When the Popeye’s chicken sandwich was first launched in 2019, the hype was almost palpable – even from the other side of the Atlantic. When the fast food chain sold out and stores were forced to turn customers away upon the initial release, one unhappy customer even went so far as filing a lawsuit for “deceptive business practices”. When the sandwich finally returned to stores a few months later, Popeye’s continued to struggle with meeting demand, and some customers even resorted to violence just to get their hands on the famous Popeye’s chicken sandwich.
Towards the tail end of 2021, Popeye’s caused even more excitement by unveiling plans to launch its first international venture, opening a site at Westfield in Stratford, London. Joining a nearby Wendy’s, Popeye’s took over the former KFC spot in the shopping center’s food court, generating a huge amount of buzz. During the first few weeks of opening, the first UK outpost of Popeye’s was extremely busy, even more than expected. A portion of the food court was assigned for large queues which snaked around and back on itself as overwhelmed staff rushed to take orders, cook and serve a limited menu headlined by the Popeye’s chicken sandwich. People queued for hours. Reluctantly I even waited almost three hours for dinner, making it to the counter just before the shopping center closed. Even now, Popeye’s still demands long queues at peak times, but significantly less than upon opening.
The Popeye’s chicken sandwich was, of course, a must order, plus almost everything else on the menu as I didn’t plan on queueing again any time soon. The chicken sandwich was great, far better than direct competitors, and accessibly priced at £5.95. But was it worth the wait? The food was perfectly fine, but didn’t quite live up to that eaten at Popeye’s while in the United States. Perhaps it’s the sense of place, the significantly different ingredients and suppliers, or just sheer exhaustion from standing in a queue, wearing a mask, in a hot, windowless shopping center for 167 minutes, regretting all of the life choices I’d made up until that point. To cut a long story short, it wasn’t quite worth the hype – though few things ever are.
Fortunately, Popeye’s is now available for local delivery in the UK, with plans to open another site in the very near future. Until then, the below copycat Popeye’s chicken sandwich recipe will hopefully suffice if you’re not local, or just don’t feel like queueing.
- 2 large chicken breasts skinless and boneless
- 250 ml buttermilk
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp garlic granules
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- Neutral oil for deep frying
- 4 brioche buns
- Sliced dill pickles thick cut if possible
For the breading
- 120 g plain flour
- 80 g cornflower
- 1 tbsp smoked paprika
- 1 tbsp garlic granules
- ½ tbsp black pepper
- ½ tbsp salt
- ½ tsp cayenne pepper add more for spicier chicken
For the spicy mayo
- 115 ml mayonnaise
- 2 tsp hot sauce
- ½ tsp smoked paprika
Begin by adding the buttermilk to a large mixing bowl or roasting tin and mixing in 1 tsp of each smoked paprika, garlic granules, black pepper and salt.
Pound the chicken breasts between two sheets of greaseproof paper until they have an even thickness of approx. 1-1.5cm. Place in the buttermilk mixture, mix to cover and marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes.
While the chicken marinades, in a large bowl or zip-lock bag, combine the flour, cornflour, 1 tbsp smoked paprika, 1 tbsp garlic granules, ½ tbsp black pepper, ½ tbsp salt and ½ tsp cayenne pepper. Mix to combine.
Make the spicy mayo by mixing the mayonnaise, hot sauce and ½ tsp smoked paprika.
Once the chicken has finished marinating, add a drizzle of the buttermilk mixture to the flour and mix with your hands.
Coat each piece of chicken in the flour mixture then place on a wire rack to sit for 10-15 minutes while you heat the oil for deep frying.
Heat enough oil to safely deep fry the chicken, in either a large pan or deep fryer. Once the oil reaches 190C (approx. 375F) fry the dredged chicken fillets for around 10-12 minutes, or until light brown and crispy. Cook in batches if necessary, to avoid overspill or cooling the oil.
While the chicken is frying, toast the brioche buns and place a smear of mayonnaise on both halves of the sliced bun, and a handful of dill pickle slices on the bottom half.
Drain the chicken, then place one chicken piece on top of the dill pickles then finish with the top part of the bun and squeeze slightly.
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