I’m no Malcolm Gladwell, but surely he could pithily coin a psychological term for that moment of realization when doubt turns to epiphany. It’s the light switch being flipped, the red phosphorous of the match igniting, the step over into the event horizon. You know, when your knee-jerk reaction is to think revulsion, but then you stew on it for a few, and at some point reach that moment when you think: “Wait a minute, this might work.”
I thought that way about watermelon and feta. Peaches and black pepper. Wendy’s Frosty and French fries. And now I think that way about the KFC Cheetos sandwich. Back in January when it was announced I stared at the picture of that sandwich from all angles, and after that momentary stun grenade of shock, immediately saw its potential.
This is ostensibly a glorified take on stuffing potato chips into your ham sandwich. It’s biting into a pillowing texture only to find unexpected crunchiness in the center. I’m glad they kept the frills to a minimum here—the only elements are the buns, breaded white meat chicken, mayonnaise, Cheetos, and an oily substance referred to as “Cheetos sauce.”
About that sauce, KFC uses an oil of similar viscosity to drench its Georgia Gold, Nashville Hot, and Smoky Mountain BBQ fried chickens. It’s terribly messy, but that oil is flavor-dense and gets into the nooks and crannies of the fried batter, which is the goal here with the chicken fillet (think Frank’s Red Hot + butter = Buffalo wings sauce). The problem, as you can see from the photo above, is that the sandwich gets pretty oily, and eating it without napkins can be detrimental for your dry-cleaning bill.
That said, the Cheetos oil tastes like—get ready—Cheetos in oil form, as if cheesy dust was blended into melted butter. You can imagine how that would taste sauced over fried chicken. The mayonnaise serves as a binding agent and adds some creaminess, but it’s the crunchy Cheetos itself that proves to be the revelation. The thing, though, is that the Cheetos used in my sandwich appeared to have sat out for a while, and while there was some crunch, you could tell it had been exposed to oxygen and is beginning to turn stale. The takeaway here is to imagine its potential, how fresh Cheetos would taste on a sandwich, and how if ever the opportunity comes where you have a fried chicken sandwich on hand, a bag of unopened Cheetos may elevate the sandwich to heights heretofore unexperienced. It’s as attractive as frizzled fried onions on a burger, only cheesier and more audibly crunchy.
This sandwich feels like gimmickry at the outset. I can assure you it’s not. It’s a bit messy, it feels something more appropriate for middle school cafeterias, but dang is this ever a clever idea—and more importantly, it’s a clever idea well-executed.