[This entry is cross posted at ordinary-times.com]
Can you plagiarize yourself? This is the third time I’ve written down the recipe and step by step for this sandwich. The first time I called it an “ersatz Chic-fil-A” because in ninth grade I read Tom Robbins’s Still Life with Woodpecker and his main character used a baptismal candle as an “ersatz” sexual aid. Robbins was transgressive in way that didn’t hit you over the head with a sledgehammer. He drove the phonies nuts.
I tried to re-read one of his novels a few years ago and confirmed only good books grow up with you. Still, the word “ersatz” stuck in my head and I use it more often than I should. I like the sound and the memory of stopping to go to the dictionary. The word seemed arcane to me. Now I have problems with Robbin’s usage. He’s saying the candle was an ersatz ersatz?
I used “Chic-fil-esque” in that article, which was an unwitting segue into my second go at this sandwich, the second go being my first possible plagiarism. In that one I called it a Chic-faux-a, visually mimicking the emphatic syllable divisions in “Chic-fil-A”, but without the “L” sound the satirical similarity is reliant on a slanted assonant rhyme like this is some kind of folk or contemporary pop song and readers deserve better.
This time I’ve gone with “Chic-faux-lay” to demonstrate my maturation. By altering the type set I’ve introduced a feint, placing the “L” ideogrammatically in the last syllable where it belongs, forcing the reader to question how they last pronounced “Chic-fil-A.” Was it “fill – eh” or “fi – leh.” You may laugh, but the last time you tied your shoes, did you loop left over right or right over left? I’m sure you have an answer, but I’m also sure that muscle memory’s obedience to deliberate recall is grudging. I’m willing to bet in slipped a moment of doubt. “Left… Or maybe… No. It’s left,” but even now, and probably the next time you lace up, doubt lingers.
My wife says she pronounces it “fill – eh.” I don’t think she does. I certainly don’t. The “L” in the first syllable isn’t natural. Think about how you sound the word. Your top front teeth catch and release the bottom lip for the “F” sound and the mouth resets before the tip of the tongue flattens on the back of the same two teeth and retreats as you aspirate. Fi/stop/lay. The “L” elides into the “A” but it’s separate from the “F.”
A.C. Bradley famously weighed in on the debate over Hamlet’s sanity. To those convinced the prince was crazy, Bradley argued that if someone is insane, they have reached a breaking point where they have no more capacity to suffer. If Hamlet is insane, the play is not a tragedy as his suffering cannot build so, since the First Folio lists it as The Tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke, he ain’t crazy.
Did the dash in the “Chic-fil-A” logo convince us that the “L” belongs in the first syllable of “filet?” Ours isn’t a question of sanity like Hamlet’s but of self-determination – a far more important question than whether the use of dashes as presented categorizes “Chic-faux-lay” as “Chic-fil-A’s” masculine or wrenched rhyme. This speaks to our agency. Do we confidently declare the natural pronunciation as demonstrated by the mechanics of annunciation or are we cattle for Madison Avenue witchcraft? There’s no illuminating title to our lives, I’m afraid.
I believe Chic-fil-A and their revisionist hyphens did change the way a lot of us mentally divide “filet,” if not audibly. I’m advocating for a return to before their launch campaign and its substitute conception, but what if I’m wrong? God forbid we let the “fill-it” people in as a third party because I’d have a problem if I found I was advocating for an ersatz ersatz.
I wanted to write it as “Chic-faux-lā” but I’ve had trouble transferring accent marks from Word to web editing software. It’s usually fine in the body of a post — crème fraîche – but I’ve had problems in the title bar before. Maybe they’ve fixed things, but I don’t feel like messing with it right now. Next time.
- boneless skinless chicken thighs
- cheap buns, potato or doughy white works best
- all-purpose flour
- cayenne powder
- vegetable oil
- kosher salt
I like this enough and find it so close to the original that I feel bad eating it on Sundays. Quantities are dependent on how many you’re cooking for but there’re no magic ratios or anything, as you’ll see, that can’t be eyeballed as you go.
Put the thighs on a cutting board, cover with plastic wrap or a Ziploc bag, and smash with a hammer until they’re around 3/8” thick.
Cut the flattened thighs into sandwich shaped pieces and keep the scraps. They make great nuggets or composite sandwiches.
Set up an assembly line. You want the chicken laid out on a board for salting, a plate of flour mixed with cayenne (a tsp., or slightly more depending on taste, is the right range for my pictured plate), a bowl of beaten eggs (3 worked for 6 thighs), and a plate of breadcrumbs. The process is evident: salt the filets, dredge in flour, coat in egg, and the same in breadcrumbs. Do this in batches of whatever number of pieces fit in your frying pan.
Pour enough vegetable oil into a pan to come ¼ – ½ of the way up the side of the chicken and heat to 325°. Lightly brown both sides of the thighs without worrying about cooking them through and place on a baking sheet. It shouldn’t take but 30 seconds to 1 minute per side to get an attractive golden color.
When you’ve browned all you want to brown, put the baking sheet in an oven pre-heated to 400° for ten minutes, check doneness by cutting into the thickest piece, and return to cook more if needed.
While the chicken is baking, melt butter in a skillet and sear the buns until you get a little toasting.
Take the baked chicken and… you know how to put things in bread and make sandwiches so I’ll spare you that part.
Once you’ve made the sandwich you’re ready to go, but if you have a bamboo steamer, put your otherwise finished sandwich in one of those for 30 seconds. They are amazing at achieving that fast food gooey bun while leaving the toasted buttery bits alone. I didn’t do it this time because I didn’t think about it. You don’t have to either, but it’s fantastic.
I think Chic-fil-A was spot on garnishing with only a pickle, but you don’t have to share my minimalism. Lettuce, tomato, and other burger stuff is great.
We had chips with ours. I love replicating fast food at home. It’s like a game. But Chic-fil-A serves waffle fries and mandolins are so fickle. Trying to make them at home is brutally time consuming. Still…
… with some planning and patience, you might surprise yourself.