Here’s an early look at the Bad Mutha Clucka, the Ilan Hall and Dog Haus chicken sandwich launching July 6, which just happens to be National Fried Chicken Day.
Ilan Hall's Chicken Sandwich at Dog Haus
Credit: Courtesy of Dog Haus

I’m at the Dog Haus headquarters in Pasadena on May 26, and it’s showtime. Ilan Hall, whom you may remember as the winner of Top Chef season 2, prepares to show off a new fried chicken sandwich for the rapidly expanding L.A.-based chain, which already has 23 restaurants in five states and plans to add more than 400 locations. Until recently Hall had just been working on the sandwich at his home in Brooklyn, but now it’s time to let the Dog Haus team execute his recipe.

“The last week, we set up the fryer in the office so we could have uninterrupted testing and eating,” Dog Haus co-founder Hagop Giragossian says. “I’ve eaten maybe 20 chicken sandwiches in the last three days.”

The chicken sandwich is something new for Dog Haus, best known for hot dogs, sausages and burgers.

The Bad Mutha Clucka (yes, Dog Haus is also known for its puns) is made with hormone-free, antibiotic-free, cage-free chicken. A five-ounce breast is brined, battered and fried before being served on grilled King’s Hawaiian rolls with lettuce, pickles and miso ranch.

“The sauce is very similar to traditional ranch, but there’s incorporation of a little shiro miso,” says Hall. “What that does is bring a little more umami. It doesn’t overpower everything. It doesn’t taste like a miso chicken sandwich, but adding that sort of fermented quality, especially with the flavors in ranch already, ekes it up a bit.”

Plus, the creaminess of the ranch is a nice balance to the crushed chili flakes and smoked paprika in the batter.

“We wanted to have a little spice to the batter,” Hall says. “But we didn’t want to make it a proper spicy chicken sandwich because we want everybody to be able to eat it.”

While Hall and Giragossian may eventually add a spicier version to the menu, they’re ready to go with their new sandwich after about eight months of recipe testing.

“For me, it’s a combination of texture and flavor,” Hall says. “When you’re looking at the scope of fried chicken sandwiches, you’re either going in the world of batter or the world of breading. I knew I wanted it to be a battered chicken because I feel like that creates a balance of crisp and tenderness.”

Hall succeeded by creating a batter with corn starch, potato starch, flour and lager, resulting in crispy chicken that goes well with soft Kings Hawaiian rolls. The lettuce and pickles add freshness, tartness and texture that enhance each bite.

As we wait for a fresh batch of Bad Mutha Cluckas, Giragossian tells me he loves the original Burger King chicken sandwich. Hall remembers bodega chicken cutlets on rolls in New York and eating his dad’s schnitzel sandwiches for lunch. These are men who’ve thought a lot about what a chicken sandwich should be. Now it’s time to taste what could be the final version of the Bad Mutha Clucka.

“It’s the first time I’m eating it like this,” Hall says and smiles after he takes a big bite. “I might have to take a nap afterwards.”

I ask if there might be some tweaks to the sandwich I’m eating.

“I’m very happy with it,” Hall says. “It’s still crunchy. It’s, like, covered in sauce and still crunchy.”

“Yeah, it sticks to the bun,” Giragossian says. “I feel good about it.”

Then Hall and Giragossian spend a moment discussing how they might make a spicier option in addition to the ready-for-consumers version they just tried. Maybe it involves seasoning with extra chili flakes at the end. For Dog Haus, where Hall is developing other items as well, R&D never stops.