Chicken sandwiches are kind of my thing. It’s become a running gag among my friends – almost an entire personality trait. I make trays of them for every barbeque or big gathering – the structure and ingredients prepared just so – and I’m likely to order a round whenever I see one on a menu.
I mean, I get it: they’re basic. Next to a “ham and cheese”, they’re standard issue in the sandwich game. But their comforting, nostalgic appeal is offset by the fact that they’re surprisingly easy to stuff up. Like Rome’s perfected bowls of cacio e pepe or carbonara pasta, the unadorned simplicity of a chick’wich leaves its maker nowhere to hide.
To clarify: I’m thinking of the old-school fresh picnic-style version with lots of mayo, here. No crumbed-and-fried pseudo-burgers or processed deli slices. The good news is that these chicken sammys are simply everywhere right now, as the Great Sandwich Boom continues apace across the country.
Save 20% when you buy two or more Broadsheet books. Order now to make sure they arrive in time for Christmas.SHOP NOW
You can get fancy ones hurtling towards $20 – shout-out to the dreamy examples at Juniper in Melbourne and Good Ways in Sydney – and serviceable ones for $7 at 7-Eleven. In any case, I’m chasing the union of four key elements:
1. The chicken
Roasted and shredded or poached and diced. The latter is preferred, as there is less chance for any rogue cartilage or slimy skin to creep in and ruin the experience. The chook should be clean, juicy, brined, perfectly cooked and free range, please.
2. The mayo mix
The mix is the silky, seasoned, delicious heart of the matter. Let’s face it, the chicken is a carrier for the mayo. The meat must be vigorously blended with a tonne of good-quality mayonnaise (Hellmann’s is a preferred store-bought option, but homemade is ideal). Peter Rowland, maker of what is arguably Australia’s most famous chicken triangle, says you should use a lot more mayo than you think you need, so it’s gloopy when it goes on the bread. I like to cut my mix with about one-third sour cream to retain richness, but not oiliness. Then add heaps of sea salt and cracked black pepper.
3. The herbs
Chives, definitely. Finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, obviously. Then you can go rogue – dill, tarragon, lemon thyme. All good. But think carefully about clashing flavours or going overboard. You don’t want to overpower what should essentially be a mayo moment.
4. The bread
This is a sandwich, so the carb is crucial. A plush supermarket white is very good in this instance (such as a Bakers Delight toast cut) – but it must be super fresh and pillowy. The thick – but not too thick – slices must be generously, evenly spread with salted butter, appropriately softened so you don’t tear the platform. Baguettes, baps, rolls, focaccias, Turkish bread, ciabattas and sourdough are all acceptable, but can make it more difficult to chomp into. A sublime, crustless chicken sandwich can virtually be swallowed whole without chewing.
It’s a Venn diagram of joy. You can still enjoy a good CS with, say, three of the four elements in play, but true bliss only comes with the box set.
There are other new-fangled accoutrements up for debate. Celery, nuts, crisp bacon or even fried chicken skin can be thrown into the mix for crunch. Grapes or sultanas are a big no. Some people enjoy a sheaf of lettuce for refreshment, but it can derail proceedings if not pristine. Crusts can be left on or shaved off, just make sure you don’t squish the package while slicing and soggy the bread.
Like a classic bolognaise sauce, everyone has their own interpretation of a chicken sandwich. They are endlessly repeatable and just a little bit different every time. And when it all comes together, it’s probably the perfect lunch.
Have you had a good one? Let me know and I’ll go. For research.