I don’t watch a lot of food shows these days. It’s easy to be disappointed in the current offerings when you grew up watching Yan and Julia and Jacques, the Galloping Gourmet, and those Two Fat Ladies. But the handful of food and cooking shows I do enjoy? I don’t make a habit of watching them, either. Problem is, I am highly suggestible — these shows make me want to devour whatever tasty morsel the host is pornographically ravaging on camera. And I am already hungry enough, thank you.
Case in point: Last week channel surfing, we happened upon Adam Richman’s Best Sandwich in America. The title is self-explanatory, no? Richman, of Man vs Food fame, eats three sandwiches from a particular region of the country, and crowns one the winner. All the regional winners will go on to compete for (you guessed it!) Best Sandwich in America. And in this episode that we saw last week, the Conquistador Chicken sandwich was named best in the South. (If we’re ever in Savannah, Georgia, I want to check this Zunzi’s out, shit yeah.)
This sandwich is not a pretty thing. It is covered in what looks to be salad dressing. The filling consists of chicken breasts, which I normally pass up in favor of those delicious, juicy thighs. But then we see how it’s made, and my interest is piqued.
The cooking technique for the chicken is this: the breasts, liberally sprinkled with a yellow-tinted spice mixture (I heard curry mentioned), are loosely wrapped in foil and baked for over an hour. Using this cooking method the breast meat is tender and fall-apart juicy in a way skinless breasts seldom are. The meat is chopped, piled into a lettuce-and-tomato-lined baguette, and covered in two sauces, one a creamy Italian (that looked suspiciously like good old Ranch) and the other a creamy orange-reddish super-duper-secret sauce. On the Travel Channel Web site linked above, they say you can substitute thousand island dressing.
It would be just plan wrong to try to copy something one has never tasted, so this recipe is about inspiration, not replication. We’re not getting to Georgia anytime soon, and I couldn’t help myself — I had to try my own version for dinner last night.
I have no idea how close we came to the original. And I’m not saying that this IS the Conquistador Chicken sandwich, because how could it be? I will only say this: This sandwich is damn hell ass kings amazing. The chicken came out perfect – juicy and tender, with lots of flavor. For the secret sauce, I went with Mississippi Comeback tarted up with 3 different hot sauces that we had in the fridge. (Comeback sauce is like thousand island, but better. Less mayonnaise-greasy, more flavorful and piquant with lemon juice and vinegar.) If I were in a hurry, I could see just skipping this sauce and using straight hot sauce.
Spicy Foil-Baked Chicken Sandwich (inspired by Zunzi’s Conquistador Chicken)
Makes 4 large sandwiches
2 large chicken breasts
Curry Spice Blend (see recipe below)
Comeback Sauce (see recipe below)
Many, Many Napkins
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Get a large piece of foil on a cookie sheet or roasting pan, place the breasts in the middle, and sprinkle the dry rub all over the meat. Bring the edges of the foil up over the meat, loosely tenting the foil so that there is room for the chicken to steam — there should be just a small hole in the center for steam to escape. Cook until done, about an hour to an hour and a half.
Chop the chicken, and, this is important: pour whatever juices are left in the foil over the chopped meat. Please use those juices!
Cut the baguette into 4 pieces, and cut those pieces in half. Build your sandwich.
Curry Spice Blend
1 1/2 T curry powder
1 1/2 T brown sugar
1 T paprika
1 t black pepper
1 t cayenne (more or less)
1 t onion powder
1 t garlic powder
1 C mayo
1 C chili sauce (Heinz makes one)
1 T dijon
1/2 t garlic powder
1 T Worcestershire
1/4 C olive oil
dash of red wine vinegar
juice of 1 – 2 lemons
liberal dashes of any and all hot sauces in your arsenal. This time, I used Trader Joe’s habanero, Mezzetta’s habanero, and some good old Tabasco.
Mix it all up.