Chicken. Waffles.

You might assume that, since I grew up in North Carolina, I’ve had my fair share of chicken n’ waffles. Apparently it’s a Southern sorta dish. I mean, duh, the fried chicken is. But the waffles? It’s something I didn’t know much about. There. I admitted it.

I saw this recipe a while back (ahem, according to the clipping, I found it over a year ago), and I knew I’d need to give it a whirl at some point, to see what all the fuss about fried chicken and waffles being a “perfect marriage of sweet and savory” was about. But for some reason I kept putting it off. I think most of us have an aversion to home-frying. It seems the grease manages to get everywhere, despite using fancy splatter screens. And Chris, well, he’d rather not see the pile o’ shortening in solid form before it melts its way to a hot liquid bed of fry-ready goodness. After all, shortening (or even lard) is truly the only real way to fry chicken, though other methods work just fine in a pinch.

Speaking of other methods, I made fried chicken a while back and posted it on here. It was a different take on your traditional Southern style dish – not brined in buttermilk and fried in shortening, rather it was coated in matzo meal (I’m not kidding) and fried in a vat of canola oil. It was amazing. It’s not a bad way to go if you don’t have time to soak chicken in buttermilk, or for this dish in particular, if frying chicken and making waffles (which also involves cooking sweet potatoes here) is a bit too much, even for a weekend.

Me? I decided to make this specific dish at the last minute before heading out to wine country for the day (it’s a tough life, but someone has to do it…), and in the midst of getting ready to leave, I hustled down to Faletti’s and grabbed a whole chicken, some buttermilk, and a couple of other necessities, threw it all down on the counter, cut the chicken into 8 pieces with the quickness I harnessed from my dad’s teachings, and tossed that sucker into buttermilk until we got home later that night. I already had some mashed sweet potatoes in the fridge, which is what inspired me to cook this in the first place (and they had goat cheese in them, which imparted a tasty flavor into the waffles!).

The recipe is definitely intended to be eaten in 8 servings (maybe less if the wing or drumstick portions aren’t enough for ya). It’s rich, it’s hefty, and it is perfect when you dip back and forth between maple syrup and Frank’s hot sauce. The sweet/savory thing? I totally get it now. Which is probably why, after Sunday afternoon, I had to figure out another dish for dinner that night, as someone in this house managed to eat each and every leftover piece of chicken straight from the fridge, with a tiny crumb trail left as evidence from the fridge to island. The advantage? Lots of leftover waffles that resulted in breakfasts and even a couple of dinners over the upcoming weeks. The disadvantage? I’m feeling another urge to make it again, fried mess and all, because I only ate one whole piece. Decisions, decisions.

Buttermilk-Fried Chicken n’ Sweet Potato Waffles
barely adapted from Bon Appetit, October 2011; serves 8

printable versions
entire recipe
fried chicken only
waffles only 

ingredients
chicken
2 c buttermilk
6 garlic cloves, smashed
1 lg onion, thinly sliced
1 c assorted chopped fresh herbs (parsley, tarragon, thyme)
2 t paprika
2 t cayenne pepper
4 1/2-lb fryer chicken, cut into 8 pieces
3 c vegetable shortening
3 c all-purpose flour
1 T garlic powder
1 T onion powder
2 t cayenne pepper
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

waffles
2 c peeled, 1/2″ cubes red-skinned sweet potatoes
1 c whole milk
2 lg egg yolks
1/4 c (packed) light brown sugar
1/4 c (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 t freshly grated peeled ginger
1 3/4 c all-purpose flour
1 T baking powder
1 1/4 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t salt
1/4 t ground cloves
1/8 t freshly grated nutmeg
6 lg egg whites, room temperature
Nonstick vegetable oil spray

serving
Hot pepper sauce (Franks)
Pure maple syrup

special tools
A deep-fry thermometer
waffle iron

instructions
Marinate chicken
Whisk first 6 ingredients in a large bowl. Add chicken; cover and chill for at least 8 hours or overnight.

Fry chicken
Melt vegetable shortening in a large cast-iron skillet. Arrange a deep-fry thermometer in skillet so bulb is submerged. Heat over medium heat until shortening reaches 325 F. While this is getting to the correct temperature, prepare waffle mix (see below).

Meanwhile, mix flour, garlic powder, onion powder, and cayenne in a large brown paper bag. Drain chicken, leaving some herbs still clinging. Season generously with salt and pepper. Working in 2 batches, add chicken to bag, roll top over to seal, and shake well to coat chicken. Let chicken stand in bag 1 minute; shake again.

Fry chicken in skillet until golden brown and cooked through, 10–15 minutes per side. Sprinkle with additional salt, if desired. Repeat with second batch of chicken. Make waffles simultaneously (see below).

Waffles
Place sweet potatoes in a steamer basket set in a large saucepan of simmering water. Steam potatoes until tender, about 17 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl and mash well. Add milk, egg yolks, brown sugar, butter, and ginger; whisk to blend.

Preheat waffle iron. Whisk flour and next 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Add potato mixture and whisk to blend. Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites in another large bowl until peaks form. Add 1/3 of whites to potato mixture; fold just to blend. Add remaining whites in 2 batches, folding just to blend between additions.

