Chicken and Halloumi Chicken Sandwiches
There's a great little halal market I go to that always have a plethora of halloumi on hand at the most reasonable price I've ever seen for this grill-able Cypriot cheese. While the market is really close to my home, I don't end up going all that frequently, but every time I do, I buy way too much halloumi. Actually, I'm not sure there's such a thing as way too much halloumi, but for someone who likes to change up what they're eating constantly, having a lot in my fridge leaves me finding different ways to use it all the time. This is the main reason why you'll find my halloumi-based recipes growing pretty deep in recent years, and after a recent trip to that market, I'm in the season of adding to that collection once again, starting with these chicken and halloumi sandwiches.
I made this sandwich at the outset of warmer spring days, which left me with a hankering for bright and light chicken souvlaki. My initially thought was to make the usual cubed and skewered chicken and intersperse those with chunks of halloumi, but then I remembered a really great halloumi and shishito sandwich I made last summer and that moved my brain into that direction. I still wanted that souvlaki flavor though, so I whipped up a batch of my tried and true marinade that combines a lot of lemon juice and Greek oregano with an olive oil base that also has red onion and red wine vinegar.
If I were making these sandwiches just for myself, there's no doubt that I would have gone with more flavorful, and more forgiving, chicken thighs as my cut of choice, but my wife is partial to chicken breasts. Since I feel pretty confident in my abilities to cook breasts to be flavorful and juicy, I just went with them to make us both happy. I utilized only one breast per two sandwiches, and to get the chicken into the right shape and size, I split the breast into two equal portions by weight, which I eyeballed, and then pounded those out so there were an even thickness and a little larger than the buns to account for shrinkage during grilling.
I then nestled those breast halves in the marinade, covered, and placed in the fridge for a couple hours. With the high acid content, just two to four hours is a good amount of time to embed the chicken with flavor while avoiding the meat from becoming mushy, but to be honest, I've made chicken souvlaki many times before and let the chicken sit in the marinade overnight to equally acceptable results.
Right after setting the chicken in the marinade is a good time to get moving on the essential tzatziki because, like the chicken, it benefits from some time in the fridge too. I've changed up my tzatziki recipe recently ever so slightly to extrude liquid from the cucumber first, which I do by placing the grated cucumber in a fine mesh strainer and pushing on it with a rubber spatula. My tzatziki's prior to me adopting this step were fine, but when I take this extra time, the end sauce is thicker and less watery, which are both plusses.
Beyond the crucial cucumber and Greek yogurt, this tzatziki recipe adds in garlic, dill, lemon juice, and extra-virgin olive oil to build up the full cooling and tangy flavor profile that makes this a favorite dip and condiment of mine.
Now one would think that a soft and chewy Greek-style pita would be the best vessel for this chicken and halloumi combo, and if you're going for a traditional take, you'd be right, but I wanted a more standard sandwich in this instance and bun choice was really the only place I deviated from the otherwise ubiquitous Greek flavors. I ended up choosing brioche rolls, partly because my local bakery makes really good ones, and partly because I wanted to see how a little sweetness might change things up in the final product. I never miss a chance to advocate for buttering and grilling the buns because toasty buns are happy buns.
After getting some color on the cut sides of the buns, I removed them and placed the chicken on the grill. Since breasts lack the insurance policy fattier meats provide, I needed to keep a close eye on the temperature to ensure they didn't overcook and and dry out. Luckily, the fire was still fresh, so they charred very well on the outside before the inside finished cooking.
I pulled the breasts off the grill once they hit 155°F in the center. You'll see a lot of my recipes calling for even lower temps for breasts—usually 145°F—but the thing with cooking to temperatures below the FDA 165°F guideline is that, the lower the temp, the longer the chicken needs to be held at that temp to kill off any nasty bacteria. At 145°F you need to hold the chicken there for 9 minutes, which I wasn't going to do in this instance, so I went a little higher so the amount of time the chicken needed to rest would be closer to the amount of time I needed to grill the halloumi and assemble the sandwiches.
