After a year of research and development, recipe testing, and tasting upwards of a dozen sandwiches a day with her team, Ashley Christensen has nailed her latest culinary masterpiece: the fried chicken sandwich for BB’s Crispy Chicken, Christensen’s forthcoming restaurant with partner MDO Holdings. Three locations will open this year, with the Midtown East location in Raleigh slated for mid-May, and Durham’s University Hill and Cary’s Parkside Town Commons locations rolling out over the summer.
Christensen knew that the sandwich had to live up to the restaurant’s ‘crispy’ moniker, and says she was aiming for “shatteringly crisp.” Christensen’s fried chicken sandwich game is already strong, as evidenced by the buttermilk-dipped, pressure-fried fried chicken sandwich served at Beasley’s Chicken + Honey. For the sandwich at BB’s Crispy Chicken, Christensen opted to work with boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sourced from Bell & Evans.
“[Boneless, skinless chicken breast] ends up being the answer because that has larger appeal for folks. People are raised on that being a chicken sandwich,” Christensen says. “The goal is to make that as delicious as we make the chicken sandwich at Beasley’s, but uniquely.”
The team experimented with different brines, including one with pickle juice and another using buttermilk, but eventually returned to a standard water-salt-sugar brine. From there, Christensen envisioned her platonic ideal of fried chicken by thinking back to her childhood.
“I grew up on my mom dipping chicken in buttermilk and putting it in a paper grocery bag with seasoned flour. She shook that around and got the coating to properly stick,” Christensen says. “That, to me, has always been my take on Southern fried chicken.”
Making the chicken in this fashion resulted in a delicious fried chicken sandwich, but only if you ate it right away. Christensen wanted something that would travel well if diners were picking up take-out—an increasingly important consideration in the pandemic restaurant landscape.
Christensen sought help from chef Michael Solomonov, the chef-owner of Zahav in Philadelphia. Solomonov also owns Federal Donuts, a donut and fried chicken joint. “He’s someone I call when I’m up against the wall to crack the code on something,” Christensen says.
Christensen took his advice to use a wet batter with water—Christensen incorporated buttermilk, too—and a double-frying technique, in which the chicken is cooked first at a lower temperature, rested, then fried at a higher temperature. Christensen tinkered with different kinds of starches, including cornstarch and rice flour, before nailing the winning combination.
“The crunch is amazing, it stays crunchy after it sits, and the batter really locks to the boneless, skinless chicken breast,” Christensen says. “It has all the best of the different worlds we had been testing through.”
True to her style of R&D, Christensen polled her food-loving friends about what they most like about fried chicken sandwiches. The overwhelming response was pickles—lots of them. Christensen opted for a thick-cut Kosher dill pickle to ensure that diners get pickle in every bite. These details especially matter for a project like this, Christensen says, adding that the locally baked brioche bun will be spread with Duke’s mayo and piled with shredded lettuce, or what Christensen dubs “shredduce.”
“The crunchy lettuce is kind of refreshing. [Thinking about] that bite experience where you get the crunch of the chicken, the juiciness of poultry, then that tanginess in the crunch as well, and the lettuce because it’s so crisp, becomes a piece of experience that resets the palate so that you’re ready for the next bite.”
This sandwich will anchor the BB’s Crispy Chicken’s menu, which will feature five fried chicken sandwich options, including a “cheddar barbecue situation.”
R&D for salads, sides, handspun milkshakes, desserts such as fried fruit pies, and “all of the sauces” are well underway, too. Christensen shares that her team has developed a new, “perfectly sharp” pimento cheese specifically for BB’s Crispy Chicken, crafted with Ashe County cheddar, Monterey Jack, a touch of creamy white American cheese, all pulled together with Duke’s mayo.
Dispatches from the test kitchen will be shared on BB’s Crispy Chicken’s Instagram account. The latest post reveals the sauce lineup, destined for spreading on sandwiches, dipping fries into, or dressing salads. There’s Cheddar Duke’s, which “tastes like a melted Cheeto,” Hot Honey, Southwestern Ranch, Balsamic House Vinaigrette, Yum Yum!, Mango Agave Sweet and Sour (bolstered with tangerine), Buttermilk Ranch (made with local Ran Lew cultured whole buttermilk), and Chili Crunch, which promises to deliver a “hot chicken” effect.
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