How to Make Popeyes Chicken Sandwich but Better
In case you blinked, you might have missed it, but about a month ago, the Popeyes released a fried chicken sandwich , quietly and without pomp. As a very cool guy who definitely doesn’t spend a lot of time on fast food blogs, I noticed they were being tested in my area and I managed to get my hands on a pair before they sold out. And you know what? They are (or were at least) very good!
In fact, they are so good that they immediately began to compare with the most popular manufacturer of fast food chicken sandwiches: Chick-fil-A . There are many non-cooking reasons to avoid Chick-fil-A, and it’s true that you can never get one on Sunday. But in terms of taste, the competition isn’t quite the same as Twitter’s. These are very different sandwiches and they can learn a thing or two from each other.
Here’s my sandwich: The Popeyes sandwich makes a big splash with a prettier bun, fresher pickles, a delicious sauce * and of course the crispy, crunchy Popeyes signature breading. Chick-fil-A, on the other hand, has a strong, easily recognizable scent. Popeyes Sandwich, for all its showcase decorations, really doesn’t taste that much in comparison to it.
The good news is that we can combine the best aspects of these two sandwiches with the methods already available to us online. The less good news is that it is a bit labor intensive. There’s a reason charging people $ 5 for fried chicken is an extremely lucrative business model for them, but it’s also the reason they run out of sandwiches.
(* In this blog, I mean the Popeyes spicy sandwich. If you have to add nasty mayonnaise to your chicken sandwich to make it work, then you don’t have a sandwich at all. But nominally spicy mayonnaise? Sign me up. ) [ Editor’s note: how dare you say such hurtful things about mayonnaise.]
Both Chick-fil-A and Popeyes use full chicken breast for their sandwiches, but anyone who has eaten both knows that the Popeyes version is significantly more posh guys. That’s an argument in his favor: Birds that breastfeed in a restaurant are not like the mutant mega-chickens that sacrifice their pectoral muscles for the counter at the grocery store. I used the smallest, quirkiest, organic chicken breasts I could find in the name of authenticity, and they were huge anyway .
Do not do it! For four sandwiches, use two normal, medium-sized chicken breasts (approximately 8 ounces) and butterflies. Trim off any superfine leftovers so they don’t turn into drywall when you fry them over time.
An important part of the flavor of Chick-fil-A comes from its brine, makes the chicken tender and juicy, and also gives it a salty and sweet taste. Papayas can brine their chicken too (after all, no one ever blamed their product for being dry), but I can never pinpoint where it adds any flavor.
I chose a standard wet brine with salt and half the amount of sugar dissolved in cold water. If you go this route, let the bird breasts soak for no more than 4-5 hours. However, if you’re looking to save a ton of time, Claire was smart enough to mix the seasoning salt and sugar in a convenient dry brine. This is also a great way to do it, although I would let it last longer than 15 minutes (since we are dealing with breasts, not nuggets). Call it 1-2 hours in dry brine if you choose this route.
This is where Chick-fil-A packs the remnants of their flavor into their sandwich. As our own Claire Lower and Serious Eats have pointed out, Chick-fil-A very helpfully lists their ingredients on their website (Popeyes doesn’t). By seeing what is (and what is not), we can narrow it down to a simple mixture of pepper, cayenne pepper, black pepper, and (most importantly) monosodium glutamate. Half goes to the pickled chicken and half goes to the bowl. Again – if you sprinkle dry instead, add it at this point.
This is where we pass the baton to the Popeyes and it took a little guesswork on my part. As mentioned, Popeyes doesn’t seem to list ingredients anywhere on their website. The only hint they give about their sandwich is “new” buttermilk, so we know that matters. The rest had to be developed by myself.
Check out this behind-the-scenes video fromChick-fil-A , and this is filmedin Popeyes’ kitchen . A couple of differences are obvious. Chick-fil-A dips the chicken in a relatively thin mixture of eggs and milk and then digs a new small hole in its dredger for each piece of chicken. Popayes, on the other hand, uses an apparently thicker egg wash liquid and then tosses the chicken into a container full of flour that seems to have seen dozens of pieces of chicken that day.
These are good tips! Rinse the egg first. I used three eggs plus one extra yolk to thicken it up. Popayes says there is buttermilk, so get some of it. The final ingredient is taken from the Serious Eats post on General Tso ‘s homemade chicken : vodka. Because vodka resists gluten formation and evaporates at a much lower temperature than water, it’s ideal for providing the crispy, almost crumbling crust you’ll find on Popeyes chicken sandwich. Popeyes almost certainly don’t drink vodka, but we don’t make them at about the speed of sound. You will appreciate the extra longevity of a crispy breading as you tinker with your next sandwich, clean up spilled butter, and more.
The last “trick” is an old one: sprinkle with an egg mixture and mix it with flour before breading, thereby imitating a restaurant’s breading station, through which a lot of chicken in egg passes. If you add 3-4 tablespoons of this product and then stir it with your fingers, you get a rougher Papayes-style crust. As Chick-fil-A skips this, clearing a new spot for each patty, it makes their chicken worse.
The rest should be familiar to everyone. Take a seasoned chicken breast and dip it in the egg mixture. Toss it into seasoned flour and use your other hand to press a lot of breading on top. Repeat this with another piece of chicken and it’s time to fry.
Two other things you may have learned from these videos: Chick-fil-A fries in deep fryers that hahahaha you don’t have. Popeyes, on the other hand, is fried in conventional deep fat fryers at 340 degrees. We can handle it! Pour about all the cooking oil in your home into a medium saucepan, filling it halfway. Put it on medium to high heat and monitor it with an instant thermometer or candy thermometer. As soon as the temperature reaches 355 degrees, it gets into one of the breasts.
