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8 & $20 Recipe: Pulled-Chicken Barbecue Sliders

An Italian red and a leaner meat make for a fresh take on a classic sandwich

Esther Mobley
Posted: September 9, 2014

Eight ingredients. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a weeknight feast for family or friends. That's the philosophy behind our "8 & $20" feature. We hope it adds pleasure to your table.

To live in New York is to live in a state of meteorological uncertainty. This past Labor Day weekend, my dreams of a sun-drenched BBQ were washed away as torrential rains swept through the city.

Still hungering for barbecue, I concocted some short-notice pulled-chicken sandwiches within the shelter of my apartment. Pulled chicken’s far more popular cousin, mouthwatering pulled pork, is made from very fatty cuts of pork—hence the deep flavor and juicy texture—that require slow-and-low cooking. My craving for barbecue, however, was tempered by my desire for both simplicity and a lean protein. Hello, chicken breasts.

This leaner, lighter riff on pulled pork is also lower-maintenance: I don’t have a smoker, and I didn’t have all day to cook. Chicken breasts can be seasoned, browned and boiled to tender in less than 20 minutes. Of course, white-meat chicken is one of the lowest-fat meats in the market, so it doesn't have that melt-in-your-mouth succulence of a forkful of pulled pork. But dressing the chicken in a delicious sauce and topping it with melted cheddar cheese more than compensates.

In the interest of simplicity, this recipe calls for store-bought barbecue sauce, combined with near-caramelized onions, garlic and apple cider vinegar, and reduced. I reached for a local favorite, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que Sensuous Slathering. It’s tangy, smoky, rich in tomato flavor and medium-spicy. The onions gave it a beautiful sweetness, and the apple cider vinegar brought it to the high-acid level that I craved. But I encourage experimentation: You can make your own barbecue sauce starting with a vinegar and tomato paste base and adding spices and sweeteners to your heart’s content.

Although I browned and boiled the chicken, time-conscious cooks can start with a store-bought rotisserie bird and shred it off the bone. I topped the sandwiches with cheddar cheese from Cabot Creamery and a slice of pickle.

Zinfandel is probably barbecue’s most familiar wine companion. I turned my attention to Primitivo, a different clone of the same grape variety. I wondered whether a Primitivo from the Italian region of Puglia, which can produce more restrained styles of the grape, might work well with my sandwiches. But I grabbed a couple other options, too—a Beaujolais and a dry Lambrusco.

The rosé Lambrusco was supercrisp and bright, but its flavors of fruit candy and strawberry took a bitter turn with the tangy barbecue sauce.

The Beaujolais, from the cru of Fleurie, was fresh, pleasant and straightforward. It showed dried herbs and ripe raspberry by itself, and with food turned more savory. It was a wine that got out of the way, letting the flavors of the food shine. But I was looking for more complexity in my match.

A $16 bottle of Primitivo, from the producer Masseria Altemura, was rich, juicy and inky on its own. The sandwiches brought out a leaner, meaty side in the wine, which was welcome, and amplified the wine’s subtle notes of green peppers and eucalyptus, while the dark fruit flavors were still singing. I happily inhaled my tiny sandwiches and sipped the Primitivo, glancing out my window at the Manhattan skyline, glad to be indoors.

Pulled-Chicken Barbecue Sliders

Pair it with a Primitivo from Puglia, such as Masseria Altemura Primitivo Salento Sasseo 2011 (87 points, $16)

Total time: 40 minutes
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes

Approximate food cost: $25 for 4 portions

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1 1/2 cups barbecue sauce, such as Dinosaur Bar-B-Que Sensuous Slathering Sauce
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • Salt and pepper
  • 12 mini-rolls
  • 6 ounces cheddar cheese, sliced thinly
  • 12 slices pickle

1. In a medium saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil. When hot, cook onion and garlic until onion is wilted and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add barbecue sauce, apple cider vinegar and about 1/2 cup of water. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to low. Cook covered for about 15 minutes, then remove cover and reduce for another 5 to 10 minutes.

2. While sauce is cooking, prepare chicken breasts by seasoning both sides with salt and pepper. In a nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil. Cook chicken breasts on both sides until browned.

3. Bring water to boil in a large pot. Place browned chicken in boiling water and let cook for 10 minutes. Remove chicken breasts from pot and shred, using two forks.

4. Combine shredded chicken with reduced barbecue sauce. Place a couple spoonfuls of dressed chicken on each mini-roll, then top with a slice of cheddar and a pickle. Serves four.

Raymond Darbenzio
Ewing, NJ —  September 10, 2014 10:20pm ET
Thanks for the article. I may try the chicken recipe although it seems odd to boil the chicken after it's browned. The Lambrusco would have been a great choice if it had been an amibile version of a good grasparossa instead of a rose version (likely a Sorbara). Very versatile wine, but need the right pairing for the different kinds of Lambrusco. A gutturnio or gragnolo/lettere would also work well.....if you can find them.

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