Another day with no major holidays so I decided to celebrate a couple of the month long celebrations. September is not short on things that are celebrated throughout the month such as Fall Hat Month and Baby Safety Month, so it was an easy resource. I landed on National Waffle Month but because I had just celebrated Waffle Day not too long ago, I decided to concelebrate with National Chicken Month too and have myself some chicken and waffles. Seemed pretty festive, right? I stopped at Stop and Shop on my way home from work. I ended up going to the store in Bristol because I like that Stop and Shop better compared to the other ones in the area, but I forgot how bad the drive there can be with traffic when coming from Providence. By the time I got there, I was a little frazzled from having to deal with stop and go street traffic for about an hour. This was poor planning on my part. They will tell you to not go grocery shopping when you are hungry; I’m telling you not to go when you are frazzled. It sours your decision making.
My shopping wasn’t going to be all that hard. I was going to pick up some fried chicken at their prepared food section which was really cheap (8 pieces for about $5). I’ve had their fried chicken before and it can be ok depending on how fresh it is. I was there at dinner time, so I figured it must have been pretty fresh and it looked ok in the package. Then after perusing the bread aisle, I found a product that intrigued me, especially as I was on the hunt for waffles. They were waffles – Belgian Waffles – individually wrapped and sold. They weren’t frozen. They were billed as a waffle you could eat while you are walking around. They looked good and were super thick. The company was called Jacquet and I decided to give them a try. Then I went home to prepare our big fancy Friday night dinner.
I’m not sure where the phenomenon of Chicken and Waffles has come from. It is a dish that finds its roots in both the African American culture and in the Pennsylvania Dutch. The Pennsylvania Dutch originally served waffles and fried catfish, but when catfish were scarce, they substituted in chicken (the PD are known for their practical sensibility). It was a tradition that went back to the late 1800s. In African American culture, some believe that the dish became a special treat because chicken was not always affordable, so when the occasion arose to have their usual waffles AND add in chicken, it was a special meal. There are soul food restaurants that became famous for the chicken and waffle combo most notably Tillie’s Chicken Shack in Harlem and Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles in Los Angeles. The latter is probably where I first heard about the dish as it is often referenced by Will Smith on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. In recent years, chefs have been adding chicken and waffles to their menus in restaurants all throughout the country and it’s not uncommon to see it in the fanciest of restaurants or gastropubs. That’s what we do – we take food of simple great tradition and try to make it better – fancy it up. Still, as much as the chicken and waffle trend has cruised across the culinary scene, I really haven’t taken advantage. I suppose there is a guilt factor about ordering this – do I really need this? I usually see it on menus and get curious, but opt for something more sensible. Today I would try to recreate it at home with a little help from Stop and Shop.
I put the waffles in the toaster oven for about five minutes to crust up the outside. Upon reflection, this particular brand of waffles is more suitable for the grab and go waffle – eating it on the run without reheating (whatever deviant this behavior describes). Probably for the person who wants to eat a waffle on their commute but doesn’t want the whole hassle of syrup and plates and all that jazz. The waffle itself is pretty good – nice and fluffy with deep sweet flavor. However, a frozen waffle would have crisped up nicer. When the waffle was toasted, I put it on the plate and poured on the Mrs. Butterworth’s and then topped each waffle with a well fried piece of chicken. Dinner was served.
Ok, so chicken and waffles are a pretty good combo, but I’m not sure why they necessarily go together. I’m sure the thinking is the syrup tastes good with the fried batter of the chicken, but syrup goes well with everything. I could eat old bandages with syrup. I also imagine that there is a sandwich element here too – the soft chewy dough of the waffle combined with the savory, moist chicken in every bite. Who knows, but when I ate it, I kind of ate it in two separate portions – waffle first, then the chicken. It was like I was at the Hometown Buffet and filling my plate. The waffle was fine and tasty, as was the chicken. The Stop and Shop fried chicken is crispy and they don’t skimp on the batter or the frying. The chicken is good too, but as it cools down, you end up getting more bites of batter than chicken. Outside of the two or three great pieces in the batch, you get a bunch of chicken parts that you really have to dig at to get any chicken. You pay for what you get, and you can almost taste the chicken antibodies. Still, it was a nice easy dinner to make and the pieces I served were juicy, crispy and mixed well with the syrup. I’m still on the fence about chicken and waffles, but I think I have to have them prepared at a place that specializes in this treat to really get the true chicken and waffle experience. That’s something to look forward to.
When you get stuck for what to celebrate, sometimes you get smacked by a great idea. Other times, you make do with what you have. Today’s celebration was a little combination of both. I am one who will always celebrate the joy of chicken and the joy of waffles, however today was my first venture into celebrating them together. Looking at the history of this combination, it’s nothing I want to turn my nose up at. Like most classic comfort food, it has it’s roots in a culture where the dish was truly celebrated. I didn’t really recreate that feeling today, but I did capture the spirit. I enjoyed the bounty of a long week with a meal that was as homey as could be (with a few twists of modern living mixed in). That’s worth celebrating any day. I’ll revisit this one again when I am confident that the preparer spent more time making it rather than just perusing the aisles of Stop and Shop. Maybe I’ll see if Will Smith wants to meet me and Jazz at Roscoe’s.
Next up: National TV Dinner Day