eating it without working around the bones. And anything you can eat hot and fresh, but without a knife and fork, becomes comfort food. I start with dark meat — in this case boneless, skin-on chicken thighs — and quick-brine them in a concentrated brew of sugar, salt and pepper to help make the chicken super-juicy and tender. Cloaking the chicken in buttermilk helps the dredge’s cornstarch-and-flour blend cling cooperatively, yielding the crispiest results. Once out of the fryer, I toss the chicken in a two-ingredient glaze for a sticky, spicy kick. The quick pickles and creamy mustard mayo add tons of texture and flavor without a lot of added effort (in fact, you can make those elements, in addition to the dredge, in advance). Pile it all onto soft rolls, and eat it quickly — a hot fried chicken sandwich is almost unmatched in delivering crispy, crunchy nirvana.
For the chicken
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 5 garlic cloves, smashed
- 1 tablespoon roughly cracked black pepper
- 4 5- to 6-ounce boneless, skin-on chicken breasts
- 1 cup buttermilk, shaken
- vegetable oil, for frying
For the quick pickles
- 2 small Persian cucumbers, very thinly sliced
- 1/3 cup distilled white vinegar
- 3 tablespoons water
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1 small jalapeno pepper, very thinly sliced, seeded if desired
For the dredge
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 4 good-quality hamburger buns, split
- Equal parts grainy Dijon mustard and mayonnaise
For the sticky spicy sauce:
- 3/4 cup chili garlic sauce
- 3/4 cup honey
For the brining the chicken and making the pickles
Combine the salt, sugar, garlic, and pepper in a shallow dish. Add the chicken, rub the mixture on both sides, cover, and chill for 1½ to 2 hours.
While the chicken is brining, make the pickles: Whisk the vinegar, water, sugar, salt, and peppercorns in a medium bowl. Add the cucumber and jalapeños, cover, and chill for at least 2 hours and up to 12 hours.
For the frying the chicken and assembling the sandwiches
Fill a five- or six-quart saucepan halfway with oil and heat to 365°F, watching the temperature of the oil with a candy or deep-fry thermometer.
Remove the chicken from the brine, rinse well, and pat dry.
Place the buttermilk in a shallow dish. Combine the flour, cornstarch, salt, paprika, pepper, and cayenne in another shallow dish.
Dredge the chicken in the buttermilk, letting the excess drip off, then dredge in the flour mixture, making sure to really get the flour into the all of the crevices. Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes.
While the chicken is resting, make the mustard mayo and spicy sticky sauce: Combine the honey and chili-garlic sauce in a small skillet and keep warm over very low heat.
Combine the mustard and mayonnaise in a small bowl.
Two at a time, fry the chicken in the oil until the outside is really crisp and some of the little breading nodules start to get really dark. Using a slotted spoon or tongs, move the fried chicken to a rack set over a baking dish.
While the chicken is frying, spread the mustard mayo onto the rolls.
Transfer the warm spicy sticky sauce to a large bowl and toss the fried chicken in the sauce. Place one piece of coated chicken on each bun and layer some of the pickles on each bun. Close the buns and serve immediately.