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Is this the world’s cheffiest fried chicken sandwich?

The fried chicken sandwich that emerged from a mind-meld between Jordan Kahn of Vespertine and Zaiyu Hasegawa of Den in Japan
The fried chicken sandwich that emerged from a mind-meld between Jordan Kahn of Vespertine and Zaiyu Hasegawa of Den restaurant in Japan.
(Vesta Partovi / Los Angeles Times)

What happens when two Michelin-starred chefs collaborate to make the ultimate fried chicken sandwich? They create the cheffiest, most complicated and most delicious fried chicken sandwich in the universe.

I’m Jenn Harris, a senior writer in the Food section and host and producer of The Times’ fried chicken video series “The Bucket List.” This week I’m filling in for our food critics, who are immersed in the production of our upcoming restaurant guide, which will appear in print Dec. 13.

Now back to the fried chicken sandwich: As part of Food Bowl, the Los Angeles Times’ annual food festival, Jordan Kahn of Vespertine and Destroyer in Culver City melded minds with Zaiyu Hasegawa of Den restaurant in Japan to make a fried chicken sandwich. It was available only during a two-day event in October — and it may return.

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Kahn swiped the bread with Kewpie mayonnaise, then seasoned it with house-made furikake that combined toasted nori, sesame seeds, Japanese chile and hemp seeds. Kahn brined chicken breasts in a ramen broth fortified with kombu and dashi. Then he coated the chicken in gluten-free flour; then dipped it in a batter of cake flour, Orion Japanese beer and buttermilk; and finally dredged it in cake flour before frying. He seasoned the fried chicken with moshio, a Japanese sea salt harvested by scraping dried and hardened seaweed, and added sansho pepper for a piney, citrusy flavor that numbed the tongue.

Kahn’s restaurant Vespertine is known for its exquisite tasting menus that challenge convention and offer an unexpected, otherworldly dining experience. And Hasegawa’s Den in Tokyo is home to a playful tasting menu that features his signature dish, the Dentucky fried chicken — a fried chicken wing stuffed with rice and vegetables, served in a box reminiscent of the Kentucky original.

After three weeks of collaborating via phone, four iterations on paper and two real-life revisions, Hasegawa and Kahn created the final sandwich.

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The L.A. chef developed a milk bread recipe for the bun that incorporated TangZhong, a Japanese bread-making technique that pre-gelatinizes the flour before it is incorporated into the other ingredients. That process, plus the addition of miso, resulted in a bun that was soft, spongy and sturdy.

After the chicken layer came salted Japanese cucumber, pickled lotus root and shiitake mushrooms cooked in red mirin and soy until they plumped up and bulged with rich, salty liquid. Then Kahn added shaved radish, bok choy, mizuna, tatsoi, komatsuna and mitsuba.

Layer after layer of herbs and flowers were tweezered onto the sandwich, creating a beautiful exaggeration of a green salad atop the chicken. At the end, the whole thing was misted with yuzu juice and toasted sesame oil — and ultimately crowned with a smiley-face carrot, its eyes painstakingly carved with a Dremel and its mouth sculpted with a very sharp knife.

The entire process, from bread-making to chicken-frying and garnish, took three days.

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“I wanted to keep it nice and simple,” Kahn joked. “It’s hard for us to under-complicate what we do. It’s our modus operandi.”

Watch him discuss and create the sandwich, tweezered pickle by tweezered leaf, in our video here.

A look inside the fried chicken sandwich that Jordan Kahn of Vespertine created with Japanese chef Zaiyu Hasegawa.
A look inside the sandwich.
(Vesta Partovi / Los Angeles Times)

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L.A. Times Dinner Series

The series returns Nov. 8 with Phil Rosenthal (“Somebody Feed Phil”) and a takeout dinner designed by chef Dave Beran (Pasjoli, Dialogue). The multicourse meal will include a market salad, fennel gratin and duck leg confit with braised beans. Dessert will be a seasonally appropriate pumpkin spice macaron. And guests can tune in to a live conversation with Rosenthal and Beran, hosted by Times television editor Matt Brennan. Tickets are $95 per person, and dinners will be available for pickup on the day of the event.

Next up? A Nov. 22 takeout dinner from chef Jeremy Fox (Rustic Canyon, Birdie G’s), featuring stars of “Fargo’s” fourth season. Showrunner Noah Hawley and actors Jason Schwartzman, Timothy Olyphant and Glynn Turman are scheduled to participate in a live conversation while diners enjoy their meals. Get more info here, and get tickets here.

Our stories

This week in Food, we’re reporting and writing about alcohol — how and what people have been drinking during the pandemic.

— If you have the impression that people are drinking more right now, well, studies confirm it. Alcohol sales outside of bars and restaurants have risen about 24% since March, Garrett Snyder reports, and the reasons are pretty apparent. But does that mean liquor, beer and wine producers have been raking in profits while we drown our sorrows? Not exactly, Garrett writes: “Just as revealing as how much Americans are drinking is what they’re choosing to drink.”

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— In the meantime, California craft distillers who wondered how they might survive the pandemic shutdown have gotten some help from the state. But how long will it last?

— Stay home, drink local? Garrett recommends three California-based producers well positioned to capitalize on current trends.

— I also reported on two people trying to diversify the wine industry, one Zoom get-together at a time. With Industry Sessions, Jirka Jireh and James Sligh offer free wine education classes for Black and Indigenous people of color.


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