Advertisement
Share

What We’re Into: The Szechuan hot chicken sando at Daybird

×

The Szechuan hot chicken sandwich from Daybird, Mei Lin’s new restaurant in Silver Lake, is a thing of beautiful excess. The rust-red fried chicken protrudes from the bun and hangs aggressively over the side like a large tongue. It’s engagingly crisp, glossed with chile oil, and includes a breadth of flavors provided by no less than 30 ingredients. Think Gene Simmons, in sandwich form.

This is how each sandwich is served at Daybird. As your lips start to tingle, you contemplate eating half and saving the other half for later. But somehow, before you finish your thought, the sandwich is gone.

Szechuan hot chicken sandwich from Daybird.
Szechuan hot chicken sando from Daybird.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

There are enough people pushing hot chicken in Los Angeles to slake the most severe of cravings. But what Lin is doing at Daybird is in a category all its own.

Advertisement

Lin, who intended to open the concept before the COVID-19 pandemic, in mid-March started making Sichuan hot chicken sandwiches out of a small storefront in a shopping center at the corner of North Virgil Avenue and Silver Lake Boulevard. It’s much more reminiscent of Chongqing chicken, or la zi ji (chicken with chiles) than anything resembling Nashville hot chicken.

For this week’s What We’re Into video, we’re checking out the flautas from Los Dorados LA, a food trailer specializing in tacos dorados.

La zi ji is a dish from Chongqing, an area that was part of the Sichuan province in southwestern China until the late ’90s and is now a municipality. It’s made with bite-size pieces of fried chicken covered in a mountain of chopped chiles with lots of Sichuan pepper and garlic.

Chef Mei Lin stands against a yellow wall.
Chef Mei Lin outside Daybird.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Lin makes five levels of chicken: no heat, mild, medium, hot and extreme. The increase in heat corresponds to a darkening in color, creating a red-tinged rainbow of spicy chicken. Each level has its own seasoning. The base for each level includes notes of cumin, star anise, fennel, cinnamon, mushroom powder and green and red Sichuan peppercorns. The mild gets a bit of cayenne, the medium adds dried jalapeño to the mix, chile de arbol is added to the hot, and the extreme has a mix of habanero and ghost chiles.

“All in all, it’s pretty well balanced,” Lin said. ‘I’m probably a medium person but I can eat an extreme, just like a bite, because it doesn’t hit you right in the beginning. It hits you at the end.”

The chicken undergoes a rigorous process that includes a minimum 12-hour brine. The thighs are then patted dry and dredged in AP flour, dipped in a mixture of buttermilk and egg, then tossed in another mixture of seasoned all-purpose flour, cornstarch and salt. Lin adds a bit of water to that last flour mixture to create what she calls “crispies.” She fries the chicken once in rice bran oil at 330 degrees, lets it rest, and then fries it a second time at 365 degrees.

Szechuan hot chicken fresh from the fryer.
Chef Mei Lin prepares a Szechuan hot chicken sando at her new spot Daybird.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Advertisement

The chicken takes a dip in chili oil seasoned with Sichuan peppercorns, chile de arbol and gochugaru chiles; then it’s seasoned to your desired heat level.

I slipped into a meditative trance watching Lin make the slaw that tops the meat, as she gradually added chiles and dressed the cabbage with pickled shallot juice, which acts as a vinaigrette. She tossed the purple and green threads with her gloved hands, gently squeezing the cabbage as she sloshed it around the bowl.

A Szechuan hot chicken sandwich from Daybird.
Szechuan hot chicken sando from Daybird.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

To build the sandwich, she nestles the chicken on top of a Martin’s potato roll and then adds a heap of slaw — enough to form a legitimate side salad on its own. She makes sure the chicken sticks straight out of the bun, wraps the sandwich in paper and serves it vertically.

Advertisement

On this week’s episode of “What We’re Into,” we spotlight the tarte tatin from Perle restaurant in Pasadena. It’s a must-order, regardless of whatever came before it.

“My idea of presenting it [that] way ... was to actually get an array of the different sauces that we offer and use that outside area for dipping it into those sauces for different flavors,” Lin said. “Once you get to the heart of the sandwich, where the slaw is, then you get a completely different experience.”

Lin serves sides of habanero ranch (almost-spicy pink ranch), Daybird sauce and hot honey with the chicken sandwiches or tenders. And her specific breading process results in a craggy crust riddled with deep valleys, or pockets, that capture the seasoning. Some bites will make your tongue tingle; others will make it feel as though your brain is humming. Bottom line? The kaleidoscope of sensations is highly addictive.

240 N. Virgil Ave., Los Angeles, daybirdla.com


Advertisement