Spicy Chicken-Fried Cauliflower Sandwich

updated Oct 26, 2020
Spicy Chicken-Fried Cauliflower Sandwich

Inspired by the hot fried chicken sandwich, this vegetarian version is arguably just as satisfying.


Prep30 minutes

Cook30 minutes

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Credit: Joe Lingeman

Soft bun plus crackly fried something plus tangle of tangy slaw: It’s a sacred trinity, especially when served in a paper-lined basket with a snappy pickle and a cold beer on the side. Unfortunately, this perfect sandwich is not a textural experience vegetarians get to enjoy often. (I’ve been a vegetarian for a decade and the only thing I really miss is fish and chips, screaming hot and shatteringly crisp.)

Wooed by hot fried chicken sandwiches everywhere, I set out to make a veg version. The potato bun — supremely squishy and a little bit sweet — was non-negotiable, as was a classic cabbage slaw. I knew I’d add bite-y red onion and brighten it with vinegar to cut through the richness of the fried food (as would the mayo on the bun). That just left the fried item to figure out. The answer proved to be cauliflower: sweet and sturdy, with craggy florets that hold onto a marinade and crisp up beautifully in hot oil. Here’s how to do it.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Giving Cauliflower the Fried Chicken Treatment

To create the best marinade for the cauliflower, I thought about traditions of marinating fried chicken: buttermilk and pickle brine. Both liquids tenderize and flavor meat, but I needed something thicker than buttermilk to stick to the cauliflower, so I splashed the brine from a jar of dill pickles into mayonnaise until I had something about the texture of ranch dressing. Seasoned with garlic, Dijon mustard, and a generous dose of cayenne for spice, it would work great as a salad dressing or dip — but here, I cut the cauliflower into sandwich-sized slabs, coated them in mixture, then moved the whole operation to the refrigerator for a few hours so the cauliflower could soak up the flavor.

All that was left to do was fry, which was simple: While I heated a pot of oil (use an instant-read thermometer to check the temperature or dip the handle of a wooden spoon into the oil; if it bubbles furiously, you’re ready to go), I dredged the marinated cauliflower in seasoned flour, then dropped in a couple of pieces at a time and fried until deeply browned and crisp, with an interior that was sweet and yielding (but not so delicate it wouldn’t hold its shape). Piled onto a bun with mayonnaise, hot sauce, and that tangy slaw, these well-spiced slabs of cauliflower make an extremely satisfying sandwich for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. Especially with a pickle and a cold beer.

Spicy Chicken-Fried Cauliflower Sandwich

Inspired by the hot fried chicken sandwich, this vegetarian version is arguably just as satisfying.

Prep time 30 minutes

Cook time 30 minutes

Serves 6

Nutritional Info


For the cauliflower:

  • 2 cloves


  • 3/4 cup

    regular or vegan mayonnaise

  • 1/4 cup

    dill pickle brine

  • 1 tablespoon

    Dijon mustard

  • 1 tablespoon

    cayenne pepper

  • Kosher salt

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 1

    large head cauliflower (2 to 2 1/2 pounds)

For the slaw:

  • 1/2

    medium red onion

  • 1

    small clove garlic

  • 2 tablespoons

    dill pickle brine

  • 2 tablespoons

    apple cider vinegar

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 1

    small green cabbage (about 1 pound)

For frying and serving:

  • 4 to 6 cups

    vegetable oil, plus more as needed

  • 1 1/2 cups

    all-purpose flour

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 6

    soft potato, white, or brioche buns

  • For serving: mayonnaise, hot sauce, and pickles


Marinate the cauliflower:

  1. Mince 2 garlic cloves and place in a large bowl. Add 3/4 cup mayonnaise, 1/4 cup pickle brine, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, and 2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon cayenne (depending on the desired heat level), and whisk to combine. Taste and season with kosher salt and black pepper as needed. (The marinade should taste well-seasoned, almost like spicy ranch dressing.)

  2. Remove and discard the leaves from 1 large head cauliflower and trim the bottom of the core. Quarter the cauliflower through the core. Cut each quarter into 1 1/2 to 2-inch-thick slabs, trying to keep a bit of the core in each. You should get about 2 slabs per quarter, plus a couple of large florets.

  3. Add the cauliflower to the marinade. Using your hands, carefully and gently coat all the pieces thoroughly in the marinade. Cover the bowl and refrigerate at least 2 and up to 8 hours. Meanwhile, make the slaw.

Make the slaw:

  1. Thinly slice 1/2 medium red onion and mince 1 small garlic clove. Place both in a large bowl and add 2 tablespoons pickle brine, 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Toss to combine, scrunching the onion with your fingers to soften it a bit.

  2. Quarter 1 small green cabbage through the core, then cut the core out of each piece. Thinly slice the cabbage, add to the onion mixture, and toss to combine, scrunching the cabbage firmly with your hands so that it softens somewhat and starts letting out liquid. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Refrigerate until ready to serve (up to 2 days).

Fry the cauliflower:

  1. Line a baking sheet with a wire rack. Add enough vegetable oil to a large saucepan or Dutch oven to come about 2 inches up the sides and heat over medium heat until 365°F. Meanwhile, place 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and several grinds black pepper in a shallow bowl or pie plate and stir to combine.

  2. Working with one piece of cauliflower at a time, remove from the marinade, letting the excess drip back into the bowl, and coat in the flour mixture. Tap off any excess flour, then carefully place in the hot oil. Batter and fry a few pieces at a time so as not to crowd the pan, flipping once with tongs, until deeply golden brown and crisp, about 4 minutes total. Return the oil to 365°F between batches.

  3. Transfer to the wire rack. Fry the remaining cauliflower. Save the biggest pieces for the sandwiches, but serve the smaller pieces as “nuggets”—or eat them yourself. Cook’s treat!

  4. To serve, lightly toast 6 buns. Swipe a little mayonnaise inside each, then top with fried cauliflower, hot sauce, and a pile of slaw. Serve additional slaw on the side with pickles.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The cauliflower can be marinated up to 8 hours in advance. The slaw can be made up to 2 days in advance.

Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container up to 2 days.