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Get out your cast-iron skillet for South Fork’s chicken sandwich

Cramerton’s South Fork Deli is worth a trip, and worth the trouble to re-create their Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich.
Cramerton’s South Fork Deli is worth a trip, and worth the trouble to re-create their Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich. Jennifer Lover

On the South Fork of the Catawba River in Cramerton sits one of my favorite sandwich shops of all time, the South Fork Deli, Market & Cafe.

Lucky for me, Betty Lee sent in a request for their Cast Iron Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich. As Betty said, “I haven’t tried a single sandwich at South Fork that was anything less than delicious. My whole family agrees that it’s worth the drive, because it’s so much more than a deli.”

Owner Christopher Boone said the key to his popular sandwich is using high-quality chicken that is pounded out and soaked for 24 hours in buttermilk. The result is meat that’s tender and juicy. But the secret ingredient that makes his creation extraordinarily special is the pan. Boone uses a cast-iron skillet that has been handed down to him from his grandmother. That’s one ingredient I didn’t even attempt to replicate.

I made the buttermilk dressing the night before, at the same time I started soaking the chicken. This allowed the flavors to develop overnight as the chicken marinated. The recipe makes 2 cups of dressing, more than you’ll need for a single sandwich. Refrigerate the extra dressing in a jar for up to three days and you will have plenty for several sandwiches.

Are you looking for a recipe from a Charlotte-area restaurant? Send your request to Jennifer Lover, or on Instagram (@jenniferlover). Include your name, why you like the recipe, the area where you live and the restaurant’s location. Lover is a creative director, stylist and cook who lives in Charlotte.

South Fork Deli, Market & Cafe

119B Center St., Cramerton, 704-824-6172.

South Fork Cast-Iron Buttermilk-Fried Chicken

4 large skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (about 6-8 ounces each)

1 cup buttermilk

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon seasoned salt, such as Lawry’s

1 tablespoon granulated garlic (see note)

1 tablespoon granulated onion (see note)

1 tablespoon ground black pepper

Canola oil (for frying)

4 brioche rolls

Sliced Roma tomatoes and shredded iceberg lettuce

Buttermilk Dressing (see recipe)

Place chicken breast halves between sheets of plastic wrap and pound with a meat mallet or rolling pin until 1/2 inch thick.

Place chicken in a shallow dish or large resealable plastic bag. Add buttermilk and turn to coat. Refrigerate for 24 hours, turning occasionally.

Whisk together flour, seasoned salt, granulated garlic, granulated onion and pepper in a wide, shallow dish.

Pour oil into a large, straight-sided cast-iron skillet until it reaches a little less than halfway up the sides (about 1 inch). Heat over medium until a candy/deep-fry thermometer registers 350 degrees when the bulb is submerged in the oil.

Lift one piece of chicken at a time from the buttermilk without wiping away excess buttermilk and dredge both sides in seasoned flour. Lightly press the flour into the chicken until completely coated. Gently shake off excess and carefully place into the heated oil using tongs.

Fry chicken until golden brown and cooked through, about 3-4 minutes per side. Transfer to a wire rack set over a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Repeat with remaining breasts.

Assemble the sandwiches by placing a fried chicken breast on the bottom half of a cut roll. Top with sliced tomatoes and shredded lettuce, then drizzle with buttermilk dressing. Serve warm.

Note: Granulated garlic and onion are coarser than garlic powder and onion powder. You can get them at specialty stores, such as Savory Spice. Or substitute half as much garlic power and onion powder.

Yield: 4 servings.

Buttermilk Dressing

1 cup mayonnaise, preferably Hellman’s

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced

3/4 teaspoon seasoned salt, such as Lawry’s

3/4 teaspoon granulated garlic

3/4 teaspoon granulated onion

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to blend. Refrigerate up to three days.

Yield: About 2 cups.