Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.
The dish begins with a layer of crispy golden waffles. The sugary sweetness of the waffles is a perfect foil for the second tier—salty, savory fried chicken, moist and succulent with a crisp, crackly crunch. And then the sauce—should it be honey-sweet, spicy, or a bit of both?
Perhaps a more important question is this: Who invented this quirky combination of breakfast and dinner?
The Story of Waffles in America
Let’s start with the waffle. In Medieval Europe, communion wafers (Eucharist) were commonly manufactured by nuns; they were used not only for the celebration of Mass but also as a “fasting food” since they contain no animal products (eggs, lard, milk, butter). However, members of the nobility had the ability to supplement the tastes and texture of these “humble” wafers with the inclusion of expensive flavorings such as sugar, spices, and orange blossom water (pleasure in self-denial?). By the 13th century, wafers were a common part of royal cuisine.
But, these still were not “waffles.”
Finally, in the 13th century, someone had the brilliant idea of embellishing the wafers by cooking them on patterned iron plates. This might have begun with the inscription of communion wafers (Eucharist) with the cross of Christ. The most common secular pattern was the honeycomb of course. And guess what? The Dutch word for honeycomb is “wafel.” Finally, the waffle was born. But how did it jump across the pond?
Before he served as the President of the United States Thomas Jefferson was our nation’s foreign minister to the country of France. During his five-year tour of duty, Jefferson wined and dined and enjoyed all that Europe had to offer. He attended concerts, visited museums, purchased artwork, and procured household innovations including a pasta machine, ice-cream molds, a coffee urn, and (most importantly) a waffle iron. In fact, he brought home four of them. (Was Jefferson the first foodie?)
What About Fried Chicken?
Fried chicken had a less glamorous introduction to America. When they emigrated to the Colonies, the people of Scotland brought their traditions with them; among these was the cooking of chicken in boiling fat. In the South, African slaves added their seasonings and spices to upgrade the dish to the one that is very similar to the meal that is enjoyed yet today.
How Did They Come Together?
In Colonial times chicken and waffles were a common combination, but the chicken was diced and cloaked in gravy; the waffles were nothing more than a substitution for biscuits (and who doesn’t love chicken and biscuits?)
The turning point occurred in the 1920s. Hurricanes in 1915 and 1916 all but decimated crops in the south and this put thousands of African American sharecroppers out of work. During and after the 1st World War, immigration from Europe to the United States also declined. These two occurrences co-aligned and provided the enticement for black Americans to migrate to the North where a booming economy and the promise of an improved standard of living provided the hope of a better future.
This Great Migration drew thousands to the Harlem section of Manhattan. And in the mix of those who transplanted was an astonishing assemblage of talent. Poets, artists, and musicians easily mingled with unskilled laborers and the middle class because they all shared a common history of slavery, then emancipation, followed by oppression. Author Langston Hughes called it “…an expression of our individual dark-skinned selves.”
Why is this relevant in the story of chicken and waffles? The music scene was a focal point in Harlem. Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Bill (Bojangles) Robinson, and Cab Calloway are a shortlist of the musical artists who performed in Harlem. When entertainers’ work for the evening was done, they sought a place to dine. By midnight most restaurants stopped dinner service…except for a place named the Wells Supper Club. Wells offered dinner long after other establishments had turned out the lights. Fried chicken was leftover from dinner. Hot waffle irons would soon be needed for morning breakfast service, and so the two became one. "Fried chicken and waffles" was born. And when Harlem natives moved to other parts of the country, the concept of chicken and waffles moved with them.
So, are you ready to start cooking?
The waffles for "Chicken and Waffles" can be as simple as pop-in-the-toaster slabs, or as elaborate as overnight yeast-dough-in-the-refrigerator batter cooked the next day in a Belgian waffle maker. On a scale of 1 to 10, those are the two extremes.
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I'm going to assume that most of you are somewhere in the middle, willing to make your own waffles, but not planning 24 hours in advance. I'm here for you. The perfect waffle should be crisp throughout with just a hint of sweetness. Remember, you will be baptizing these beauties with syrup at the end of the story.
The cornstarch in this recipe helps to lower the amount of protein (gluten) in the flour, making a lighter, fluffier waffle. The melted butter (yes I know, there's a lot of it) adds flavor and makes these waffles extra crispy.
- Waffle iron
- Large mixing bowl
- Medium mixing bowl
- wire whisk
- Large glass measuring cup
- Medium mixing bowl
- Rubber scraper
- 3/4 cup flour
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 cup buttermilk (see note below)
- 6 tablespoons butter, melted
- 1 large egg, separated
- Preheat waffle iron according to instructions by the manufacturer.
