Fried chicken has always been popular in our family. Probably it is in most families. And there have been lots of family cooks who have staked their reputation on their version of the delicacy.
My mother was celebrated among her family contemporaries as the champion, and her special family dinner was always fried chicken, mashed potatoes and cream gravy. A picnic in the mountains was an anticipated treat of childhood. My mother would fry up two chickens, pack them into a big glass jar that she reserved for the occasion, and arrange the jar in the back window of our Willys Overland Americar to keep the chicken warm until we reached our destination. (Why none of us ever came down with a fatal food-borne illness I will never know.) At the picnic table we would reach into the jar and pull out a favorite piece – or the back if we were too late. There was never any chicken left.
My mother-in-law often served fried chicken when family had gathered around her table at the farm. The crispy skin and juicy meat stimulated sibling rivalry at the table, sometimes triggereing mild rebuke from PopPop, the patriarch, who had high expectations for table manners.
Sarah, also known as Sally Hurricane, has for years made fried chicken for family meals at the restaurants where she has worked. Now she serves an off-menu treat at RT Rotisserie that is known as Sally Hurricane’s Southern Fried Chicken. I have written about it in this journal, and there is a story about it in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Susan and Carol also make some mean versions of fried chicken, but Susan has largely turned from cooking to gardening, and Carol doesn’t like to fry things. So, for a recent Sunday family dinner I decided to make fried chicken (one of Carol’s all-time favorite foods) with salt-crusted fingerling potatoes instead of the usual mashers but keeping the traditional cream gravy.
Sprigs of rosemary
Welsh smoked sea salt
Salt-crusted fingerling potatoes
Inspired by a recent visit to RT Rotisserie, I have been thinking about fried chicken a lot lately. RT ages its chickens before roasting them on the rotisserie. The cooks arrange trussed chickens on big racks in a large cold room in order to dry them a bit and make the skin crispier. That’s similar to what is done to make the skin on Peking duck so crispy.
Also, I have become interested in slower cooking: a potato baked longer at a lower temperature seems fluffier, and a braise at a lower temperature seems more flavorful. (Think crock pot?) Usually I start frying chicken at a high temperature until it is brown and then reduce the temperature to complete the cooking. I thought that I would give “slow from the start” a chance. All in all, my experiments turned out ok. I thought the chicken was crispy and tasty. What more can one ask? One important thing I did learn was that when you fry chicken at a lower temperature be sure to get the skin as dark as you want it before you turn it. Turn each chicken piece only once; otherwise it will stick to the pan and you’ll lose the crispy skin that you have been trying so hard to achieve.
In the frying pan
Ready to serve
Fried Chicken and Cream Gravy
- 1 whole chicken
- ¾ cup flour
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 2 tablespoons pepper
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
- 3 tablespoons canola or peanut oil for frying
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup chicken stock
- Using a very sharp large chef’s knife, cut the chicken into serving pieces. You should wind up with 2 wings, 2 thighs, 2 drumsticks, 2 or 3 pieces of breast meat depending on how you cut it up, and the back, which you can fry after cutting into 2 pieces or for some other purpose such as making chicken stock. If you prefer, you can buy ready-prepared chicken parts.
- Place the cut-up chicken in a large pie plate and set in the refrigerator, uncovered, overnight. Turn occasionally while it rests.
- When you are ready to fry the chicken, combine the flour, salt, pepper, paprika, and poultry seasoning in a sealable quart plastic bag. Mix well, then reserve 2 tablespoons in a separate bowl to be used later for making cream gravy.
- Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium-low heat. Make sure it is up to heat before you add the chicken. (I used a ceramic cooktop set at 2.4 with a full range of 10)
- When the frying pan is heated, add one piece of chicken to the plastic bag, seal and shake. Remove the chicken from the bag, shake loose any excess flour mixture and place in the hot oil, skin side down.
- Repeat the process until all of the pieces of chicken have been floured and added to the frying pan. If you have one, cover with a spatter shield. Do not cover with a lid.
- Fry the chicken without turning for 15 minutes or until the skin has browned to your liking. Turn the chicken pieces and continue to fry, again not turning, for another 15 minutes or until the chicken is well browned and cooked through. An instant-read thermometer may be useful at this point. The internal temperature of the chicken should read 170°F.
- Transfer the fried chicken to a large plate and place in a warm oven until the gravy is made.
- Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the frying oil and return the pan to the heat. In a Mason jar, combine the reserved flour mixture, milk and chicken stock, seal with a screw lid and shake until completely mixed. Add the mixture to the heated frying oil.
- Stirring constantly, bring the mixture to a low boil and cook until it thickens, about 3 minutes. Correct the seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve while still warm along with the fried chicken.
Chicken and waffles has become a trendy dish often featured in trendy restaurants. Supposedly it had its origins in soul food. There are definitely clues that reinforce that attribution: fried chicken and waffles is apparently a stand-by in Baltimore, there is a temple of the dish in South Los Angeles, and at least two places in Harlem have built their reputation on fried chicken and waffles. Honestly, I have never understood the enthusiasm. I love fried chicken as much as the next person, and waffles can be a terrific breakfast or dinner. But crisp fried chicken and sweet-sticky maple syrup together just doesn’t sound like a combination I want to give a try.
