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Creativity And Experimentation Are Key To Owen Han's Sandwiches - Exclusive Interview

Owen Han close up
Owen Han close up - Amy Sussman/Getty Images

Owen Han is the sandwich king. Through his tantalizing videos on TikTok and Instagram, Han has captured the attention of millions of followers. Perhaps it is the interesting and complex flavors Han brings to each sandwich, or maybe it has something to do with the alluring sound of freshly cut crusty bread as Han slices it into each creation. Either way, there is no denying his mastery of sandwich-making.

Now Han is taking his creativity from the West Coast to Florida for the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, where he will be taking part in various events, including a burger cook-off. Han's ability to experiment with flavors to create new and interesting bites is sure to help him create a new burger. We spoke with Han in an exclusive interview about his process for creating new recipes and got tips on how home cooks can bring creativity to the kitchen.

Read more: 41 Must Try Hot Sandwich Recipes

Professional Foodie

Person holding a burger
Person holding a burger - Agrobacter/Getty Images

I wanted to start by asking you about FoodieCon. You'll be taking part in a burger cook-off. Can you give us a preview of what you have planned?

Truthfully, I don't really have anything planned yet. I'm more of spur of the moment, kind of see what ingredients are available and what kind of comes to mind and kind of just go on the fly. But I will be competing with Josh Weissman, Albert Can Cook, and Olivia Tiedemann. And that's pretty cool because I've worked with both Albert and Josh together. We've created content. And so to go head to head against them I think will be pretty fun.

Would you say that's a typical process for you, just kind of seeing what's available and going from there?

Yes. I mean, it is a little different from what I do at home because when I create content, everything is kind of thought out, planned out. But I think that also comes in handy because I've done so many various recipes focusing on sandwiches, so I have to get super creative. So I'll probably just draw some inspo from a previous sandwich I've made and try to incorporate that in the burger.

You're also taking part in the cuisine and culture panel. How does your cultural background influence your cooking?

Yeah, so I love drawing inspiration from my culture. Also, I draw inspiration through previous recipes I grew up eating and try to find a way to really incorporate them in my work. Overall, it's helped me just have a huge passion for food. But really, in a way, it kind of kick-started my career too. The first video I ever had go viral was a recipe from my grandma's cookbook, which was a shrimp toast recipe so that's coming from my Chinese heritage. So it really does have a huge impact on my content and how I started too.

Best Burgers Around

Burger from Burgers Never Say Die
Burger from Burgers Never Say Die - Instagram/burgersneversaydie

Smash burgers are ubiquitous nowadays, but your version takes things up a notch with additions like butter, liquid smoke, and fish sauce. What do those ingredients add to the burger?

I think it just adds more complexity. Truthfully, for me, when it comes to, like, burgers, I think the simpler, the better. I do agree that a smash burger, for sure, is probably the best route. It also just guarantees ... You cook it all the way through, super simple. And then, I would probably focus more on a complex sauce so really which route I go with ... For instance, you mentioned fish sauce. I think that would be great if I did an Asian-inspired burger, maybe even like a chicken or shrimp burger, I think that could be something pretty unique as opposed to a regular red meat smash burger.

You're based in Los Angeles. That's an iconic burger city. Do you have a favorite burger spot?

I do. Burgers Never Say Die, and they do ... They're known for their smash burgers. They just get such a good crisp char on it, and then they add jalapeños for some heat. I love spice. And they also have a really good sauce. So they keep it simple. It's just cheese, meat, jalapeños, and then a sauce.

The Best Chicken Sandwhich

Two chicken sandwhiches
Two chicken sandwhiches - Youtube/Owen Han

Recently, for chicken sandwiches, you took on the thigh versus breast debate. And you came to the conclusion that it was the chicken breast that was the winner. And I wondered if you could elaborate on why.

So I think it does come down to personal preference. For me, the chicken breast, it just covered the surface area of the bun more completely, and it gave it ... It was thicker, more ... not juicier, but it has more surface area, so more crunch available. And then overall, it gave it a more chicken bite just because there's more meat as opposed to the thigh.

You also had an interesting method for coating your chicken that involved dripping some of the liquid into the batter. I wondered if you could elaborate.

Yeah, so that's actually a technique I've noticed that people do when they fry fish. To get extra crispy beer-battered fish, you essentially get extra batter on your fingers and dribble it over whatever you're frying. And that just creates crispy, crunchy bits that will coat onto whatever protein you're frying at the last second and just create more of a crunch, which, more crunch is always better for me.

Nduja Butter Revolution

nduja spread on toast
nduja spread on toast - Francesco Vignali/Getty Images

In your chicken soppressata sandwich, you use an nduja butter spread. What inspired that combo and how does the butter elevate the sandwich?

What inspired it was actually super random. I was eating at an airport and on the menu was a chicken nduja sandwich. And they did it differently though. It was like an nduja ... They didn't make nduja butter. They did it more as like a spread on the chicken. And so I've been doing these compound butters to coat over the bread, because visually it looks awesome, but also I think it's a good way to get the flavor further developed.

And so that was what drew inspiration. But I've also had nduja plenty of times in Italy, and so I was trying to find ways to incorporate other flavors besides nduja and chicken to see how to kind of elevate the sandwich. And so that's where that basil, oil, pepper, and onion slaw kind of came in the mix, as well as the chicken cutlet.

Do you have any suggestions for people who want to use nduja butter in their own home?

Yeah, I mean, super simple. You literally just take nduja, take softened butter ... I think that's the key is making sure your butter has sat at room temperature, which makes it way easier to spread. You don't need to put it in a food processor or anything. You can literally just use a fork. And then really from there, it's as if you're making buttered toast. Spread on your butter, toast it to whatever preference you have. I would say only coat one side though, because otherwise if you do both sides, it can get a little too greasy. And another tip is, you could also use it with pasta. I think that would be a really good sauce in itself too. If you like simple, buttered noodles, just elevate it with some nduja, add some Parmesan and yeah, that sounds pretty bomb.

