What do Thomas Jefferson, Harlem Jazz Musicians and the PA Dutch Have in Common? Chicken and Waffles, Baby!
Oct 19th, 2009 by Amy
Chicken and Waffles. Two foods that many obsess over individually but wouldn’t even think to pair together. Why, I wonder? Have you ever dipped your crunchy piece of bacon into your pancake syrup, even if it’s accidental? How about some fabulous thai sauces that have that sweet sticky flavor paired with some fried calamari? What about any dish with sweet, salty and crunchy combination? If you’re a nonbeliever, please, believe. One taste of Chicken and Waffles and it quickly gained a top 10 spot on my “Death Row Last Meal” list. You know you have one too.
The history of the beginnings of Chicken and Waffles is a perplexing one. No one is really sure of its origins. One of the original theories claims that Thomas Jefferson brought a waffle machine to the US from France in the 1790’s, thus beginning a waffle craze (even though the Pilgrims brought it to the New World back in the early 1600’s, we guess Tommy really sparked the interest). Soon after, being embraced by the African American community, Chicken and Waffles began appearing in cookbooks (although, curiously, it did not appear in the first cookbook written around 1880 by a Black former slave called What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking by Abby Fisher). The Pennsylvania Dutch (the first Germans to have settled in the US) have been pairing chicken with waffles probably before Thomas Jefferson was a twinkle in his mother’s uterus. Instead of frying their chicken pieces, the PA Dutch version uses shredded pieces of boiled or roasted chicken on top of waffles and top it with lots of creamy gravy instead of hot sauce and syrup. You may think this either looks like sick on a waffle or, possibly, chicken pot pie over a waffle. The final and most common origin is that Chicken and Waffles began in the 1930’s during the Harlem Jazz hayday, specifically at a place no longer in existence called Wells Supper Club. When the Jazz musicians walked into Wells after a long night of playing, they wanted a combo of dinner and breakfast (dickfast? dinfast?) and the staff created the crispy, crunchy, salty, sweet combo we love today.
Clearly we’re not the first to try making chicken and waffles at home. I still remember drooling over our friend Heather’s version almost a year ago. After our fun maple syrup taste-test, we figured it was the perfect time to make something we had wanted to make for a long time. This experience also gave me a chance to finally give that damn supposedly amazing Thomas Keller fried chicken recipe a whirl. I combined his recipe with some tips from Serious Eats supposed “Best Fried Chicken Recipe”. The result? Damn ass good. If I could be guaranteed to not gain weight or get a major cholesterol problem, I could possibly eat this every day. This recipe is hands down worth the time and effort if you’re going to bother doing your own fried chicken. Please, take my word for it – it was perfectly cooked, perfectly crunchy, and very, very moist inside. If you don’t try the chicken and waffles, please use this recipe for some damn good fried chicken. Make it with a side of Lipitor.
PS: How awesome does that old Herbie Hancock album cover look against this “set”? I laugh every time I look at those gold medallions on his neck. By the way, we’re cheap – that’s one of Jonny’s shirts as our “faux country” tablecloth. We’re professionals, folks. Real professionals.
- All ingredients on Thomas Keller’s recipe list
- 1 quart of buttermilk
- iron skillet
- TIP: Buy yourself a frying thermometer – so key to producing perfectly fried chicken.
- Optional: 1 thick piece of country ham or smoked ham hock, cut into thick chunks
- your favorite waffle recipe
- waffle maker
- real maple syrup
- hot sauce
What to do:
- Follow the brining recipe/method from Thomas Keller’s recipe here, but only for about 8 to 10 hours (you could even cut this in half and it will still be moist, maybe not as moist, but moist). Use the same amount of chicken pieces Keller calls for.
- Remove chicken pieces from the brine and pat dry with paper towels. Lay chicken pieces in a pyrex bowl and cover with about one quart of fresh buttermilk. Allow to marinate in the buttermilk for an additional 8 to 10 hours (again, cut in half if you really only have to).
- Meanwhile, prepare your peanut oil by heating it very gently on low and adding the chunks of ham. Cook on low for 30 to 40 minutes. This will give your cooking oil some extra flavor.
- While the oil is being flavored with the ham, prepare the flour – again, same as Keller’s. When it is time to fry, turn up the heat until the oil reaches 330 degrees. Prep your chicken by taking it out of the buttermilk and draining off as much as you can from the pieces. Toss in the seasoned flour and add to the 330 degree oil. DO NOT OVERCROWD YOUR SKILLET. Chicken and Waffles tastes even better with room temperature fried chicken so take your time. Again, use Keller’s frying times:
- legs and thighs (turning once) = 13 minutes
- breasts = 7 minutes
- Make your waffles and drain chicken on some paper towels. Pair waffles and chicken however you want (some like it side by side, some like one on top of the other) and put the syrup on the waffle or chicken or both. Whatever floats your boat. Enjoy.