Turns out there is another version of chicken and waffles. It traces its origins to the Pennsylvania Dutch area around Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The dish is essentially the filling for chicken pot pie served on top of a waffle. To me, that is an interesting concept, and one that sounds like it might be delicious. My mother’s family traces its origins from Pennsylvania Dutch country through Wisconsin, Iowa, and eventually South Dakota. My wife’s family hails from Wilmington, Delaware, just a short drive to Lancaster. I don’t remember chicken and waffles ever showing up on either family table.
That made me think that maybe a Southwestern version of chicken and waffles incorporating some regional ingredients would make a good alternative to either of the better known traditions. Blue cornmeal waffles seemed like a good starting place. Green chiles and piñon nuts would serve as tasty additions. To brighten up an otherwise monochromatic dish, I topped it all with pico de gallo. For that, you probably have your own recipe. If you don’t, I’ve added one without the kick (There is a serious medical reaction to capsaicin in our household) but you are encouraged to zip it up to your own tastes. So here it is: Santa Fe Style Chicken and Waffles with blue cornmeal waffles and green chile chicken sauce. If you can’t find blue cornmeal at your local store, you can order some from Talon de Gato farms. Otherwise, substituting yellow or white cornmeal is perfectly acceptable.
Blue cornmeal/White flour
Batter in the waffle iron
Santa Fe Style Chicken and Waffles
Blue Cornmeal Waffles with Pine Nuts
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup blue cornmeal
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 2 cups buttermilk
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 2 large eggs, separated
- ½ cup pine nuts
- In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients: flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- In a separate medium bowl, combine the buttermilk, maple syrup, and melted butter. Whisk in the separated egg yolks until completely incorporated
- In a small bowl, beat the separated egg whites to stiff peaks. Fold into the batter in thirds.
- Stir in the pine nuts.
- Spoon into a heated waffle iron using slightly more than the amount recommended by the manufacturer. Bake until golden brown. Bake the remaining batter.
Green Chile Chicken Sauce
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (chicken fat if you have it)
- 1 large onion, diced
- 4 ounces canned chopped green chiles (choose your heat)
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups chicken stock + more as needed
- 1 tablespoon dried Mexican oregano
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- salt and pepper
- 1 whole chicken breast, cooked and shredded
- In medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions, cover and sweat the onions for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally so as not to brown.
- When the onions are translucent, stir in the green chiles and cook, uncovered for an additional 5 minutes.
- Stir in the flour and cook for 5 additional minutes to remove the raw flavor of the flour. Add the chicken stock, stirring to remove any lumps. The sauce should be about as thick as a medium white sauce.
- Add the oregano by crumbling it between your hands over the pan. Add cumin and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
- Stir in the shredded chicken and simmer for 15 minutes more, or until the mixture is heated through.
Pico de Gallo
- 1 large ripe tomato, seeded and coarsely chopped
- 3 scallions including green tops, chopped
- ½ onion, coarsely chopped
- ¼ cup chopped green bell pepper (substitute jalapeño for more heat)
- ¼ cup coarsely chopped cilantro leaves
- juice of 1 large lime
- salt and pepper
- Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper
- Cover tightly and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Serve.
Place two waffles on each plate. Top with about 1½ cups of the green chile chicken sauce. Garnish with pico de gallo. Serve immediately with more optional Cholula sauce, if desired.
Disclaimer: This is not an authentic recipe for shakshouka. For one thing, it includes fried chicken. For another, it uses Swiss cheese. Also, I do not plan to take sides in the various controversies as to whether the dish should be viewed as Tunisian or Israeli or whether it should be viewed as a breakfast dish or served at an evening meal. I can only reaffirm that shakshouka is easy to make and delicious.
- 4 chicken thighs
- olive oil
- ½ yellow onion,, chopped
- ¼ cup diced carrots
- ¼ cup diced celery
- 6-8 miniature sweet peppers, sliced into rings
- 4 medium crimini mushrooms sliced
- ½ cup dry vermouth
- 8 ounces tomato sauce
- 8 ounces chicken stock
- ¼ teaspoon ground sage
- ¼ teaspoon ground thyme
- ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
- ¼ teaspoon powdered lemon peel
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 ounces Swiss cheese, coarsely grated
- 4 eggs
- In an oven-proof skillet (cast iron is perfect), brown the chicken thighs in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Drain off the rendered fat and transfer the pan to the middle of an oven preheated to 250°F.
- In a separate skillet, sweat the onions in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over medium-low heat. Stir in the carrots, celery, and sweet papers, and continue to sauté for 10 minutes until the vegetables are softened. Stir in the mushrooms and cook for another 5 minutes until the mushrooms are cooked through. Add the vermouth and continue to simmer until the vermouth has almost completely reduced.
- Stir in the tomato sauce, chicken stock, sage, thyme, cumin, and lemon peel. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Simmer for another 5 minutes.
- Remove the chicken thighs from the oven. Cover with the sauce. Sprinkle with the grated Swiss cheese and return to the oven.
- When the cheese has melted, remove the pan from the oven. Increase the oven temperature to 350°F. Crack the eggs and place them in the spaces between the chicken thighs. Return to the oven and bake for another 5 to 10 minutes until the egg whites have set but the yolks are still runny. Watch carefully so that you don’t overcook the eggs.
- When the eggs are done to your liking, remove from the oven and serve immediately.