Chicken Sandwich Craze

To some consumers, a chicken sandwich is comfort food. To others, it’s health food. But for operators, it’s high profitability potential and creative opportunity. Inventive takes on chicken sandwiches appear in several popular New York restaurants like Marcus Samuelsson’s Streetbird Rotisserie and David Chang’s Momofuku.

Samuelsson’s Crispy Bird Sandwich showcases chicken marinated in coconut milk, ginger, and an Ethiopian spice blend (berbere) then topped with Cheddar cheese, housemade BBQ sauce, ranch dressing, and pickles. Chang’s signature sandwich contains chicken thighs that get a kick from a marinade of habanero purée and buttermilk followed by a dredge in spices, and tastefully topped with pickles, mayo, and hot sauce. When developing a new signature chicken sandwich, follow their lead by focusing in on the sandwich building blocks like brines and marinades, toppings, and the bread to capitalize on this continuing craze.

Inject Flavor with Brines and Marinades

While chicken breasts and thighs aren’t vastly different in nutritional content, the longstanding debate remains: The breast offers healthier white meat while the thigh contains dark meat and more versatile flavor. No matter which part you utilize on your chicken sandwich, Maines has a variety of both products available. For full flavor, juiciness, and tenderness, brines and marinades are a must. A brine is a mixture composed of salt, water and/or another liquid, and often herbs or spices for additional flavoring. This age-old technique of soaking meats in a brine was originally used to preserve meats before the advent of refrigeration. Marinades consist of the classic triumvirate of an acidic liquid, oil, and herbs/spices. Try using choice spices and experiment with different oils, such as avocado or coconut oil, and acids, like wines or fruit juices to create unique flavor profiles. Use brines and marinades as platforms to incorporate trending ethnic ingredients like sumac, a fruity, astringent Middle Eastern spice. Or, for an aromatic Asian twist, try a mixture of tamari, brown sugar, lime juice, ginger, and garam masala.

Top the Competition

With an increasingly sophisticated consumer palate opening doors to flavor experimentation, exotic spices are undergoing something of a golden age. Gochujang, the Korean chili sauce made from fermented soybeans, dried chiles, and garlic, is thought to be the next sriracha by trend watchers. So is the Southeast Asian sambal hot sauce – a combination of shrimp paste, chile peppers, fish sauce, garlic, ginger, and shallots. Try combining theses sauces with more familiar flavors like ranch, buttermilk, or honey for a balance between the familiar and adventurous.

When it comes to cheese, Cheddar is the can’t-miss standard, but less common varieties are starting to show up on sandwiches more and more. For example, menus with sandwiches featuring Gouda and Brie have grown 40% and 21% respectively, in the past year, according to trend research firm Mintel. Many restaurants adopt a classic approach like blue cheese for a buffalo chicken sandwich or pimento cheese for a Southern fried chicken version.

Beyond the standard pickle, tomato slice, or lettuce leaf, slaws are showing up as a chicken sandwich topping. They lend themselves to seasonality and chef inspiration, as in a pickled vegetable slaw, wasabi-carrot slaw, or red cabbage-mango slaw.

Add More Breadth to Your Sandwich

To consumers, the sandwich carrier is nearly as important as the meat itself – more so to women. In a Mintel survey, consumers were asked to choose and rank the three most important factors in ordering a sandwich from a sandwich, sub, or wrap shop. The bread came out on top at 68% for women, followed by the meat at 67%. For men, the meat was tops at 71%, followed by the bread at 60%.

Among mainstream bread types, brioche buns are increasing in menu incidence, up 67% in the past year. The menuing of pretzel rolls also continues to expand, up 90% over the past four years, according to Datassential research. If the texture of a pretzel bun is appealing to some, a squishy steamed bun might draw others. Consider a fluffy steamed bun for a crispy fried chicken sandwich served with orange marmalade to demonstrate an East-meets-West version of Peking duck. For his Spicy Fried Chicken Sandwich, Chang goes with a steamed potato roll brushed with a fermented chickpea-flavored butter spread. Maines offers raw doughs, par-baked loaves, and ready-to-serve breads from Brickfire Bakery for the perfect chicken sandwich foundation.

Creative Chicken Sandwiches Recently Seen on Menus:

Curry Chicken Sandwich
Lemongrass curry chicken with mayo and pickled red onions.

Cajun Chicken Sandwich
Grilled Cajun chicken breast topped with sautéed green and red peppers, onions, and andouille sausage served on toasted ciabatta bread with mayo, lettuce, tomato and pickles, then drizzled with peppercorn mayo.

Southern Style Grilled Chicken
Grilled chicken with fried green tomato, pimento cheese, and kale on crusty
white bread.

Korean Fried Chicken Sandwich
Twice fried chicken, Korean BBQ sauce, pickled daikon and dill, lettuce
and tomato.

Sweet ‘n Sour Jerk Chicken Sandwich
Hand-pulled jerk chicken topped with sweet and sour red cabbage, pineapple or mango chutney, jalapeños, and scallion aioli stacked on toasted Cuban bread.