Crispy Chicken Sandwiches & America
When my family moved to the United States in 2000 from India, we were not planning on staying here for any more than four years. We moved to Chicago for my father’s job and had every intention of going back to India. Even though our stay was temporary, we had to prepare for our new life and build a new home in Chicago. Nothing could have prepared us for the cold; we arrived in September and even that was too much for us. So, one of the first things we did was drive all the way to Gurnee Mills Mall, a whole hour away (maybe more, because I have a lot of memories of us getting lost…) from the countless other stores in the city, to buy ourselves proper winter attire. Everyone picked out a coat, gloves, hats, and scarves and after some more shopping around, we were ready for lunch. We made our way to the food court and landed on Burger King.
We had of course had sandwiches before but back in 2000, American fast food was a new to India and we hadn’t had too much of it before we left for Chicago; so, the crispy chicken sandwich was an unknown but seemed like a safe bet. A roll, some lettuce, some mayonnaise, and a big hunk of crispy chicken - how bad could it be? Well, dear reader, we hated it. We could not understand how Americans survived on something so bland and bread-y and with such sad vegetables. Not one of us finished our meal and the next time we ventured out to a mall, my mom packed us lunches to spare us from the Americans and their bland sandwiches.
America grew on us and in those first four years, my parents decided that the opportunities afforded to us here, especially to women, were unmatched in most parts of world. I don’t know exactly what happened between that first crispy chicken sandwich at the mall and a few months later, but very soon, my dad was looking for excuses to pick up Popeye’s for dinner and my mom was taking us to Dunkin’ Donuts after school for apple fritters. America - 1, Mishras - 0.
I still admire the American spirit - it’s forward-looking, entrepreneurial, and fiercely independent; I am grateful that my parents chose to stay here and embraced these values. Of course, like any place, America has some significant blemishes on its history and needs to desperately course correct in many ways today. It has been overwhelming to be confronted with that as often as we seem to be these days but the one thing that gives me hope, really and truly, is how passionately protective Americans are of their freedom to express, to debate, and to disagree. More than eighteen years in, Chicago is as much a part of my identity as my Indian heritage. This city introduced me to some of the best foods from around the world, cultivated my love for comedy, taught me how to be independent, introduced me to my best friend and husband, found me my closest friends, helped me figure out how to celebrate my heritage in a faraway place, and more. And being Indian is what I was first and is second nature - no matter how far away I move or who I become, I will always be shaped by that lineage. Like many immigrants, I have sometimes felt like I’m not Indian or American enough but as I have figured out my place in the world, I also consider myself lucky that I get to claim two places as home.
So this cold January morning, I was thrilled to finally finish my citizenship journey and take the oath this morning to officially become an American. And what better way to celebrate this milestone than with my take on that original crispy chicken sandwich? This recipe comes together really quickly - all you really need to do is cook the chicken breast. It’s lightly breaded and the panko breadcrumbs give it a nice, crunchy exterior. I am always a bit nervous about under-cooking chicken, so I used my meat thermometer to get the right internal temperature; it’s one of the few kitchen gadgets that I think are a worthwhile investment for meat eaters.
2 brioche buns
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 tbsp oil
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1/2 all purpose flour
1 egg, beaten
2 tsp butter, divided
Mayonnaise to your liking
Pickles of your choice
Salt to taste
Cayenne pepper to taste
Lay the chicken breasts on the cutting board and cover with a piece of plastic wrap. Using a meat tenderizer or the bottom of a heavy pan, pound the breasts until flatened to about 1/2 inch thick. Alternatively, you can butterfly a large breast or purchase one at the grocery store.
Next, prepare the coating station. First, lay the flour on a plate and season with salt and cayenne pepper; mix well. Next, beat an egg in a bowl and season gently with salt. Lastly, lay the panko bread crumbs on a plate and season with salt and cayenne.
Place a pan on medium heat and let it heat thoroughly. Pour half of the oil into the pan and while it beings to heat, coat the chicken in the flour and shake off the excess. Next, using your other hand, dip the breast in the egg mixture. Lastly, using the dry hand, coat the breast in panko. The oil should be shimmering by now - spray some cooking spray in the pan as well and lay the piece of chicken in the pan. Repeat with the second breast. Cook on each side for 7-9 minutes, depending on the thickness of the breast. When you flip, pour the other half of the oil and spray a bit more cooking spray. If it feels like the panko is burning but the chicken is not cooked, lower the heat a bit to complete cooking.
Once cooked, set them aside to rest and sprinkle a little more salt. Melt the butter in a pan and toast the brioche buns, face-down, for 20-30 seconds or until golden brown.
Assemble your sandwich - spread mayonnaise on both sides, place the lettuce on the bottom bun, followed by your chicken breast (you may need to cut this up to fit the bun!), and a good helping of pickle. Top with the top bun and chomp away!