We Have the Recipe for Chicago Chef Corey Rice’s “Entry into the Chicken Sandwich Wars”

He votes for chicken breast over thighs: “If it fits in your hands, you’re not getting enough”

July 22, 2022 7:46 am
Freehand Chicken Sandwich
Freehand Chicken Sandwich
Freehand Chicago

Corey Rice, executive chef of Freehand Chicago, has always liked eating good food — and a lot of it.

“When I go sit down in a restaurant, I don’t want to have more plate than food,” he says. “I want more food than plate.”

It’s a desire that pervaded his childhood, when, he recalls, he would often secret away the patty from his McDonald’s hamburger in the hopes of lying his way into a second one.

“It wasn’t like we were poor,” he says. “I was just a fat kid, and I wanted to eat more food.”

Given this mindset, it’s perhaps no wonder that Rice opted to use a chicken breast instead of a thigh in the recipe he dubs “My Entry into the Chicken Sandwich Wars.”

“Chicken thighs were coming in too small,” he says. “If it fits in your hands, you’re not getting enough.”

But while white meat sometimes gets a bad rep for having less flavor, Rice’s methods ensure this sandwich is anything but bland. The chicken breast is first marinated in buttermilk spiked with hot sauce — Rice prefers the vinegar tang of Crystal — as well as a blend of spices inspired by his mom’s recipe (onion powder, garlic powder, paprika and white pepper). Over the course of 12 hours, it turns the chicken breast into a moist, juicy centerpiece for the sandwich.

A few hours before the chicken is ready, Rice gets started on the red cabbage slaw — the first thing he makes when he gets into the restaurant each day. He dresses it with Japanese kewpie mayonnaise for its rich flavor and slight sweetness.

“I let it sit there so that all those flavors can meld together,” he says. “And before I put it on the line, I go back, and I do another stir, just to make sure that those flavors are correct.”

When it comes time to assemble the sandwich, Rice breads the chicken in a dredge seasoned with Korean chili pepper — a happy accident that’s now a staple in his kitchen.

“I was actually ordering crushed red pepper flakes, and I hit the wrong button,” he recalls, noting that now he loves the ingredient for its smokiness and perfectly balanced heat. “It hits your palate; it’s not too overpowering, but it’s just enough.”

Fried in canola oil, the chicken breast emerges juicy and golden brown, ready to be glazed in Rice’s homemade hot honey butter sauce and stacked on a brioche bun with pickles, tomatoes, and that bright purple slaw. 

“When I go out there, and I see the guests holding their chicken sandwich, and there’s a piece of chicken crumb just sitting on the side, and it has the sauce on it, and they take a bite of that first,” he laughs. “They grab that sandwich, and they bite it, and oh man…I know I hit a home run right there.”

And now, so can you.

Chicken Sandwich (serves 4)


For the chicken:

  • 1 pound chicken breasts
  • ½ cup hot sauce
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons onion powder
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 tablespoons white pepper

For the slaw:

  • 2 cups shredded red cabbage
  • ½ cup Japanese mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • Salt, to taste

For the honey-butter sauce

  • ¼ cup unsalted butter
  • ½ cup honey
  • 1 cup hot sauce
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • Korean red chili pepper, to taste

For the dredge:

  • 1½ cups flour
  • ¾ cup baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon Korean red chili pepper
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Canola oil
  • Bread and butter pickles
  • Brioche burger buns
  • Cherry tomatoes


Trim the chicken breasts to the size of the buns. Combine the hot sauce, buttermilk, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, and white pepper in a bowl. Add the chicken breasts, cover, and chill 12 hours or overnight.

Make the slaw. In a bowl, combine the mayo, vinegar, sugar and salt to taste. Add the cabbage and massage by hand to combine. Chill for a few hours before using.

Make the honey-butter hot sauce. In a small saucepan, combine the butter, honey, hot sauce, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika and Korean chili pepper. Cook over medium heat, whisking occasionally, for 20 minutes.

Combine the flour, baking powder, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika and Korean chili pepper for the dredge. Season with a touch of salt and pepper to taste.

Heat the canola oil in a cast-iron skillet to 350º F. Remove the chicken from the marinade, dredge in the flour, and fry, cooking just two breasts at a time to keep the oil temperature from dropping too significantly. Fry 4 minutes per side, or until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165º F. When the chicken is crisp and golden brown, it’s ready.

To make the sandwich, toast the brioche buns, and layer with 3 butter pickles. Dunk the fried chicken into the sauce, and place on top. Add the slaw, followed by the top bun. Thread a cherry tomato onto a skewer, and use it to secure the top bun. Dig in!


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