Yesterday I spent the afternoon inside the Chick-fil-A sanctum sanctorum — i.e., the company headquarters — with AJC business reporter Jeremiah McWilliams. A large group from the product development, marketing and public relations teams met us in the test kitchen, where one wall was covered with a red tarp to shield it from our view. I assume it was shelving filled with proprietary seasonings and spices, though I suppose it could have been a voodoo altar with pins sticking from a Double Down.
After a thorough presentation of the company’s research and development methodology, we learned how the Spicy Chicken Sandwich came to be. This new product — which officially hits Chick-fil-A’s 1400-plus stores on June 7 — has been on the boards since 2004, and in active development since 2008.
Chick-fil-A is milking the huge anticipation for this product — long requested by customers — for everything it can get. As you’ve probably heard, customers who signed up online were able to reserve free Spicy Chicken sandwiches to be picked up at specified time slots throughout next week. Everyone else must wait. This sandwich is nothing short of the fast-food iPad.
And so, after the dog and pony show, Jeremiah and I were each given a hot-from-the-fryer, freshly prepared sandwich. I have to say that watching the sandwich being made from raw ingredients did a little to alleviate my fast-food skeeze. Though I do find it distressing that one sandwich contains 72% of the daily recommended allowance of sodium (the Spicy version is saltier than the regular one).
A chicken breast (one that is not injected with a saline solution) first goes into a spicy marinade that is shipped to the stores as a powder and diluted with water. The mix contains “a blend of fiery spices.” (I’m guessing cayenne, paprika, salt, garlic and onion.) Then the chicken is dredged in a flour coating that gets a hint of spice from visible flecks of cracked black pepper, but is otherwise mild. Finally it goes on a buttered bun with not one and not three, but two pickle slices.
So how spicy is it? Not slap-your-grandma-then-go-on-a-rampage-and-beat-up-her-bridge-club spicy, but frankly so. Enough that capsaicin fanatics won’t find it a wuss out, and enough that some chile-averse souls will not be able to eat it. What impressed me is not how spicy it is, but the kind of round spice it presents — one that doesn’t hit you at first but then blooms, peaks and leaves a brief sting. That thin, orangey layer of marinade below the breading has a delayed-action kick.
After we took bites of our Spicy Chicken sandwiches, we were next served Spicy Chicken Deluxe, which came festooned with lettuce, tomato and pepper jack cheese. (This sandwich clocks in at 580 calories and contains 78% of the daily recommended allowance of sodium.) I liked the cool vegetables against the spicy meat but, personally, would lose the cheese.
Afterward, we went into a conference room and learned about a number of other new products currently in R&D. I’ll put up another post on those soon, but let it be known that the Spicy Chicken breakfast biscuit will soon be on its way to a restaurant near you. That should be an eye opener.