How to Make Hugh Acheson’s Chicken Sandwich at Home
Plus, a time-saving hack for those who don't want to make their own pickles
James Beard Award-winning Chef Hugh Acheson has made a name for himself onscreen and in the kitchen alike, serving as a Top Chef judge while also helming a number of restaurants in the Southeast. But it’s at Hotel Effie, the newest luxury hotel at the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, that he’s revisiting a nostalgic classic.
“A chicken sandwich is quite the thing when done right,” he says.
His version seeks to surpass “good” and reach greatness — a challenge he says is “a fun quest as a chef.”
“This one just twists the concept a bit and hits on some good notes,” he explains.
Acheson begins with a simple boneless, skinless chicken breast — a blank canvas that makes the perfect departure point for the trifecta of spice to follow. Mustard offers a piquant, slightly nose-tingling quality, while a generous quantity of chipotle peppers spike a simple aioli. His hot sauce, meanwhile, marries that old faithful that is Frank’s Red Hot with a hint of brown sugar and a whopping 24 cloves of garlic. (We never said this was date-night food.)
“Chicken can take on lots of vantages of heat,” says Acheson of the various components. “It is about flavors and balance, so have at it.”
His sandwich also gets some cheffy touches, including a Brussels sprout slaw incorporating a hint of sweetness thanks to Granny Smith apple and maple syrup. And to really gild the lily, Acheson also makes his own bread-and-butter pickles — a venture that starts at least 12 hours before serving. Should you try home pickling yourself, your efforts will be rewarded: boasting that trademark blend of sweet and savory, these pickles are just as tasty alongside a club sandwich or eaten straight out of the jar. But if it seems like too much effort, Acheson has got an even easier solution.
“I love McClure’s pickles,” he whispers. “No one will know if you don’t make them.’”
Hot Chicken Sandwich with Brussels Sprout Slaw, Pickles and Chipotle Aioli
For the chicken
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 quarts canola oil
- 4 6-ounce chicken breasts
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 4 brioche or potato buns
For the bread and butter pickles
- 2 ½ pounds pickling cucumbers, sliced
- 1 ¾ cups julienned yellow onion
- 10 cups water
- 2 ½ cups apple cider vinegar
- 5 ½ cups white distilled vinegar
- 4 ¾ tablespoons kosher salt
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 2 ¾ tablespoons ground turmeric
- 2 tablespoons whole mustard seeds
- 2 ½ teaspoons celery seed
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
For the slaw
- 12 ounces shaved Brussels sprouts
- ½ Granny Smith apple, diced into ¼-inch cubes
- 2 cups sliced red onion
- ½ tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
- ½ tablespoon maple syrup
- ½ tablespoon whole grain mustard
- ¼ teaspoon citric acid
- ½ tablespoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
For the chipotle aioli
- 1-3 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
- 1 teaspoon lime juice
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- ½ tablespoon chopped cilantro (optional)
- 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
For the hot sauce
- 2 ounces salad oil
- 24 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 ½ tablespoons brown sugar
- 10 ounces Frank’s Red Hot sauce
- Make the pickles. Combine the cucumbers and onions in a large container. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a large stockpot and bring to a boil. Pour over the pickles. Let pickles brine for at least 12 hours before use.
- Make the slaw. In a bowl, combine the shaved Brussels sprouts, apples, citric acid and onion. Season with the salt and pepper. In a separate bowl, combine the vinegar, mayo, maple syrup and mustard. Fold into the vegetables, and chill until ready to use.
- Make the aioli. In a small food processor (or blender), puree chipotle peppers and adobo sauce for 30 seconds. It should be thick and paste-like; it will not be smooth. Transfer to a bowl. Without cleaning the food processor, add the remaining ingredients. Add the chipotle purée ½ tablespoon at a time until the desired spice level is reached.
- Make the hot sauce. In a pot over medium heat, heat the salad oil. Add the garlic, and cook until golden brown. Add the hot sauce and brown sugar, and whisk to combine. Simmer for 10 minutes, then chill in an ice bath. Refrigerate until ready to use.
- Make the chicken. Combine the flour, garlic and onion powders, and salt in a bowl. Place the buttermilk in a separate bowl.
- Heat the canola oil to 350 degrees in a large pot.
- Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Working in batches, dredge in the flour mixture, then dip into the buttermilk. Return to the flour mixture and coat thoroughly.
- Carefully place the breaded chicken into the hot oil. Do not overcrowd the pan. Cook the chicken for about 10 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.
- Meanwhile, toast the bun. When the chicken comes out of the oil, blot on a paper towel-lined plate, then coat generously in the hot sauce.
- To assemble the sandwich, spread the bottom bun with aioli. Add the Brussels sprout slaw and pickles. Top with the chicken and dig in!
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