What do Thomas Jefferson, Harlem Jazz Musicians and the PA Dutch Have in Common? Chicken and Waffles, Baby!

(Thomas Keller Fried) Chicken and Waffles

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.

(Thomas Keller Fried) Chicken and Waffles

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.

(Thomas Keller Fried) Chicken and Waffles

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.

FRIED CHICKEN AND SOUR CREAM WAFFLES (Adapted slightly from Thomas Keller’s killer recipe)

Ingredients:(Thomas Keller Fried) Chicken and Waffles

  • 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.

(Thomas Keller Fried) Chicken and Waffles

31 thoughts on “What do Thomas Jefferson, Harlem Jazz Musicians and the PA Dutch Have in Common? Chicken and Waffles, Baby!

  1. ah, vicki is exactly right. this combo is all roscoes all the way (though I lived near the oakland one.) We make this for brunch all the time. We often do it in the fall with sweet potato waffles.

  2. I just had chicken and waffles for the first time last week… and I gotta say, I wasn’t crazy about it. Maybe because the chicken was bland (I didn’t make it 😉 ) or because I really wanted vegetables, and the dish came with none.

    But with an endorsement like yours, I MUST try that recipe. I’m posting today about fried chicken from the NYTimes a few weeks ago. Did you see that article?

    1. hmmm… no i didn’t! but i’m going to go over and check out your post about it! you HAVE to have good chicken w/ great seasoning in order for this to work. You also must have moist chicken or else this whole thing will taste like cardboard in your mouth. that’s why the brining/buttermilk thing is so key.

      what i realized also makes the perfect fried chicken is the oil heat, using something w/ a high smoke point like peanut oil and also GET THAT HOT OIL THERMOMETER!

  3. I would file this under ‘I’d Totally Eat That’ with the sub-category of ‘If Someone Else Fries It’. I suppose I could sub in oven-baked (pseudo-fried) with some success, but sometimes originality should win out.

    I do, however, love love LOVE bacon that is drenched in maple syrup (the REAL kind….) so yeah, you had me at that line.

    And waffles……oooooh *sigh*

  4. Definitely love the set-up … made me giggle! The waffles and chicken look amazing. I’ve always read about the combo and seen a few food shows discuss it but have never gotten to enjoy it myself. A waffle maker is on my Christmas list … then I will be good to go.

    I too have read of chicken and waffles beginning in Harlem when Jazz musicians needed something to eat after playing all night. Oh, and I am a bacon in maple syrup girl all the way.

  5. A fun post! You obviously did some research and had some fun with staging it. I definitely agree with the bacon analogy but I don’t quite know if I’ve been converted to fried chicken. It’s so ingrained in my psyche that it’s fattening and unhealthy.
    A red+white checkered shirt? Really Jonny?

  6. A waffle iron is one piece of kitchen equipment I have longed for many years, but have yet to acquired.

    What I find funny is that just a few days ago I told my husband, “If I ever get a waffle iron, the first thing I’m going to make is fried chicken and waffles.” I’m not sure how happy he was about that since he’s been heavily involved in his P90X dvds and doesn’t want to ruin his growing-hotter-by-the-day bod. But then again, he also loves his waffles and his fried chicken. I just might get him to give in to the idea.

    I like the PA Dutch version too though. Brings me back to my college days in Lancaster County.

  7. Joan – what’s wrong with a red gingham shirt? Besides, they’re a useful way of blending in to the background when dining out at the inevitable red sauce joint with Amy’s Italian-American extended family.

  8. I love the food history in this post. Very nice. Who knew that ol’ Tommy J. was such the gourmet. Savory and sweet — always a great combo. Now an excuse to try Keller’s fried chicken recipe. Thanks!

  9. It sounds like a very very weird combo to me, but, who was the one who said you were so profesional? Ha, ha… I’ll trust you in this one too :D. Bravo to the stylist in you ;D

  10. Gosh, you’ve given me a mean craving.
    We make ourselves fried chicken… oh, about once a year. And the leftovers ALWAYS end up paired with waffles. Somehow.

    We like our chicken & waffles with mushroom cream gravy — never quite got to the maple syrup stage, but I’m warming up to the idea.

  11. HHAHAHAHAHAH “DICKFAST” HAHAHAHH best part of the article. kidding, this looks amazinggg…again, a meal i would like you to cook WHEN I AM VISITING!

  12. i love his fried chicken and ate it with truffle honey and plum ketchup.

    thanks for the info on th waffles. a place just opened up down the street from me and i am dying to go binge me some chikn n waffles!!


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