During the pandemic, like so many of their colleagues, chefs David and Serena Chow Fisher pivoted to takeout: primarily picnic baskets, designed to be enjoyed at nearby Precita Park. And while they have since turned their attention back to cultivating the seasonal tasting menu at Michelin-starred Marlena, fans have not forgotten the Buffalo chicken sandwich they grew to know and love.
Fisher understands the appeal of such a dish.
“This sandwich goes deeper than just a delicious, mouth-watering, guilty pleasure,” he says. “It creates a connection to my past, which started in my family’s diner, when my dad would make me Buffalo chicken fingers and French fries with a side of bleu cheese.”
To put a slightly more luxe spin on his childhood fave, Fisher begins a few days in advance by making his own fermented cabbage, which lends a zesty, funky flavor to the finished sandwich. Any leftovers, he says, are delicious atop all manner of hot dogs, sausages or brats.
But if home fermentation feels overwhelming (or the several-day wait between prepping the sandwich and finally digging in seems eternal), never fear. Fisher says that coleslaw is a great substitute, or you can simply toss thinly sliced cabbage in homemade aioli just before serving. Fisher makes this mayo-adjacent sauce with top-quality pastured egg yolks and seasons it with a touch of Espelette pepper, a mild Basque chile that lends smokiness, sweetness and a “speckled color” to the otherwise white sauce.
The day before serving up these sandwiches, Fisher brines the chicken thighs with rosemary and garlic for several hours. He then dries them out in the fridge overnight to give them an unbeatably crispy texture once dredged in cornstarch and fried.
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Last step before the bun? A house-made Buffalo sauce that couldn’t be simpler or more nostalgic, thanks to its reliance on a household staple.
“Frank’s Red Hot is simply unmatched when it comes to Buffalo sauce, as it just hits all the right tasting notes,” says Fisher. “If I did make my own hot sauce for this application — and I have — I would simply be trying to make Frank’s Red Hot.”
By marrying this classic with a consequential amount of butter, this final touch hearkens back to his father’s recipe.
“It is a piece of what I grew up with,” he says. “I could eat it every day of my life if it wouldn’t kill me.”
Buffalo Chicken Sandwich
- For the fermented green cabbage
- 1 head green cabbage, julienned
- Kosher salt
- For the chicken
- 5 pounds skin-on chicken thighs, cartilage removed
- 2 quarts water
- 3 tablespoons salt
- 1½ tablespoons palm sugar
- 3 garlic cloves, smashed
- ½ sprig rosemary
- For the pickles
- 2 cucumbers, sliced into thin rounds on mandoline
- 1½ cups white wine vinegar
- ¾ cups water
- ¾ cups sugar
- 1½ tablespoons kosher salt
- For the buffalo sauce
- 1 pint Frank’s Red Hot sauce
- 6 ounces unsalted butter, cold, cubed
- For the aioli
- 6 egg yolks
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3¼ cups grapeseed oil
- 3 teaspoons Espelette pepper
- Salt, to taste
- For the dredge
- 1 cup cornstarch, divided
- 1 cup water
- 6 brioche burger buns
- Frying oil
Up to a week in advance, make the fermented cabbage. Salt the greens with enough salt to cover, and allow to sit at room temperature for 6 hours. Wash off the salt in cold water and squeeze excess moisture. In a sanitized glass or plastic container, add the salted cabbage, new salt for fermenting (5 percent of the weight of the cabbage) and water to cover (6 percent of the weight of the cabbage). Allow to sit at room temp for up to one week, or until desired flavor is achieved. (At Marlena, the team places a layer of plastic wrap on top of the brine liquid so the vegetables stay submerged, and then lightly cover with a lid, so that the carbon dioxide produced during fermentation can escape.)
The day before serving, prepare the chicken brine. In a stock pot, bring the water, salt and palm sugar to a boil. Remove from the heat, add the crushed garlic and rosemary and allow the mixture to fully cool to at least 40 degrees F. Place the chicken thighs in a container large enough to hold them and the brine, and pour the brine over them. Allow the chicken to sit on a rack in the fridge to air dry for at least 24 hours to ensure crispy skin.
Make the pickles. Bring all the ingredients except for the cucumbers to a boil in a sauce pot. Place the cucumbers in a heat-proof jar or bowl tall enough to fit all of the ingredients, and pour the hot liquid over top. Allow to sit for at least 4 hours before serving.
Make the buffalo sauce. In a medium sauce pot, combine the Frank’s and the cold butter. Heat over medium-high heat, whisking until the ingredients have fully emulsified. Take care not to overheat or the sauce will break. Hold warm. Unused sauce may be kept in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Make the aioli. In a food processor or blender, or using a bowl and whisk, combine the egg yolk, garlic, half the lemon juice, and a healthy pinch of salt. Blend for 30 seconds and then slowly drizzle in the grapeseed oil. About halfway through the process, the aioli will begin to thicken. When this happens, add the remaining lemon juice to thin it back out, and then finish with the rest of the oil. Finally, add the Espelette and rectify seasoning to taste.
When ready to serve, preheat the oil to 350º F in a large, heavy-bottomed pot or deep fat fryer. Make a slurry by whisking half of the cornstarch with the water, fully homogenizing. Dredge the chicken in the dry cornstarch, then dip into the slurry. Fry at 350º F until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 170º F.
Rest the chicken on a paper towel for three minutes. Meanwhile, toast the bun. Add about 3 tablespoons of aioli to each bun. Toss the chicken in a liberal amount of buffalo sauce, covering the entire thigh. Place the chicken on the bun and top with about 3 tablespoons of cabbage and 7 slices of pickle.
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