Fact: Food is comforting. Fact: Some foods are more comforting than other foods. My comfort foods of choice have always centered around the chicken. My last meal on earth will be a multi course affair with every course containing chicken or its close friend, the egg. My weekly staple from the farmer’s market is a rotisserie chicken and a dozen eggs. My favorite easy and fast lunch is a bowl of instant chicken-flavored ramen soup with a poached egg poured into a large soup bowl full of baby spinach. I make a quick oven fried potato dish in a cast iron pan (recipe later this month) and right before pulling it out of the oven, I crack some eggs on top and let them bake right into the potatoes.
I have been thinking a lot about chicken lately because I have been in need of deep comfort for the past month. Elders have died. A close friend is ill. Never before have I craved these foods so deeply nor have I found the eating of these foods so healing. I have eaten out of boredom before, but never out of the need to heal. Lucky for me I know of a bakery across the bay in Oakland where amongst the standard bakery fare of cookies, cakes and pies are two rather improbable offerings: fried chicken sandwiches and egg salad sandwiches. Odd, no? Is it any surprise that I have been spending a lot of time there? I wonder if the owners of this small bakery realize just how much more than pies, cookies and fried chicken sandwiches they are providing. If the length of the line out the door is any indication, I am not the only one stopping in to get a dose of comfort.
Comfort and healing aside, their fried chicken sandwich is a taste and texture odyssey that plays out on so many different sensory levels. A fresh, real (not pre-fab) chicken breast half is battered and deep fried until the outside has formed a golden crust and the inside is cooked through but still moist. The piece of crunchy hot chicken is then placed in a large, soft roll, and smothered with coleslaw. Not mayonnaise based coleslaw. No, this is fresh, vinegar and oil based coleslaw with lots of slivered jalapenos and chopped parsley. As you bite into this huge sandwich (carefully wrapped in paper, then sliced in half and wrapped again), your teeth first sink through the soft roll, then hit the crunchy crust of the warm, juicy chicken.
At just the moment that you are crunching through the chicken’s crust your taste buds are awakened by the acid of the vinegar and the spicy heat of the jalapeno in the crispy slaw. The play of soft and crispy textures against heat and acid is sensational. Literally. The spicy saltiness is relieved by the sweetness of both the soft roll and the warm white breast meat. You could eat this sandwich every day and not grow tired of it. I would if I could. It is a wonder.
While I wouldn’t even begin to try to make the fried chicken sandwich at home, I have attempted the egg salad sandwich on my own. This is what I have found. The fashion and food theory that ‘less is more’ does not apply to an egg salad sandwich. When I decided to work on this recipe I had assumed that a couple of boiled eggs, a little mayo, mustard, salt and pepper would be enough to satisfy. Not so. This egg salad was lacking a certain something. This egg salad tasted like something from my 8th grade home ECS class. BORING. So I did what every self respecting food consultant does—I opened up the refrigerator door and stared in. (Other consultants will lie to you and tell you that they just book a flight to an exotic land, either Morocco or Thailand, for inspiration. This is not true. They are all standing in front of their open refrigerator doors murmuring ‘now what?’). Back to the refrigerator. Green olives? Why not? Arugula? Sure. Walnuts? Crunchy. I like crunch. Then I moved over to the kitchen counter. Fresh baguette? Perfect.
After much chopping, stirring and tasting I believe I have created an egg salad sandwich which will bring on what I call the ‘mmmm’s’. That soft, low sound that originates at the base of the cranium and resonates up through the head—only heard coming from someone who has just bitten into something truly delicious. A most comforting sound.
Egg Salad Sandwich
6 hard boiled eggs, peeled and chopped coarsely
1/3 cup mayo (preferably Hellman’s or Best Foods)
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
12 green olives, pitted, chopped
freshly ground black pepper
salt to taste
2 tablespoons walnuts, toasted
Mix together first six ingredients. Chill for an hour. Spread on toasted baguette, top with walnuts and arugula.
Yield: 2 big sandwiches (serve open face).