If you’ve never encountered the unlikely pairing of chicken and waffles, you may not understand the appeal of this Southern specialty.
However, once you’ve tried it you are bound to say “I do declare this is certainly a most delectable combination of soft and crunchy, sweet and salty and chicken and maple!”
As strange as it may sound to the uninitiated when it hits your taste buds it suddenly makes delicious sense in every way!
But who in the world would think of creating this unlikely pairing? Let’s explore the origins of the Waffle Chicken…
We’ll begin with breaking it down into the two basic elements – fried chicken and waffles.
Everybody knows that fried chicken is about the most Southern a dish as anything with exception of Barbecue (we all know that’s a Southern invention right?).
From early colonial times up through the early 1800’s when African slaves were doing most of the cooking in Southern kitchens chicken was considered a prestigious food amongst the African American community, as it was more expensive than some other meats.
African American cooks would cook up fricassee recipes out of the popular cookbooks of that time period, or they’d most likely fry the chicken in the manner that they knew best. As the Civil War came along and men left their homes to serve as soldiers, fried chicken took on a new significance. The process of frying chicken made it less likely to spoil, enabling women to send it to the soldiers fighting on the battlefield.
In 1881, African American cook Abby Fisher shared a recipe for fried chicken in her book “What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking”, Abby Fisher’s version involves flour, fat, with a finishing of thin gravy.
When the automobile came along, roadside diners and restaurants began to appear up and down the byways of America, and fried chicken was on just about every menu. In the 1940s, Harlan Sanders, better known as Colonel Sanders, developed his secret fried chicken recipe employing 11 herbs and spices. By 1952, his ubiquitous Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises helped to make fried chicken a common dish in households across the United States (and these days around the globe).
Waffles first appeared during the Middle Ages, as bakeries began making communion wafers to compete with the monasteries.
Waffles were created using the same method that had been used to make the communion wafers, by baking a thin cake between two metal plates. Waffles rabidly became a popular street vendor food, as they could easily be made with simple flour and water. Waffle irons were engraved with a variety of designs, from a royals coats of arms to the plain honeycomb pattern we recognize today.
In 1620 it was the Pilgrims who brought waffles to America following their discovery of them during their brief stopover in Holland. Dutch immigrants had popularized the dish in New Amsterdam, before it became New York.
Thomas Jefferson is reported to have started a minor American waffle craze during the 1790s when he returned from France bringing a goose-handled waffle iron.
But who were the firs to put walls and fried chicken together!
he origin of “Chicken & Waffles” is a bit sketchy and distorted, to say the least. Stories of Thomas Jefferson, the Pennsylvania Dutch and Southern slaves have all contributed to the mystery and lore of the beginnings of chicken & waffles. Although many lay claim to having invented and inspired this combination, there are some facts about the history of chicken & waffles that are undeniable.
The earliest American chicken and waffle combination appears in Pennsylvania Dutch country during the 1600’s, when home cooks made waffles and topped them with pulled chicken and gravy.
A different, decidedly soul food-inspired approach to the pairing worked its way into popular culture much later with the opening of Wells Supper Club in Harlem, New York. The restaurant, known simply as “Wells” to regulars, opened in 1938.
Wells became a late night hotspot for jazz musicians, who would stop by late at night after their various gigs. The musicians, arriving too late for dinner but too early for breakfast, enjoyed the appetizing compromise of fried chicken and waffles.
Before long, Wells was frequented by the likes of Sammy Davis Jr. and Nat King Cole (who held his wedding reception there).
Wells managed to inspire a nationwide trend.
But what is it about chicken and waffles that has caused such a stir over the years? Could it be that crispy seasoned chicken skin? Those fluffy waffles covered in melting pads of butter? That sweet, warm syrup drizzled over all over? Or is it that first bite, when all of the ingredients combine in perfect, soul-stirring harmony?
While you ponder that, here is an excellent recipes for… Chicken and Waffles!
OVEN-FRIED CHICKEN & WAFFLES WITH MAPLE GRAVY
Oven-Fried Chicken Ingredients:
• 1 cup buttermilk
• 2 large egg whites, beaten
• 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2 lbs.)
• 1 cup all-purpose flour
• 1/3 cup cornmeal
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
• Cooking spray
Whisk buttermilk and egg whites in a shallow glass dish until well blended. Add chicken and turn to coat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Set a wire rack on the baking sheet and coat it with cooking spray.
Whisk flour, cornmeal, salt, black pepper, and red pepper in a small bowl. Place the flour mixture in a paper bag or large sealable plastic bag. Place one piece of chicken in the bag and toss to coat. Shake off excess flour and place the chicken on the prepared rack. Repeat with remaining chicken breasts. Discard any leftover flour mixture and buttermilk marinade. Lightly coat chicken with cooking spray.
Bake at 425°F for 30 minutes; turn the pan and bake 20 minutes longer, or until chicken is brown and crispy.
Recipe adapted from Cooking Light (October 2006)
Prep Time: 45 minutes (including marinating time)
Cook Time: 50 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 35 minutes
Buttermilk Waffle Ingredients:
• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 2 tablespoons sugar
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 2 cups buttermilk
• 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 2 large eggs
• Cooking spray, for waffle iron
Preheat the waffle iron to medium-high heat.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together buttermilk, butter, vanilla and eggs; add the flour mixture, and mix until batter is combined. Do not over mix – there should still be some lumps.
Spray preheated waffle iron with cooking spray. Using a soup ladle, spoon a ladle full of batter into the waffle iron and close the lid. Cook until golden brown about 4-5 minutes. Serve immediately or keep warm for a few minutes in a low heated oven.
Note: If the waffles are getting dark brown, turn down the heat on the iron. If they’re pale, increase the heat, or let them cook a bit longer.
Recipe adapted from Everyday Food (September 2008)
Servings: 8 waffles
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes