When designing a menu for a restaurant or food truck, there’s an old rule of thumb called “the 80/20 rule.” At least, that’s how I think of it; researching whether or not this rule has an actual name, or whether or not it’s even an actual rule at all feels too much like actual journalism for the purposes of this post.
The idea is simple: Make 80% of the items on your menu super safe, maximizing the broadness of their appeal, and cater to most of the people, most of the time. The other 20% is where you, as a chef, get to actually enjoy what you do for a living and have some fun, mostly for your own mental well-being. Because once you’ve got steak frites, a seared tuna something-or-other, and some sort of chicken on the menu, you can splash out and make at least a few plates of your tea-smoked monkfish liver pate with burnt sugar blackberry gastrique. Most of your customers will order a burger, hold the vegetables, but that one guy? That one guy with the more adventurous appetite will spread enough goodwill through your kitchen to last all night.
On a lot of food trucks, where the menu is usually much more limited, the proportions of the 80/20 rule sometimes invert. On my own food truck, I knew that dropping the same order of french fries all day long may pay the bills, but it wasn’t going to keep me happy and interested day-in and day-out. So our menu tended to feature more somewhat outrageous items, with fewer safe options.
During our second season, I’d gotten it into my head that our truck should serve exclusively fried chicken sandwiches, made from chicken thighs that we de-boned by hand, so that we could preserve the shatteringly crispy skin. After all, when you’re eating fried chicken, isn’t that a huge reason you come to the table? We offered our fried chicken sandwiches in several interesting varieties, including a super-spicy take on the pub-standard “buffalo chicken” sandwich (though we made ours with pickled habaneros and ghost chile wing sauce), but we knew we also had to put something a little more “safe” on the board. We wanted to have something on the menu to head off the customers that would be tempted to ask for their fried chicken sandwich plain; a milder combination, with familiar toppings that would appeal to anyone.
In doing so, we created a sandwich that may be one of the most well-balanced dishes I’ve ever come up with. I’m calling it the “Chicken ‘Wich, Please,” because I’m not super imaginative and I like naming things after my own business, but you can call it whatever you’d like: A whole fried chicken thigh, topped with a simple coleslaw, quick-pickled Granny Smith apples, and our own “blackened ranch” mayo, which tastes a bit like Paul Prudhomme’s fat fingers. In a good way.
The finished sandwich has it all: The chicken is fatty, salty, and crunchy, the slaw is cool and creamy, and the pickled apples add unexpected tartness and sweetness. It makes me happy every time I eat it, and even the pickiest eater won’t find anything in the ingredients list to be scared of.
A perfectly balanced take on the traditional fried chicken sandwich, made with crunchy chicken thigh, cool slaw, and tart pickled apples.
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1 tsp seasoned salt
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp coarse ground black pepper
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1.5 cups buttermilk
- 2 chicken thighs, de-boned, skin-on
- Peanut oil for frying
- 1 cup green cabbage, shredded
- 1 cup red cabbage, shredded
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 2 tsp sugar
- salt, to taste
- 2 Granny Smith apples, cored and peeled
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 1 tbsp dried parsley
- 1/4 tsp onion powder
- 1 clove garlic
- 4 tsp blackening seasoning
- 2 brioche burger rolls, split and grilled
Set up your dredging station. In a medium bowl, combine flour, seasoned salt, garlic powder, onion powder, and black pepper, and stir well to combine. In a second medium bowl, combine buttermilk and egg.
In a deep fryer or high-sided skillet, heat oil over medium high heat to 365 degrees. Dip chicken first in the milk mixture, then in the flour mixture, then back to the milk, then back to the flour. Shake off excess, and fry until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees, about 8-10 minutes. Remove from oil and set aside on paper towels to drain.
Toss all ingredients in a bowl, and set aside in the refrigerator to chill.
Slice apples as thinly as possible, either by hand or using a mandolin. Please don't cut off your fingertips.
Combine apples with vinegar, water, brown sugar, salt, and ground ginger in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook until liquid gets very hot, but not quite to a simmer. When bubbles appear in the pickling liquid, you're done. Transfer apples and liquid to a bowl, and chill in the fridge, up to 5 days.
Combine ingredients in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse until combined.
Spread both sides of each roll with blackened ranch. Top with fried chicken thighs, slaw, and pickled apples. Serve immediately.