Two Southern staples by themselves, sweet tea and fried chicken, are often found on the same table. But it wasn’t until I tasted this sweet tea fried chicken sandwich from Saw’s BBQ in Birmingham, Alabama, that I realized they’re stronger together. In this recipe, which was inspired by Saw’s dish, the sweet tea acts as a flavor-charged brine for the chicken thighs, resulting in deeply tender and succulent fried chicken with just a hint of sweetness.
For the brine, I’m talking about the old Southern secret of sprinkling sweet tea with a pinch of baking soda. This trick is said to strip the tea of any lingering bitterness, but adding a little baking soda to the brine also plays an important role in tenderizing the meat. Instead of deep frying, I opt for shallow frying in a cast iron skillet, which yields amazingly crispy chicken with just a fraction of the oil.
The perfect accompaniment to sweet tea-salted chicken? Alabama white sauce. Unlike many barbecue sauces—which rely heavily on ketchup and molasses—this pale, vinegar-based mayonnaise is bright and robust, and is a trademark of Alabama barbecue. With plenty of black pepper, this versatile white sauce would be great on just about anything: In Alabama, it’s popularly drizzled over grilled or smoked chicken—the thin, mayonnaise-based sauce keeps the bird moist and juicy—but I also use it as a salad dressing and salsa. Dip for fries (Big Ranch Energy).
My favorite way to serve this chicken is on top of a slice of soft white bread to soak up all that sauce. For an epic chicken sandwich, toss fried thighs in a potato bun with sliced pickles and a tablespoon of Alabama white sauce. Whichever method you choose, don’t forget a side of fried green tomatoes.