This dish was grossly overdue. I had meant to make it in October of 2011(!) when just back from California, the taste was still vivid in my memory. We had the most marvelous chicken and waffles at the Bonney Doon winery, which prompted me to buy a waffle iron and experiment with various fried chicken recipes. I just never got around to putting them together. It is funny how this process works, you can carry a desire and an idea around for a long time, try things in your head, try individual components or similar dishes and then make the actual recipe a year or two later. It helped that my husband kept reminding me that I solemnly swore that I would try to re-create this peculiar but delicious dish.
Chicken and waffles is an ultimate “soul” food, rooted in the South’s slave history. The origins of the dish are questionable, ranging from an idea of scraps left over from the slave owners to the fact that the chickens are slaughtered in the morning and fried for breakfast and then served with whatever kind of bread. There is a very similar dish with Dutch origins that serves pieces of poached chicken over waffles and is smothered in gravy. The reason this combination is so successful is because it literally encompasses all you ever want in a perfect dish. You got your briny saltiness from the chicken meat, crisp, crunch and a bit of heat from the batter, soft and savory waffles sap up all the chicken juices, and the butter and maple syrup add the creaminess and the sweetness. Perfect food! Not for the dieting though… just saying…
I took the liberty of refining the traditional approach a bit, just to make the flavors more vibrant, but this is pretty much as classic as it gets. The recipes can of course stand on their own, and the biggest secret is that the chicken has to be as fresh as possible (mine was slaughtered that morning) and of the best quality (free range, naturally fed…etc). Brining the chicken overnight is essential and ensures that the bird will not be dry or undercooked when fried.
I also played around with the maple syrup, making into more of a sauce by adding orange notes to it with orange juice and zest. For a little freshness a little side salad of arugula and basil dressed simply with salt, pepper, lemon juice and olive oil. It cuts through the heaviness of the dish and provides a touch of acidity.
For the brine
1 fresh chicken cut to 8 pieces (the drumstick and thigh should be separated and the breast should be split in 2)
1.5 gallons of water
¾ cup of kosher salt
1 lemon cut into pieces
3 bay leaves
A handful of fresh thyme and parsley
2 tbs black peppercorns
2 garlic cloves
In a large pot combine all the ingredients (except the chicken) and bring to a boil. Simmer for 3 min than cool to room temperature. Place the chicken in the brine, cover and refrigerate overnight.
For the fried chicken
1 Brined chicken
2 cups buttermilk
1.5 cups all-propose flour
1 tbs garlic powder
1 tbs onion powder
½ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp paprika (not smoked)
Peanut oil for frying
Rinse the brine off the chicken with cold water. Pat dry with paper towels and set on a tray lined with paper towels skin side up. Allow to air dry for at least 1 hr. Add all the spices to the flour and whisk to combine.
Dip each piece into the seasoned flour; shake off the excess, than dip into the buttermilk and again into the seasoned flour. Lay the pieces on a baking sheet covered with wax or parchment paper and let rest for 1.5 to 2 hrs. This helps to develop the “crust”.
In a deep cast iron skillet or a Dutch oven heat the oil to 325F - 345F. Fry a few pieces at a time, trying not to crowd the pan. Fry until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack or on paper towels. The chicken can be kept warm in 250F oven until ready to serve.
For the waffles
2 cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tsp of sugar
3 eggs separated
2 tbs unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cups buttermilk
½ cup milk
½ cup sour cream
2 tbs of chopped basil or parsley (optional)
Melted butter for the waffle iron
Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and sugar. In a bowl of a standing mixer, stir the buttermilk, milk, sour cream and egg yolks. Add the melted butter. Stir in the flour mixture and fresh herbs until just combined. Whip the egg whites until medium peaks. Fold the egg whites into the rest of the batter until mostly incorporated. Brush the waffle iron with melted butter and bake as per your model’s instructions. The waffles can be kept warm in a 250F oven until ready to serve.
Orange Maple sauce
¼ cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1 cup maple syrup
2 tbs of bourbon
Zest of one orange
Combine all of the above and bring to a boil, simmer for 3-5 minutes. Serve warm
Who says comfort food cannot be elegant!