As each chicken piece was done, I placed it on a toasted bun, and then once the grill was cleared I put the halloumi on, which I had cut into 1/4-inch slices. It's important to allow the halloumi to grill until it's well browned before flipping, otherwise it might stick to the grates and you risk losing precious cheese. It might take a little longer than you're expecting, so just be patient—besides, the hotter and more browned the halloumi gets, the better it is, in my opinion.
I wanted to eat these sandwiches as close to when the halloumi was done as possible so it would be at its prime temperature and texture in those first bites. So, once done, I wasted no time in adding the additional red onion and tomato toppers, followed by a large dollop of tzatziki and the remaining bun half.
I unfortunately had to wait a little longer to eat than I normally would have due to having to take the glamour shots, but all was still right with this sandwich once I did dig in. The saltiness of the halloumi was right up front, and despite everything else going on, I still got that pleasing squeaky chew to the cheese. The fact that the flavor of the chicken was mellow helped let that cheese shine through, but the breast did have a nice citrusy brightness to it along with a good heft. which accounted for this sandwich's ability to leave you nice and full at the end. The tzatziki, onion, and tomato actually did more in the flavor department than the chicken itself, adding sharp and garlicky bites, a noticeable tang, and cooling creaminess, which all cemented a Greek flavor profile that was challenged, in a good way, by the sweetness of the roll. I liked the little touch of sweetness to contrast against all the savory and salty going on the sandwich—it definitely created a pretty different experience than if everything had gotten rolled up into a pita. Since this was a dinner for just two, I ultimately only ended up using half a brick of halloumi from my recent purchase, meaning there's still a lot more left to figure out how to turn into new and equally delicious meals.
Chicken and Halloumi Chicken Sandwiches
- Yield 4 servings
- Prep 15 Minutes
- Inactive 2 Hours
- Cook 15 Minutes
- Total 2 Hours 30 Minutes
- For the Tzatziki
- 1 cup Greek yogurt
- 1/2 English cucumber, peeled and grated
- 1 tablespoons fresh lemon juice from 1 lemon
- 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic (about 1 large clove)
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 3/4 teaspoons finely minced fresh dill
- Kosher salt
- For the Chicken
- 2/3 cup cup finely chopped red onion (about 1 small onion)
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoon finely minced fresh garlic (about 2 medium cloves)
- 2 teaspoons dried Greek oregano
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 lbs total)
- For the Sandwiches
- 8 oz halloumi, cut into roughly 1/4-inch slices
- 4 brioche buns, halved
- 4 tablespoons butter, softened
- 2 medium ripe tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch slices
- 1/2 small red onion, cut into thin slices
- To make the tzatziki: Place cucumber in a fine mesh strainer set in a medium bowl. Using a rubber spatula or wood spoon, press on cucumber to extrude liquid. When most liquid has released from cucumber, discard extracted liquid and transfer cucumber to bowl. Add in yogurt, lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, and dill and stir to combine. Season with salt. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before using.
- To make the chicken: In a medium bowl, whisk together onion, oil, lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, oregano, salt, and pepper. Set aside marinade.
- Cut each breast in widthwise into two equal pieces by weight. Place chicken pieces on a cutting board and cover with plastic wrap. Using a rolling pin, pan, and meat pounder, pound chicken into until roughly evenly 1-inch thick and a size slightly larger than your rolls. Transfer chicken to bowl with marinade and toss to coat meat evenly in liquid. Cover bowl and place in refrigerator for 2 to 4 hours.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread the coals evenly over entire surface of coal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil grilling grate. Butter cut side of each roll. Place rolls on grill, cut side down, and cook until lightly browned, about 30 seconds. Transfer buns to a serving platter or plates.
- Place chicken on grill and cook, flipping occasionally, until center of meat registers 155°F on an instant read thermometer, about 10 minutes. Transfer chicken to bottom halves of rolls.
- Place halloumi on grill and cook until well browned, 2 to 4 minutes. Flip and continue to cook until second side is well browned, about 2 to 4 minutes more. Place halloumi slices on top of chicken.
- Top halloumi with tomato and onion slices followed by a large dollop of tzatziki. Top with remaining roll halves and served immediately.