I was never big on fast food fried chicken, but growing up with a Southern family, one thing I really did love was my mom's homemade Southern fried chicken. It had a thick, crispy batter crust on it, just the right blend of spices, and was equally delicious hot or cold. When I stopped eating chicken, I really didn't miss it at all, thanks in large part to having so many vegan substitute options, like Gardein or Morningstar Farms and the like. But when I came across this recipe for Art Smith's Vegan Fried Chicken, it reminded me so much of my mom's recipe (well, except for it being vegan, of course) that I knew I really needed to try it, immediately.
Art Smith was one of my favorite chefs on Top Chef Masters because he seemed so sweet and friendly, and also because he managed to raise traditional Southern food to the level of haute cuisine. This recipe that he created using Gardein's Chick'n Scallopini is as inspired as anything I would expect him to make. And other than having to plan ahead in order to soak your cashews overnight, it's surprisingly simple to make. It definitely tastes like you worked a lot harder than you did on it.
The cashew cream is a cinch to make. You simply soak the cashews overnight then blend them up with water. The result is a thick, rich cream, and after stirring in some Tabasco, you use this to coat the chick'n pieces before dipping them into the flour/spice mix. Art's spice mix is a combo of garlic powder, Old Bay seasoning, cayenne, and black pepper - it adds so much flavor and just the right touch of spicy heat. It's an incredibly messy process dipping the chick'n pieces first in the cream, then in the flour, then back into the cream, then back into the flour before frying, but the sticky fingers you'll get just make it that much more fun.
These are deep-fried in oil, so this certainly can't be considered health food, but it was so incredibly tasty that it's totally worth the indulgence once in a while. The chick'n turned out exactly like I remembered it... it has this amazingly thick, crunchy, savory "skin," but was tender and juicy on the inside. I swear it tasted so much like the "real" thing that you could fool even the staunchest omnivore with it. It's so full of flavor that nobody could ever fault this dish for what's missing, it's just good, plain and simple. Finger lickin' good, in fact!