The Best Chicken Fingers. Ever.
It's early 2014 and I've just arrived back in the U.S. I haven't eaten fried chicken in at least 4 years. I've convinced myself that not only do I not need it, but I don't even like it that much. Then, at my mom's request, I join my family for Josh Galliano's fried chicken night at The Libertine. Like an alcoholic having his first sip of whiskey in years, I'm overtaken by the urge to keep eating. I nearly polish off my half bird, and then continue to go every month for almost a year. Some people aren't a fan of the heavier breading that Galliano used (in favor of something lighter, like what you'll find at Southern now), but I love it. The more crunch, the better. Since his chicken nights were only once a month and I was jonesing for chicken—and this was before the fried chicken boom of 2015—I had to return to an old favorite: Sportsman's Park. Their chicken "strips" are, from what I can tell, full chicken breasts, pounded out and fried. A much manlier cut than the puny tenders. I'm a man, not a toddler!
Last summer, Galliano left Libertine and so ended his fried chicken nights. Desperate, I started scrounging around the internet for his recipe. Like Robert Langdon in The Da Vinci code, I started putting together the pieces. First came a Weekend Project: Fried Chicken Dinner post from Sauce Magazine. Then came a Food & Wine recipe. Neither looked quite right, though. There were differences between them. I began prodding his former cooks and ultimately discovered Galliano's recipe is a combination of the two, which you'll find below.
Yes, this is a long process for chicken strips. But it's worth it, especially if you're a chicken finger lover like me. They taste almost exactly like Galliano's MIA chicken. Hell, you could go crazy and change it into a chicken nugget recipe. Whatever you choose to do, you'll thank me for helping to crack The Galliano Code.
SERVES: 4-6 SERVINGS | ACTIVE: 25 MIN | TOTAL: 6+ HOURS
CREOLE SPICE MIX, COURTESY OF JOSH GALLIANO/FOOD & WINE
4-6 large chicken breasts, halved lengthwise
6 c water
10 bags black tea (English Breakfast)
1/4 c salt
2 T sugar
2 12-oz bottles Louisiana hot sauce (Crystal)
2 c buttermilk
4 sprigs thyme
2 c AP flour
2 c cornmeal
1/4 c cornstarch
Sweet Tea Brine
Add water, sugar, salt, thyme, 1 bottle of Louisiana hot sauce, a few Tabasco drops, and 2 tablespoons of creole spice mix to a pot. Stir and bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn off stove, add tea bags and let sit for 10 minutes. Remove tea bags and let cool (unless you enjoy half poached chicken strips).
Once cool, add the chicken and put in the fridge for 2-4 hours.
Add the buttermilk, second bottle of Louisiana hot sauce, eggs, and 3 tablespoons of creole spice mix to a bowl. Mix together. Add chicken, then set in fridge. Allow to sit for 4 hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 170F. Begin heating 1.5 inches of oil in a deep pot to 350F.
Mix flour, cornmeal, cornstarch, and remaining creole spice mix (about 1/2 a cup) well in a baking pan or plate. Remove the chicken strips from the buttermilk and shake off the excess liquid, then dredge in the breading mix.
Once the oil has reached 350F, put in chicken, being careful not to overcrowd the pot. The temperature will drop—keep it close to 300F. Cook the 3-4 minutes, then flip and cook for another 3-4. Remove and place on a baking rack so they can drain. If not eating immediately, place the rack in the oven.