You've used a blowtorch in a multitude of ways. For example, in your roasted lamb sandwich, you made roasted red peppers by blowtorching them and then sealing them in a plastic-covered bowl. Can you tell us more about that technique?

Yeah, I'm channeling my inner pyromaniac when I do that. But no, it gives you two benefits. One, it just speeds up the process. You don't have to wait for the oven to preheat. You can kind of control it however you want. And then the second, I find it really fun. It's just like a super cool tool. And another reason I do it though is, visually on camera, the sound is awesome. You can hear the crackling of the skin, the sound of just the torch lighting up too is pretty cool. And visually, it's awesome. So that's kind of why I do that.

Breakfast With Nigel Kabvina

Nigel Kabvina close up
Nigel Kabvina close up - Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images

You recently collaborated with Nigel Kabvina on a breakfast sandwich recipe. What was it like cooking with him?

That was awesome. I was in London visiting for fun, trying to collab with whoever was out there, and I knew he was based in London. He's actually based in Manchester, but he was visiting London for a shoot, told me a day that worked, and we came up with an elevated breakfast sandwich idea. But that morning, I went to go get groceries and he always dresses up. I never really wear a suit at all, so I brought a suit with me all the way to London just for that one day.

And that morning, it's literally raining, and so I don't have a car there either. I'm just in the rain going from place to place trying to find the perfect bread. And then he was staying at the Four Seasons, and when I met him, I had no idea this was happening, but he takes me up to the room and I walk inside and there's just an orchestra playing violins at my entrance.

I have my backpack, I'm half soaking wet. I have sneakers on because I didn't have room for dress shoes, and I'm just literally stunned, like what is going on here. And super funny, he was filming a bit, but we had breakfast together and then we went on to cooking. But he is such a nice guy. He was super fun and super talented too.

The orchestra is so on brand for him.

Oh, my God. Yeah. I was like, "Is this a joke? Am I being punked?" It was super cool. I've never seen that before.

Bringing New Flavors To The Mix

shiso leaf in basket
shiso leaf in basket - sasazawa/Shutterstock

True to your cooking style, there's a lot going on in the sandwich that you two made together. There's a chili oil mayo, shiso leaf, teriyaki glazed ham, and soft scrambled eggs. Can you walk us through those components and how they all come together?

Yeah. So that was really us just kind of brainstorming back and forth. He had the idea of doing the marinated mushrooms. So I brought up the idea of the breakfast sandwich and we just went back and forth, how do we elevate it? The shiso leaf came from, I eat a lot of Korean food around here so I drew that inspiration from that. And yeah, we just kind of brainstormed. Really a lot of time, I don't know if the flavors will work until I try it.

And most of the time, it does end up working great. So this worked perfectly, the soft scrambled eggs as well as the bread, and yeah. He actually doesn't eat bacon, so we made two versions of it. So one was with smoked salmon that we marinated in soy sauce, and then I had the bacon version and both worked perfectly well. I feel like you could put that sauce and those mushrooms and substitute it with really any other protein besides eggs, and I think it'd be a good combo.

For the shiso leaf, what kind of texture or flavor does that bring that kind of gets away from your basic romaine lettuce, spinach, anything like that?

It has a very distinct taste, so I don't really know how to explain it besides that specific leaf, it's what it tastes like. But if you've never had it before, just trying that bite, you'll see. You would be like, what am I tasting here? And it is that leaf, it has a very distinct flavor. That's also why we just did, I think it was like one or two leaves, so really not that many, but just a small amount really adds a new flavor that is very distinct to that ingredient.

The Many Uses For Mayonnaise

mayonnaise in white cup
mayonnaise in white cup - Fg Trade/Getty Images

Many of your sandwiches also include a sweet element, such as your sweet heat crispy eggplant sandwich. What is the key to achieving balance between the sweet and the savory?

I'd say taste as you go. That really is a big factor. I love the contrast of sweet and savory. For instance, if I'm eating a chocolate chip cookie, adding that salt on it just really brings out the flavor. And so yeah, just make sure you don't overdo it, really. I always tend to do more of the heat just because I love spice. So if I'm adding honey, it really is a small amount. Similarly, if you're eating pizza and you add hot honey on it, just don't overdo it, because you can always add more.

You've also described mayo as the best base for any complex sauce. Why is that?

I think it's a really good binder. It's also a pretty neutral flavor in itself, so whatever you add to it, it doesn't mask the flavor. And also just a personal preference. I love mayonnaise. I think if I had one sauce for the rest of my life, it would be just mayonnaise. It works with pretty much any and every sandwich and whatever you add to it, you can just make it as complex and diverse as you want.

Do you have a preference for a style of mayonnaise or a brand of mayonnaise that you use?

I really love... There's like three: Hellmann's, Duke's, and Kewpie Mayo. Yeah, I can't pick which one.

What are some of your favorite unexpected ingredients that you like to pair with the mayo?

Unexpected? I'm trying to think of the most recent sauce I've done that was kind of unexpected. I made a chipotle mayo, but I added habanero to it so that was, I guess, a little unexpected because it just made it really spicy. But I love that extra kick that comes with it.

Do you have any new projects we can look forward to in 2024?

Yes, I am starting my YouTube up, which is in the works, but I actually don't know if I can fully announce this yet, but be on the lookout for some exciting news in the future.

The South Beach Wine & Food Festival will be February 22-25, 2024. Purchase tickets at SOBEWFF.org.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Read the original article on Mashed.