by Matt Duckor
Photo: Romulo Yanes
"Aren't chicken fingers basically just fried chicken?" you might ask.
The chicken fingers of our childhood were glorious sticks of white breast meat, coated in a dubious, yet totally delicious breading that contained who-knew-what but got fried in oil so it didn't matter. Whether eating them at home with the family or out with a basket of bottomless fries, there was something magical about them. And they were boneless! Dunking pieces of chicken into a heaping pie of bottled ranch dressing without having to worry about biting into something weird.
And then, as with so many foodstuffs of our youth, hindsight comes into play -- they were actually dry, greasy, and made from chicken of questionable origins. But chicken fingers should and definitely could be great, right? There's got to be a way to make boneless, fried pieces of chicken be worth making at home.
Well, chef James Kent of the recently opened The NoMad Bar in NYC has cracked the code.
"It's fried chicken, we're not reinventing anything," says Kent. "It's all about how to we make this the best, the most crispiest, the most delicious." We're completely on board with that mission.
While the dish just landed on The NoMad Bar's brand-new brunch menu, it's a recipe that Kent and Daniel Humm (chef and co-owner of The NoMad and it's sister restaurant Eleven Madison Park) perfected years ago as a Kentucky Derby party showstopper.
The road to chicken finger greatness isn't a long or treacherous one. You can recapture the glory of this childhood dish in just three easy steps.
USE BONELESS SKINLESS CHICKEN THIGHS
The most striking difference between the chicken fingers Kent serves at The NoMad Bar and the ones mom made growing up is they utilize boneless, skinless chicken thighs, not breasts. In addition to being more affordable, thighs are incredibly flavorful and aren't as prone to drying out thanks to the good amount of fat contained in them.
As Kent says, thighs "make you never want to eat chicken breasts ever again."
MARINATE THE CHICKEN IN BUTTERMILK
After getting cut into strips, the chicken thighs are marinated in a buttermilk brine for 24 hours. "We tested various brines and even tried a salt-cured chicken," recalls Kent, "But this is the best way to make sure the meat's tender."
The buttermilk lends a subtle tang to the final product that's hard to achieve with anything else. Plus, it's classic: "We wanted to keep a foundational element like this that people have been using for years and years."
SEASON THE BRINE AND THE BREADING
The chicken doesn't just get its flavor from the buttermilk, but from the various spices and seasonings that are added to both the brine and the breading. Among other flavorings, jalapeño and Tabasco get added to the brining liquid and contribute additional flavor and a slight heat to the chicken. Then, when it's time to fry, you dredge the chicken in seasoned flour with a host of different spices, including onion and garlic powder, thyme, sage, smoked paprika, and cayenne.
Now, you're just a pot full of bubbling canola oil away from the best chicken fingers ever. That, and a batch of homemade ranch dressing for dipping, of course.
Get the Recipe: Buttermilk Fried Chicken Fingers
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