It is common knowledge that we eat with our eyes first.
Yet at the initial glance one might be slightly confused at what they’ll see. Chicken and waffles. Breakfast and dinner. How is this possible?
Somehow, someway it just works.
This dynamic culinary duo is a unique soul food dish with a contested origin story. Some believe it was because Thomas Jefferson prompted a waffle craze in 1790 after he returned from France flaunting his new iron waffle maker.
Then African-Americans, who did most of the cooking at that time, combined the then prestigious cut of meat that is chicken with this exotic breakfast bread.
Others trace the chicken and waffles unification to 1600s Pennsylvania Dutch country where home cooks put pulled chicken and gravy atop fluffy and buttery waffles.
But according to Tori Avey, a food writer for PBS, the “soul food” approach worked its way into popular culture during the 1930s with the prominent jazz scene where musicians came in to the restaurant too late for dinner but too early for breakfast thus prompting the need to combine the two.
In my opinion though, I just see the dish as a glorious mixture of the most important meal of the day with a rich and savory component leaving one honestly speechless. Adding creamy, beer-infused gravy in the same pan left the chicken pieces happily tender, swimming together with mushrooms, onions and various spices.
Though my original vision was to use the waffle base as pizza dough to make a pizzette, the chicken and gravy mixture proved to be too overwhelming for the waffle. No worries though, a fork and knife work just fine.
Liberally tossing sharp cheddar atop the compilation, offers a tangy and smoky presence that is warmly welcomed by the other ingredients.
It is said amongst cheddar enthusiasts that the salty, robust taste develops from a relatively short time window of about six months to a year and a half. The older the wheel of cheddar is the better, for it allows the bacteria time to produce enzymes that break down fats and proteins forming a complex flavor structure.
Thrown in the gravy it not only thickens the sauce, the sharp cheddar just enhances everything in ways that are harder to explain than Inception. As is the beer used to deglaze the vegetables.
It doesn’t need to be an expensive or fancy microbrew with an overly eccentric name. The idea of deglazing is to use a cool liquid like beer or wine against a hot pan to loosen the browned seasoned bits left behind by the chicken and vegetables.
Using something like water would achieve the same goal but could dilute the overall flavor. Chicken or vegetable broth work as well.
Though it may sound like I’m tooting my own horn, I strongly encourage anyone and everyone to give this recipe a go. It’s simple, cheap and takes no more than 30 minutes to make.
And to those who are worried about the consequences of routinely missing breakfast, I’d say problem solved.
•3 Tbsp. Olive Oil
•About 10 crimini mushrooms, sliced
•1 red onion, diced
•3 cloves garlic, minced
•¼ cup beer, wine or broth
•1 cup heavy cream
•1 ½ cup sharp cheddar, grated
•Two medium chicken breasts
•2 Tbsp. chili powder, 2 Tbsp. thyme
•Salt & pepper to taste
•4 frozen waffles
Rinse and pat dry chicken. Apply seasonings, add oil to pan and cook at medium high heat. Sear about 5 minutes each side, apply lid once chicken has crust, lower heat to medium low and cook for additional 3 minutes.
Remove chicken, turn heat back to medium high, add oil if needed, then add vegetables. Cook with lid on for 8 minutes, then without lid for additional 5 minutes stirring occasionally.
Once vegetables are tender and slightly browned, add beer, heavy cream and sharp cheddar. Reduce heat to low. Slice down the cooked chicken, place into pan with vegetables. Simmer for 8-10 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Cook waffles according to package instructions.
Spoon chicken and gravy mixture atop toasted waffles. Apply more cheddar cheese. Garnish with fresh thyme. Cook time: 32 minutes. Serves four.