It seems like everywhere one looks, there is a new fried chicken sandwich recipe from a quick service restaurant (QSR). Each of these new product releases have a few components in common – a toasty bun or biscuit, fried chicken, a creamy sauce, and pickles. Where did this trend start? Where is it going? We interviewed Chef Cory Barrett to get his take on the trend and are sharing his thoughts below.

Building the Perfect Chicken Sandwich

How many times a day do we see still photos of a crispy fried chicken breast between lightly toasted buns, a slathering of mayo, and the ubiquitous pickle slice? The answer is “so many!” As nearly every QSR is on board in one way or another, the chicken sandwich “war” seems to be a great way to capitalize on a popular trend and differentiate from other QSRs.

Pickles are the magic element in every QSR chicken sandwich. In particular dill-scented, vinegar-soaked cucumber slices, are found on every QSR fried chicken sando that comes to mind. I mean fried food is always delicious with an acidic or sour condiment; for example, fried fish with a squeeze of lemon, splash of malt vinegar, or lime juice. Pickles are that sour condiment for the QSR fried chicken, and typically the restaurant already has them in supply so it becomes a win-win for the QSR.

Many QSRs have spent a lot of time and money developing the fried chicken itself, so condiments and sauces are a component that has an instant impact on the final product. If we take the common snapshot of the sandwich apart, mayonnaise seems to be the remaining common thread. “Hot Chicken” has been in the culinary spotlight for the past few years and that seems like the most likely first stop for a QSR trend, but fried chicken could be a great foil for so many flavors of the moment. Szechuan, Regional BBQ, Piri-Piri, Massaman Curry, South Korean Flavors, Harissa, Ginger, and many other flavors pair easily with fried chicken.

What is the Next QSR ‘War’?

Trends for the fried chicken war will ride as far as public interest will allow it to. I can see fish sandwiches going the same way that the chicken sandwich has gone. Many of the QSRs already have a fish sandwich on their menus, and this could be a good opportunity for these menu items to be revamped and readied for war.

How Would You Elevate the Chicken Sandwich?

Only a few days ago we made fried chicken sandwiches at home. We put Massaman Curry paste, cilantro, and lime juice into the mayonnaise and it was delicious. I love the sour flavor from the lime and the robust aroma of the curry paste with the fresh cilantro. Fresh slaws have always paired well with fried chicken; whether a traditional mayo based coleslaw, an inspired citrus sour slaw with fresh herbs, or a grated vegetable slaw dressed with a vinaigrette. The refreshing sour crunch of slaw is a great counter point to the richness of fried chicken!

The fried chicken sandwich has gained traction in the QSR space in the last couple years, and we can expect to see this trend continue to evolve. Kalsec has natural food protection, taste and sensory solutions, and natural colors to provide innovative solutions for all aspects of fried chicken sandwiches.

About the Author

portrait of Chef Cory BarrettChef Cory Barrett is an instructor at his alma mater, Kalamazoo Valley Community College, where he helped develop the school’s culinary program. He was a James Beard Award Semifinalist, a 17x Iron Chef Sous Chef, and the Food Network Spring Baking Champion. He has more than 20 years of experience, ranging from formal training at Baker College to fine dining kitchens to culinary education, making him a leader in developing flavors that consumers crave.

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