Fried chicken sandwiches have long been an American staple, but interest skyrocketed after the famed Popeyes sandwich shook up the quick-service landscape. Even two years later, that sandwich is still having an aftershock effect: In the past couple of months alone, Wendy’s, Burger King, and Hardee’s have all launched new fried chicken sandwiches with hopes of cashing in on demand.
These are not isolated incidents, either. Data company Edison Trends reported that chicken sandwiches grew 420 percent in the industry between January 2019 and December 2020, while Datassential reports “fried chicken” now appears on 45 percent of industry menus. Sergio Valenzuela, corporate chef at Haliburton International Foods, believes this trend isn’t going to die any time soon.
“Fried chicken has always been a classic American staple due to its juicy, tender meat, and its ability to play on different flavors,” Valenzuela says. “But I think its popularity has risen so much because it’s one of the most popular comfort foods. You get your salty and sweet balance in such a versatile package that can be used in a lot of different applications.”
So how can chefs build a sandwich that wins over diners obsessed with finding the next big thing? The key, Valenzuela says, is not just playing with combinations of different flavor profiles in the breading of the chicken, but also playing with the accompanying aioli, pickled veggies, or sides that are served along with the chicken. Valenzuela also encourages chefs to think outside the box and let some of the global trends be a vehicle toward success.
“With the base of fried chicken, you can do so many things with it,” Valenzuela says. “Chefs can mix up the coating sauces on the finished chicken, or chop it up and throw it into a salad, grain bowl, or wrap. You can experiment with new spice blends and try plays on global cuisines and take the fried chicken sandwich from being a southern comfort food, to something Asian—the possibilities are endless.”
One of the sandwiches Valenzuela recently created was a Gochugaru Hot Chicken Sandwich featuring Haliburton’s Gochugaru Pepper Sauce, Spicy Pickled Garden Vegetables, and Scallion Aioli. Valenzuela also sees the fried chicken trend moving out of the sandwich bun and into different builds. For example, he and his team constructed a Hot Fried Chicken Bowl featuring Haliburton’s Brown Rice and Vegetable Grain Blend, Sweet Pickled Red Cabbage, and Arbol Chile Sauce.
Haliburton partners with chef clients to help build custom-made foodservice solutions that can help create on-trend flavor combinations. Known for their pickled vegetables, sauces, and sides, Valenzuela says Haliburton can help operators make a chicken sandwich that will stand apart.
“With the popularity and high demand for fried chicken and fried chicken sandwiches, the key is to find a great side and sauce that will complement that experience,” Valenzuela says. “I think our pickled veggies are a great option, and another trendy thing chefs love are our hot pickles, which add that kick with a little sweet and salty balance. All of our components can help make your builds stand out as something unique, on trend, and elevated.”
For more on creating a great fried chicken sandwich or dish, visit the Haliburton website.