Tag Archives: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

Chick-fil-A hits Long Island

Chick-fil-A, the Atlanta-based fast-food chain that specializes in fried chicken sandwiches and nuggets, recently opened in Port Jefferson, NY. The chain enjoys a large and dedicated following that loves the reasonably priced offerings on the menu. The quality of those offerings is another thing to love. There is a vast qualitative difference between what Chick-fil-A puts between the bun and the sandwiches from the mega-chains.

When I arrived at the recently opened Port Jefferson location the parking lot was jammed but well-managed by a store employee who was separating the drive-thru crowd from the folks planning to eat inside. Once I headed inside I was stopped on a line that snaked from the counter to the front door, composed of maybe fifteen to twenty people. Occasionally the line grew longer but the staff, who were friendly and helpful, did a good job of keeping everything moving.

When I made it to the counter to place my order I chose a “spicy chicken sandwich meal” which included the sandwich, a side of waffle fries and a bottle of water. The bill was $7.59, which is comparable to the mega-chains for the same type of meal.

Spicy fried chicken sandwich at Chick-fil-A
Spicy fried chicken sandwich at Chick-fil-A

So how was the food? It was alright. The sandwich was actually quite good and the chicken retained a decent amount of moisture. This never happens at the mega-chains regardless of if they are frying a natural breast or a restructured patty. The bun was almost perfect–soft, white, squishy, and lightly toasted with two slices of large diameter pickles. The breading was thicker around the edges of the breast while the flat surfaces could have used a little extra to make them crispier. The waffle fries were a disaster. They were white, soft and the only hint of crispiness occurred as they cooled and the potato starch film dried out on their surface.

Bight thru of the spicy chicken sandwich at Chick-fil-A
Bight thru of the spicy chicken sandwich at Chick-fil-A

As fast food goes Chick-fil-A seems to invest more in training their employees than the mega-chains and they also offer a higher quality product, with the exception of the waffle fries. I think they tend to benefit from having a well-focused menu while the mega-chains struggle by offering too much diversity on their menus. At the end of the day, it is just a fried chicken breast sandwich. But it’s better than anything you will find on the McMenus of the mega-chains.

The unfortunate waffle frie from Chick-fil-A
The unfortunate waffle fries from Chick-fil-A

Making a sandwich like this at home is really not so difficult and it will allow you to control what kind of chicken you use–hopefully one that is raised humanely and without growth hormones and antibiotics.  You can check out the way my friend Kenji Lopez-Alt does it at The Food Lab on Serious Eats.  You should also check out his new cookbook called The Food Lab for even more fun cooking.

Copyright 2015 Kevin Penner

Burgers and The Food Lab Cookbook

I have been reading through an excellent new cookbook called “The Food Lab” by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. First of all, if you like to cook, buy the book. Kenji does a great job of demystifying the process on a number of levels and his book is also fun to read and easy to follow. The recipes are very well-tested and explained and the photography really helps with the explanatory process. As a working chef who has spent over 30 years in restaurant kitchens, I can also attest to the deliciousness of the recipes.

Lately, I have been reading through his discussion of burgers and the logic behind cooking them well. He does a great job of nailing the “smash” burger technique and his “pub-style” burger discussion is also excellent. If you read them and follow his lead you will be cooking outstanding hamburgers at home (pay special attention to his discussion of beef at the beginning of the section).

Back in 2008, when I was the executive chef of the 1770 House and cittanuova in East Hampton, NY, we decided to overhaul our burger operations at both restaurants. The first move was to come up with a better beef blend for the burgers. We had always used ground chuck that typically was eighty percent lean and twenty percent fat (80/20) and we had a pretty solid burger. But I wanted something more indulgent. I approached my friends at Main Street Meats in Farmingdale, NY about the project and after testing a lot of blends we came up with one that used beef chuck as the base and we added brisket, flap meat, and aged rib cap to finish it. The flavor was great, but the texture was not what I was looking for. We tried a grind that was coarser and we finally had our blend. The coarser grind allowed the fat to melt more slowly and gave the burger a better chew. And it was very indulgent.

My burger, originally designed for the 1770 House
My burger, originally designed for the 1770 House. Note the coarse grind of the meat.
Seasoned burger, originally designed for the 1770 House in East Hampton, NY.
Seasoned burger is ready to be smashed and griddled. Use plenty of salt and pepper.

From the standpoint of technique, the burger was already cooked using the “smash” method on a griddle but it was an eight ounce burger, closer to what Kenji refers to in his book as a “pub-style” burger. So the burger I developed for the restaurants was a mash-up of the two styles of burgers he discusses in The Food Lab. Check out my photos (from 2009 I think) and buy Kenji’s cookbook. It’s all good fun.

Toasted burger bun
Toasted burger bun is first buttered
Seasoned burger, on the griddle.
Seasoned burger, on the griddle, after the smash.
On the griddle. Designed originally for the 1770 House in East Hampton, NY. Typically between 75/25 and 80/20, ground chuck, brisket, aged rib cap.
On the griddle and after the flip. Typically between 75/25 and 80/20, ground chuck, brisket, aged rib cap and flap meat.

copyright 2015 Kevin Penner