New Orleans chef Marcus Jacobs of Marjie’s Grill creates fantastic fusion food that blends Louisiana ingredients with Southeast Asian flavors. Marjie’s Cornmeal Crusted Yardbird (as it’s called on their menu) is a shining example of the form, although you wouldn’t know just how good it is from the deceptively simple name alone.
Chicken—as organic and local as you can get it is best—is brined overnight in a crawfish boil liquid accented with Asian flavors like soy, fish sauce, and chiles, then dredged in a blend of seasoned flours that includes cornstarch and rice flour for shattering crunch and corn flour for texture, plus Creole spices for extra flavor. Once it emerges juicy and crisp from the fryer, it’s finished with a punchy, savory seasoning mix and a drizzle of cane syrup. Salty, spicy, savory, sweet, and succulent, this is perfect with coconut rice, quick cucumber pickles or an Asian sesame-cucumber salad, and definitely calls for an ice-cold beer to wash everything down.
- Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning is a spice blend you can use in lots of dishes, from jambalaya to mac and cheese.
- Criolla Sella is a type of pepper from South America, with a mild to moderate heat level and a fruity citrus undertone. Since you’re not likely to find it in pre-made powdered form, you can use any fruity chile powder, like ancho chile powder.
- Louisiana Hot Sauce is a brand, but also a style, which is generally tangy thanks to vinegar. Think Tabasco—but consider Crystal as well.
- Steen’s Cane Syrup is a sweet syrup made from pure sugarcane. It’s commonly used on pancakes and in pecan pies, but it’s a great contrast to spicy, salty, and savory foods too.
- Corn flour is simply finely milled cornmeal, so you can either purchase it from the organic section of your store (or online), or make it yourself by blitzing cornmeal in a food processor until finely ground to a powder.
For brining the chicken:
- 1 1/2 gallons water
- 5 heads of garlic, tops cut off to expose cloves
- 3 onions, peeled and cut in half
- 2 cups Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning blend
- 10 dried chiles
- 3 lemons, cut in half
- 3 oranges, cut in half
- 2/3 cup soy sauce
- 1/2 cup fish sauce
- 1 1/2 gallons ice
- 1 6-pound whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
For breading and soaking the chicken:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 gallon buttermilk
- 1 quart Louisiana hot sauce
For dredging and frying the chicken:
- 2 cups corn flour
- 2 cups cornstarch
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup rice flour
- 1/2 cup Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning blend
- vegetable oil or lard for frying
For finishing the chicken:
- 1 cup salt
- 1 cup paprika
- 1 cup black pepper
- 1/2 cup red chile flakes
- 2 tablespoons onion powder
- 1/4 cup Criolla Sella powder or other spicy, fruity chile powder
- cane syrup, for serving
To brine the chicken:
- Place water, garlic, onions, Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning, dried chiles, lemons, oranges, soy sauce, and fish sauce in a large, deep stockpot over high heat and bring to a boil.
- Boil for 5 minutes, then remove from heat, add 1 1/2 gallons of ice and stir to cool down quickly (hot brine will start cooking the chicken).
- When liquid is cool to the touch, place the chicken pieces in the brine and let sit overnight.
To fry the chicken:
- After chicken has soaked overnight, remove from the brine to a paper towel-lined tray and discard brine.
- Place a cooling rack on a sheet pan and set aside. If you have an electric oven, turn it to the lowest possible temperature. If you have a gas oven, make sure the pilot light is lit.
- In a large, shallow bowl or deep pie plate, mix flour with salt and pepper for breading.
- In another large bowl or small casserole dish, mix buttermilk and hot sauce for soaking.
- In a large paper bag, mix corn flour, cornstarch, all-purpose flour, rice flour, and Tony Chachere’s spice blend for dredging.
- Dust the chicken pieces in the seasoned flour in the first bowl, then place pieces in the buttermilk mixture and let soak while you heat a deep fryer or large, deep frying pan with enough oil or lard to cover the chicken pieces. Heat over medium-low heat until fat reaches 275°F. (If you don’t have a thermometer, test it by sprinkling a pinch of flour in the fat. If the flour sizzles and quickly dissipates, the fat is ready.)
- Remove chicken from buttermilk soak and allow excess to drip back into bowl, then place chicken in the paper bag and shake to coat with the seasoned dredge.
- Carefully place chicken in the hot fat—in batches if necessary, so as not to crowd the pan—and fry about 8 minutes on each side, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of each piece reads 160°F. (If you don’t have a thermometer, cut a small slit down to the bone; the juices should run clear and there should be no pink at the bone.)
- Transfer fried chicken to the rack set over the sheet pan and hold in the oven to keep warm until all chicken is fried. Let all fried chicken rest for at least 15 minutes.
To finish the chicken:
- Combine salt, paprika, black pepper, red chile flakes, onion powder, and Criolla Sella (or other fruity chile) powder in a bowl, then sprinkle seasoning mixture liberally over both sides of fried chicken. Drizzle pieces lightly with cane syrup just before serving.