Faux Chick-fil-A is a hit at fast food feast

Nathan Sacks places a freshly fried chicken patty on a bun as Alyssa Silva anxiously awaits her dinner. Photo by Dan Schere

To fast food aficionado Nathan Sacks, a piquant brine is key to seasoning chicken cutlets just before they are submerged into a pan of hot oil.

As Sacks demonstrated at Moishe House Capitol Hill in Washington last week, that’s the first step in replicating Chick-fil-A’s signature chicken patties.

The brine, he explained to his 20 guests, typically consists of lemon juice and buttermilk. To accommodate those not wanting to mix milk and meat, he used soy milk instead.

“I made a test batch last night where I brined for two hours, but ideally you brine overnight,” he said. “So I did that for this batch. That way the inside is super tender, and you get flavor beyond the crust.”


Sacks, a Moishe House resident and a hardware engineer by day, has made a hobby out of fast food-style cooking using recipes from Kenji Lopez-Alt’s “The Food Lab.” This was his third time in the kitchen trying out the cookbook’s recipes on his friends.

Moishe House goers have previously devoured his macaroni and cheese as well as imitation Shake Shack burgers.

“The Food Lab” explains the science behind the attributes of the food. Sacks said he uses peanut oil because it burns easily, but is also suitable for deep-frying because it makes the chicken crispy.

The breading must include spices, such as paprika, oregano and freshly ground pepper. The chicken, he stressed, needs a spicy kick.

Then it was time to fry.

Sacks watched as the chicken cutlets became brown over 10 minutes. The house took on the distinct fast food restaurant smell of oil.

The secret to safely deep frying chicken cutlets in a wok full of peanut oil sizzling at 375 degrees?

“The key is to drop the chicken from a low level,” he said. “And make sure there’s no water on it, because the oil will splash everywhere.”

To complete the Chick-fil-A effect, diners garnished their sandwiches with pickles and pareve salad dressings. Washington resident Anna Penchansky said she couldn’t tell the difference between Sacks’ cooking and Chick-fil-A.

“This is one of the best chicken sandwiches I’ve ever had,” she said.

Noah Brown, a resident at Moishe House Columbia Heights in Washington, said he enjoyed the chicken because of its tasty, tender exterior and juicy inside.

“It is a perfectly battered fried chicken sandwich,” he said. “It’s better than Chik-fil-A, and I’m so glad Nathan is available to cook this seven days a week.”

Brett Boren, a Washington resident, said he, too, appreciated the crispness and tenderness of the chicken. But attempting to make the sandwiches, he felt, would be too hard for him.

“I have a very small kitchen, so it would be difficult for me,” he said. “But if Nathan hosts an event like this again, I’ll definitely be back.”

What’s next? A Whopper? A Wendy’s Dave’s Single? A Taco Bell Soft Taco Supreme? Sacks said he doesn’t know, but he hopes to try other recipes from Lopez-Alt’s cookbook.

The downside of making fast food recipes in his home is that it poses a fire hazard — something he is not entirely prepared for, he said.

“In a fire, I would hope I’d remain calm and use the fire extinguisher, but for all I know, I might run around screaming.”

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