When you hear the word “waffle,” what comes to mind? Breakfast? Syrup? Eggs and bacon?
It’s true. Waffles are usually reserved for a sweet morning treat and rarely make an appearance after brunch. But these morning treats can also make for a delicious meal to be enjoyed at all hours of the day.
One of the most successful combinations? Chicken and waffles.
While in Austin earlier this month eating at the famous Torchy’s Tacos, I ordered up the “Roscoe.” This is their chicken and waffle limited-time offer, and it was delicious! And, of course, Maxine’s Chicken and Waffles, a long-time Heartland customer who specializes in Southern food with “a taste of love in every bite,” has one of the best offerings in the country. Chicken and waffles may seem counterintuitive, but one taste of that sweet and salty entrée – soft waffle soaked in maple syrup combined with the spicy crunch of fried chicken – and you’ll be sold!
Here’s the inside scoop on what Dan Myers, senior food editor for The Daily Meal, calls “a warm blanket for the soul.”
Whether you order it at a classic diner or make them at home, the components of chicken and waffles are pretty straightforward:
- The waffle: In my opinion, the best waffles are just a bit crispy on the outside, serving as a sturdy base for the weight of the chicken. The sweetness of the batter counters the salty spices on the chicken.
- The chicken: For this dish, it’s best to stick to fried chicken. Brined in buttermilk and breaded to crispy perfection, the best fried chicken is moist and tender on the inside and flaky crisp on the outside. The secret for Hattie B’s (a Nashville restaurant known for their chicken and waffles) is to mix brown sugar and cayenne pepper into the seasoning, which provides a little sweetness to counter the heat.
- The syrup: Of course, drizzled over the whole thing is sweet and sticky syrup. Some people swear by the real-deal maple syrup, but many diners stick to the classic Aunt Jemima. If you’re feeling adventurous, spike the syrup with a little hot sauce!
The history of chicken and waffles
Unlike other soul-food classics that originated in the deep south – such as collard greens, chicken fried steak, or any kind of cobbler – chicken and waffles actually has its roots in the urban north.
John T. Edge, author of Fried Chicken: An American Story, notes, “It’s a dish most popular among expatriate, African-American Southerners… a dish most popular among Southerners now living in urban areas, whether that be the urban South or the urban West, in the case of Los Angeles, or the urban North, in the case of New York.”
The modern dish we know as chicken and waffles originated from the Wells Supper Club, a restaurant that opened in Harlem, New York, in 1938. Known just as “Wells” to the locals, it was a gathering place for jazz legends like Sammy Davis Jr. and Nat King Cole, who’d frequent the place after a night of performing. Too late for dinner but a bit early for breakfast, the ingenious kitchen staff made this delicious compromise. The dish became so popular, the idea spread across the country, and now entire restaurants are dedicated to the fare, such as Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles, based in the Los Angeles area.
Recipes to try
If your mouth is watering as much as mine, take a look at some of these creative twists on the classic recipe. Maybe try one for dinner tonight!
Amanda Freitag from the Food Network show, “American Diner Revival,” brings a devilishly sweet combination of spices into the mix with this recipe.
Blogger Agnes Hsu offers a kid-friendly option by making the meal vertical. Simply cut the chicken and waffles into bite size pieces and put it on a skewer. Then dip it in as much syrup as you like.
In this savory sandwich version from Jonathan Melendez (The Candid Appetite), the waffle (made with black pepper in the mix) serves as the bread, and the chicken is drizzled with maple Dijon sauce and topped with tomatoes and avocado.
If you haven’t tried this soul-food classic yet, I encourage you to expand your waffle horizons!