Lines form for the fried chicken sandwich at Bakesale Betty in Oakland, Calif.
Fried Chicken Sandwich
Bakesale Betty, Oakland, Calif.
Leave it to an Australian to reinvent an iconic American classic—fried chicken—with such panache that droves of diners line up for it daily.
Around the San Francisco Bay Area, if you’re talking fried chicken sandwich, you probably mean the one at Bakesale Betty in Oakland (5098 Telegraph Ave., 510-985-1213; bakesalebetty.com). It’s downright voluptuous, the meat stacked high and spilling out from its soft roll. Diners pick it up with two hands and crunch down on the tender chicken breast made even tastier by its golden crust. A vinaigrette-dressed cabbage slaw with the kick of jalapeño and the bite of red onion adds tang and brightness.
Just don’t expect mayo; owner Alison Barakat can’t abide the stuff. Barakat, who as her alter ego Betty dons an electric-blue wig, had made this picnic favorite for years for friends and family. She learned to perfect the buttermilk-drenched chicken while working as a line cook at Berkeley’s Chez Panisse Café. So a few months after opening her Temescal neighborhood bakery in 2005, she started selling a few dozen fried chicken sandwiches a day, each made to order with her own two hands.
Now employees at two locations in Oakland turn out as many as 1,200 fried chicken sandwiches daily. Betty also sells egg salad sandwiches and Sloppy Joes. But more than 80 percent of the sandwiches ordered are the famous one. “People liked it from the start and started to write about it online,” Barakat says. “That’s how the word spread.”
There’s almost always a line out the door, but it moves swiftly, so that by the time you’re done ordering, paying, and gawking at the cookies, brownies, and sticky date pudding in the glass cases your wrapped sandwich is handed to you. Most diners grab a stool at one of the metal ironing boards set up as makeshift tables on the sidewalk.
How can you make a chicken sandwich as good Bakesale Betty’s? Barakat uses sweet torpedo rolls from Acme Bread Company in Berkeley, poultry from Mary’s Air-Chilled Chickens, coarse kosher salt, and Bariani brand extra virgin olive oil for the coleslaw. “It’s a simple sandwich,” Barakat says. “But people really love fried chicken.”
Fried Chicken Sandwich
Adapted with permission from Alison Barakat, Bakesale Betty
Preparation 1 ½ hrs. Cooking and assembling 15 minutes.
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 small red onion, sliced very thin
1 cup red wine vinegar
2 jalapeño chiles cut in half lengthwise, then seeded and sliced crosswise
¼ cup chopped parsley
½ green cabbage, core and outer leaves removed, sliced very thin, about 3 cups
½ teaspoon salt
4 large skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, each about 6 ounces
salt to taste
1 quart buttermilk
4 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 quarts vegetable oil, for frying
salt to taste
4 fresh sweet French rolls, sliced lengthwise
1. Make the vinaigrette: In a bowl, combine the mustard, vinegar, and salt. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until well blended. Set aside.
2. Make the coleslaw: In a medium-size bowl, combine the sliced onion and vinegar and let stand at least 20 minutes. With a strainer, drain the onion, discarding the vinegar. Return the onion to the bowl and add the jalapeño, parsley, cabbage, and salt. Add the vinaigrette and toss to coat the ingredients. Cover and refrigerate the coleslaw until the chicken is ready.
3. Season the chicken breasts with salt. Let stand at least 5 minutes. Fill a wide, shallow, nonreactive bowl or casserole dish with buttermilk. Add the chicken, making sure the buttermilk covers all the pieces. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or as long as overnight.
4. Pour the vegetable oil into a large stockpot, filling it no more than halfway, so that any oil spatters stay inside during frying. Place the pot on a burner over high heat and raise the oil temperature to 365°F, checking frequently with a digital or candy thermometer; adjust the heat to keep it at a constant temperature. Meanwhile, prepare the chicken.
5. In a wide shallow bowl, stir together the flour, cayenne pepper, salt, and black pepper. Using tongs, lift one chicken breast out of the buttermilk, allowing some liquid to drip off, then dredge the breast in the flour mixture. (During this process, don’t shake off excess buttermilk or flour.) Return the coated breast to the buttermilk, then dredge it again in the flour. (Double-dredging creates a thick crust.) Coat each breast the same way.
6. When the oil temperature is at a steady 365°F, use tongs to gently add the coated chicken pieces one by one. Let them cook for one minute, then, using the tongs, nudge the pieces to make sure they don’t stick together. Continue to cook until the pieces are crisp and evenly browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove them from the oil and drain on paper towels. Season lightly with salt.
7. Assemble the sandwiches: Generously top the bottom half of each French roll with coleslaw, then place a piece of fried chicken and the other roll half on top.
Photograph by Carolyn Jung 2010
This article was first published in January 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.