- Sift together flour, cornstarch, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and sugar into a large mixing bowl.
- In a glass measuring cup, mix together buttermilk, melted butter, and the yolk of the egg. Pour into the dry ingredients and combine with a whisk just until blended (a few lumps are OK).
- In another mixing bowl beat the egg white until stiff peaks form. (Use a squeaky-clean whisk, not the same one you used for the batter. Anything "foreign" introduced will keep the whites from working into stiff peaks).
- Using a rubber scraper, gently fold the beaten egg whites into the flour/milk batter. Don’t worry if there are a few streaks of white. You don’t want to stir too much and deflate the beaten whites.
- Bake waffles following the manufacturer’s instructions on the proper amount of batter to use for each waffle. Bake for 4 minutes.
Note about buttermilk: If you do not have buttermilk, 1 cup of milk plus 2 teaspoons of lemon juice or cider vinegar can be substituted.
Perfect Fried Chicken
There is no denying that fried chicken on the bone is the juiciest, tastiest, most wonderful kind of fried chicken. I admit that. However, it's messy. Top it with syrup (or whatever sauce we deem worthy of our chicken and waffles) and you literally have a mess on your hands.
Please don't hate me, but I'm going to suggest that we forgo the bones and opt for boneless chicken this time. But boneless doesn't mean bland. I'm not calling for skinless chicken breasts that dry out before you can say "chicken and waffles" three times. Let's find common ground. Trust me.
- Rimmed baking sheet
- Parchment paper
- 3 shallow bowls for coating chicken
- Thermometer for checking the doneness of chicken (not mandatory, but very helpful)
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon paprika
- Dash turmeric, onion powder, and garlic powder
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon milk
- 2 cups panko breadcrumbs
- Non-stick cooking spray
- Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Combine flour and seasonings (salt through garlic powder) in a shallow bowl and set aside.
- Beat together eggs and milk in another shallow bowl.
- Place panko breadcrumbs in a third shallow bowl.
- Dredge chicken in flour, shaking off excess.
- Next dip in egg/milk mixture, coating thoroughly.
- Finally, coat chicken thoroughly with panko breadcrumbs, patting gently to make sure that crumbs adhere to the chicken.
- Gently place chicken on parchment-lined baking sheet. Spritz each piece with cooking spray.
- Bake in preheated oven 30 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through. Internal temperature should be 165 degrees F.
Seven Amazing Sauce Options
Chicken and waffles are two separate entities until you crown them both with the sauce. It's the not-so-secret sauce that officiates at the wedding ceremony and joins these two into one harmonious, memorable dish.
Most recipes on the internet are sweet with a little (or a lot) of spice. Sriracha, red pepper flakes, pink peppercorns, and cayenne pepper are frequent visitors from the pantry shelf. I'll present six recipes below, and then sign off with a bonus recipe: my version of the perfect chicken and waffles sauce.
1. Hot Honey Sauce
- ½ cup honey
- 1 tablespoon Sriracha chili sauce
Source: about 1 million sources on the internet!
2. Sweet Hot Maple Glaze
- 1 cup honey
- 1 cup maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Source: Amanda Freitag, Food Network
3. Honey/Maple/Dijon Sauce
- ¼ cup honey
- ¼ cup Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
Source: Sarah Daniel, The Charming Detroiter
4. Spiced Hot Sauce
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/4 teaspoon paprika
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- pinch of cinnamon
Instructions: Place all hot sauce ingredients in a small saucepan and melt over medium heat. Keep warm until ready to serve. Note: As the hot sauce cools, it will thicken; reheat again to thin.
Source: North Coast Eats
5. Pecan Sauce
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 3 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/4 cup roasted pecans
Instructions: While chicken is cooking combine all ingredients in a small cooking pot and cook on medium until all ingredients have combined. Remove and allow to cool.
Source: Gluten-Free Foods
6. Sticky Honey Sauce
- 3 tbsp. butter
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/2 cup pure honey
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
Instructions: Preheat a cooking pan to low/medium heat and add butter. Once butter melts add minced garlic and cook for 1 minute then add soy sauce, brown sugar, and honey. Add cornstarch, red pepper flakes, balsamic vinegar, and flour and stir until it binds then lower heat.
Source: Dude That Cookz
7. Carb Diva's Maple-Rosemary Sauce
- 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, crushed
- 3/4 cup pure maple syrup
Instructions: Combine the rosemary and maple syrup in a microwave-safe bowl. Cook on high power about 30 seconds. Strain syrup and discard rosemary.
© 2019 Linda Lum