Coat waffle iron with nonstick spray. Working in batches, add batter to waffle iron (amount needed and cooking time will vary depending on machine). Cook until waffles are lightly browned and set.

Serve 1 waffle with 1 piece of chicken and both sauces.

Fried & True

When I was in grad school, vacation was a non-issue. Every 10 weeks, a quarter would pass us by and we’d be off for a bit – free to cause trouble in the big city, take a real vacation (as if one could afford that in grad school), or head back ‘home’. For most of my time in grad school, I was juggling gettin’ my learn on with planning a wedding that was to take place in North Carolina, so school breaks typically meant heading there for cake tasting, photographer shopping, and finding that-dress-I’d-never-wear-again-in-my-life. Although, if I find myself getting hitched again, I’ll do the green thing, and I’ll recycle it.

Having the luxury of being in my home state so frequently was certainly groovy for wedding planning, but it was also great for something else: indulging in, and by that I mean eating a hella lot of, my favorite foods.

It should come as no surprise to you dear friends of mine that one of the foods on that list was fried chicken. But let’s set the record straight so there’s no chance for confusion: not just any fried chicken. I’d happily eat two kinds, and those two were either given to me in a yellow box through a window along with sweat tea, dirty rice, and honey mustard sauce, or hand-dipped in buttermilk and flour and pan-fried by, on a good day, my Aunt Faye (on a semi-good day, my pops). And served with biscuits, clearly.

I dare you to find better. Double-dog dare you.

Many of you may remember my most recent trip back to North Carolina, a visit filled with emotions, both happy and sad. As would be customary when there’s a death in the family, the need for cooking is generally placed on the back burner, so to speak. And though my Aunt, in my mind, has probably made fried chicken at least every weekend of her adult life, that weekend was different, for obvious reasons. Fortunately, the Bojang is relatively close by, therefore her kitchen counter was loaded with yellow boxes and about ten thousand other things as well.

I’ve had a hankerin’ for another piece of fried chicken since that time. I didn’t dare try to replicate Aunt Faye’s, though.

Unsure of whether I’d really make it or not, I’d clipped this recipe from a Saveur magazine I’d purchased a few months back, and remembered it when I opened the freezer and realized I had a whole chicken that was practically begging me to fry it. Following a perusal of the recipe, I’d deduced that it was relatively basic, straightforward, but spicy. It was right up my alley, and aside from the matzo meal (let’s be honest: does any non-Jewish person keep that around?!) I had all the ingredients. What the hell, right?

There’s something magical about dunking a lightly battered chicken leg into a container of crazy-hot oil. The oil, calm aside from a pop here and a pop there, is suddenly engulfing the meat, sizzling furiously, erupting dramatically, volcano-like. The smell – regardless of the differing recipe – immediately teleported me back to NC, back to the dome house my Aunt Faye has lived in for most of my life; I, yes I, was frying chicken that smelled like hers. Minutes later, the sizzling continuing, it’s cooked and transferred to a napkin-lined plate to cool (and sure, to drain a bit, too). Crisp to the touch, I can hardly wait for the oil to cool, but fearing burnt lips, I do.

When that moment arrived, that moment when I could finally feel that crunch I’d been staring at for at least 5 minutes, it was nothing short of remarkable. Crunch? Oh baby, yeah, and I thought, “Why doesn’t everybody fry with matzo meal?!”. The spices? permeating every bite – a bit of smoke proving the wise doubling of paprika, a bit of freshness from another wise addition of zest, and something clean and crisp, despite the oil bath it received. This was not my Aunt Faye’s fried chicken, that’s for sure. But over time, it might just become mine.

Spicy Fried Chicken
Adapted from Saveur, April 2010; serves 4

let me reiterate – this won’t beat the taste of your mom’s, or your gramma’s, or in my case, your aunt’s and dad’s fried chicken (though if you’re not from the South, it could, actually). but if you’re into a little spice and a lotta crunch, you must give this a try. Matzo meal = a new frying staple in this house. serve this with kale chips (a couple of posts back) and mashed potatoes. a biscuit isn’t a bad idea, either.

printable version

ingredients
canola oil, for frying
1 t hot smoked paprika
1/4 t cayenne pepper
1/2 t Italian seasoning
1/4 t onion powder
1/4 t garlic powder
zest of 1 lemon
4 egg whites, beaten
1/2 c flour
1/2 c matzo meal
1/4 t baking powder
1  3-lb chicken, cut into 8 pieces
salt and pepper

instructions
Pour oil to a depth of 2″ in a 5 quart Dutch oven.

Heat over medium-high heat until a deep-fry thermometer reads 375 F. Combine smoked paprika through lemon zest; set aside. Put egg whites into a bowl. Combine flour, matzo meal, and baking powder in another bowl and mix half of spice mixture into bowl; set other half aside. Working with one piece at a time, dip chicken into egg whites, then flour mixture. Shake off excess; transfer chicken to a rack set inside a sheet pan.

Working in two batches (or more, depending on the size of your vessel), fry chicken until crispy and cooked through, 10-12 minutes each, trying to keep heat of oil as close to 375 as possible. Transfer to paper towels, and season with salt, pepper and remaining spice mixture. Let cool for 5-10 minutes.