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Food critic tries new KFC sauce

The author's attempt at KFCharcuterie, per the chicken

The author's attempt at KFCharcuterie, per the chicken chain's suggestion. Credit: Newsday/Spencer Vogel

Has the pandemic made us better or worse humans? Anecdotal evidence suggests that it’s reconnecting us with our true priorities, values, and what really matters in life. On the other hand, an August survey of 1,000 fast-food-eating adults by the delivery app DoorDash found that "75% of Americans say their meal is ruined if the sauces are forgotten." In short, what we’ve gone through has taught us exactly nothing.

KFC included that finding in an October news release, perhaps attempting to justify the long months it spent auditioning 50 different compounds for the title of Next Great Sauce, one capable of joining the vaunted ranks of honey mustard, honey barbecue and buttermilk ranch. The winning substance, now called simply KFC Sauce, impressed the judges with its flavor, of course, but also dippability. Achieving the proper balance of cling and drip was apparently a crucial element in the chicken chain’s ongoing effort to "elevate the overall sauce experience" of its tenders, themselves constructed with "hills and valleys" in the breading so as to "form little lakes of sauce on every tender."

Things ended differently for my tenders, whose hills and valleys suffered tsunami-like devastation at the hands of KFC Sauce. More disappointing: the phlegmy yellowish-orangish stuff itself, advertised as tangy, sweet and smoky, but mostly just sweet. Its claim of newness will surprise the makers of Wish-Bone French and delight fans of creamy barbecue sauce, assuming such people exist.

Also new on the menu, after an absence of 60 years, are French fries. They are seasoned and not half-bad, although KFC made way for them last summer by axing its potato wedges, triggering typical zero-sum internet scorn (Facebook paranoia, angry tweets, Change.org petition). Some were offended too by the company’s inspired/dreadful idea for showing off its new wares: KFCharcuterie. No, really. To honor the occasion, says the release, the company’s head chef dreamed up three recipe boards "you can try at home."

The most surprising thing I discovered, other than the fact that KFC actually has a head chef, is how wonderfully satisfying it is to put one together. This is a key insight of "That Cheese Plate Will Change Your Life," also released last summer, a tome by Brooklyn-based charcuterie influencer Marissa Mullen. The most important thing I learned from the book's Amazon excerpt, other than the fact that there are charcuterie influencers, is that board-building can "bring us joy and make us feel connected to our most authentic selves and to others."

Success has many fathers, and so it was with my "Still-Life with KFC," pictured above, which counts among its influences Mullen’s ideas, KFC’s "Kentucky Game Night Trio" board and Caravaggio’s "Basket of Fruit" (note the chiaroscuro Nashville hot wings).

And while something felt wrong about assembling a party platter in an era of social distancing, it did make for a fine afternoon of binge-watching "The Crown" and reconnecting with my imaginary self. It seems that charcuterie really can, as Mullen puts it, "help you slow down a bit, appreciate what’s around you, get motivated." And that’s what really matters. I think.

KFC Sauce and Secret Recipe fries are available at all locations, kfc.com.

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