If you, like me, were stupid enough to use your entire chest, buckle up for a while. You probably watch for 10-12 minutes, constantly monitoring and adjusting the oil temperature. Yes, and you can literally take half the chicken out of the butter as well to prevent the thinner part from being digested.
Otherwise, if you were smart and used half your chest, it would be done in five or six minutes. Place the first on paper towels and toss the next. Try your best not to eat them right away, even if you used whole breasts and they look like giant fried chicken ribs. If you were smart enough not to do this, yours shouldn’t be so dark either.
All the rest
All that’s left is a bun, pickles and gravy, nothing too much to think about.
Popeyes uses fancy buns over a simple Chick-fil-A hamburger bun, which I believe is considered an improvement. You can find them wherever fancy buns are sold. Fry them with plenty of oil.
To me, this is one of the biggest differences between sandwiches, and not just because Popeyes offers you more than two. Where Chick-fil-A uses the same salty mugs that you can buy at a can at the grocery store, Popeyes tastes and tastes much fresher, almost as if they were quickly pickled a few minutes before the sandwich appeared. … I wanted to find a balance between the two, so make some pickles. It’s simple and stupid!
The great thing about pickles is that you don’t need a recipe. The only requirements for pickles are vinegar and cucumbers. Dill is definitely a mainstay, but you almost certainly don’t have one. In a saucepan, try mixing equal parts water and white vinegar with a tablespoon of black pepper, a few minced garlic cloves, a teaspoon of mustard powder, and a pinch of salt and red pepper flakes. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then drizzle with half an inch-thick cucumber. Weigh them with a paper towel to keep them submerged in the water.
They’re pretty darn delicious in just 15 minutes, but if you let them cool overnight in the refrigerator, they’ll have the familiar salinity but stay fresh.
The Popeyes website describes this sauce as “hot mayonnaise.” Simple enough. Two teaspoons of cayenne pepper plus one teaspoon of whatever cajun seasoning you have per cup of mayonnaise, adding color and flavor as I recall. You see, the sauce is not “spicy” at all – I think it’s just because Popeis thinks you need mayonnaise to make a sandwich, and Popeyes knows there are anti-mayonnaise sweets like me that won’t get touched by regular, pure foods. … (I get the grade easily, and that’s fine with me.)
Finally everything. Assemble the sandwiches as follows: bottom bun, large sauce, at least four pickles, chicken, and finally top bun with good sauce. Now eat that bitch as few bites as possible, because this whole process has taken you infinitely longer than you ever thought, and you are starving.
But in three or four bites you will need to swallow it and be amazed at what you did: it’s a cool, defiantly crispy crust. A piece of chicken with a salty spicy flavor and a distinct chicken fillet flavor. Bright, fresh, pickles. The sauce that you definitely have. This is the perfect fast food sandwich, uncompromising and affordable whenever you want to make it.
Better than a Popeyes sandwich (makes four)
- ½ cup kosher salt
- ¼ glass of sugar
- 1 liter of water
- 2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, oiled and trimmed too thin
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 2 tablespoons black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon monosodium glutamate
- 4 tablespoons buttermilk
- 3 large eggs + 1 yolk
- 2 tablespoons of vodka
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 liters of strong vegetable oil such as canola or peanuts
- 4 brioche brioche, fried in butter
- 1/2 cucumber, cut into 1-inch circles
- 1 glass of water
- 1 cup distilled white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon whole black pepper
- 3-4 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
- 1 teaspoon ground mustard seeds
- 1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 pinch kosher salt
For the sauce:
- 1 glass of mayonnaise (any kind)
- 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
Salt chicken in brine: dissolve salt and sugar in 1 liter of cold water. Place the chicken breasts in a freezer bag and cover with brine. Place in refrigerator for no more than 4-5 hours.
Prepare pickles: Combine water, vinegar, peppercorns, mustard powder, garlic, salt and pepper flakes in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and then drizzle with cucumber slices. Weigh them with a paper towel until the mixture has cooled, then you can eat them or store them in the refrigerator for about two weeks.
Make the sauce: In a bowl, combine the mayonnaise, cayenne pepper and cajun seasoning until smooth. Set aside.
When the chicken is done pickling, prepare the breading. Combine cayenne pepper, black pepper, peppercorns and monosodium glutamate in a small bowl. In another, combine eggs, egg yolk, buttermilk, and vodka. In a large bowl or bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and about half of the spice mixture. Add 3-4 tablespoons of the egg mixture to the seasoned flour, stirring with your fingers, until it looks like wet sand.
When the chicken is done, dry it. Season with the remaining spice mixture and then sauté. Dip each breast half in the egg mixture, then transfer to the seasoned flour. With a dry hand, dust the chicken with flour and press firmly. Repeat with the other breast halves and leave for 5-10 minutes for the breading to harden and stick.
Meanwhile, cook the oil in a medium saucepan over medium to high heat. As soon as the thermometer reads 350-355 ℉, lower the first chicken breast. Cook for 5-6 minutes, or until the chicken is golden brown and at least 160 degrees at its thickest part (leftover should bring it to the recommended 165 degrees). Transfer half of the breast to a plate lined with paper towels and repeat with the rest of the chicken.
Assemble the sandwiches, starting with the bottom bun, with about 2 teaspoons of sauce and 4 slices of brine. Place the fried chicken on top, then add the top bun and 2 more teaspoons of sauce.