Friday, April 4, 2014

The south comes north

A few weeks ago Chris and I went back to Hooch Bourbon House on Rideau Street with some friends because we loved it so much at their grand opening last summer. We sat in the big front booth and shouted at each other over the music (my one gripe with the place) and all four of us ordered chicken and waffles. And oh, were they delicious - fried cornish hen over fluffy waffles drizzled in a maple-chipotle sauce. We were full for what felt like days.

So imagine my joy at opening the Spring 2014 issue of the LCBO's Food and Drink magazine a few days later, and finding a recipe for southern style baked chicken and waffles. The photo looked fantastic and the technique sounded great, so I called up my in-laws and invited them over for supper.

My mother-in-law was initially skeptical of the concept, I think, but she was completely on board by the time the food hit the table. This chicken smells so amazing while it cooks. The house was redolent of warm herbs and roasting meat and spicy locally-made hot sauce (Chamomile Desjardins' "Miss Nunavut" - very tasty) and we were all eager to dig in.

No one was disappointed, and I was downright gleeful at how well the chicken turned out. Waffles, I can make - no problem. These were filled with sharp cheddar and snipped chives and were just barely sweetened. I made them while the chicken was finishing up, and then popped them into a hot oven for a few minutes to re-crisp.

But the chicken, I had worried about. I've made "oven-fried" things before to very poor result, but this turned out golden and gorgeous. The marinade is buttermilk with some herbs, hot sauce and spices infused in it, which kept the chicken thighs (skin removed but bones left in) juicy and flavourful. The coating, equal parts flour and cornmeal seasoned lightly with salt and chile powder, crisped up nicely and adhered well to the surface of the meat, thanks to a rub of butter over the baking pan and a high baking temp for the first half. A small pot of pure maple syrup was dosed liberally with that hot sauce and warmed on the stove, then drizzled generously over both chicken and waffles.

The result was four adults practically licking their plates. A very simple salad rounded out the meal perfectly. We drank an Ontario riesling with the meal which I think always works with chicken, but a light red would work too, or beer or cider.

It's not something I'd make right after work, but I can guarantee it's a dish I will return to over and over for company or just for ourselves. It's indulgent but not ridiculously so, complex but not overly complicated, and comforting in the best way. 

Southern-style baked chicken and waffles
Adapted lightly from Food & Drink Spring 2014

For the chicken:
8 chicken thighs, skin removed, bone-in
2 cups buttermilk (I used plain yogurt thinned with water plus a tablespoon of white vinegar; worked perfectly)
1 tbsp sweet paprika
1/2 tsp celery seeds or dried dill
1 tsp dry mustard powder
2 tsp hot sauce (your choice)
1 cup flour
1 cup fine cornmeal
1 tsp salt
1 tsp piment d'espelette or other chile powder

Combine buttermilk, paprika, celery/dill, mustard and hot sauce in a large bowl.  Add chicken pieces and turn to coat; cover and marinate in fridge at least six hours or up to 24.

Preheat oven to 425F. Rub a large baking sheet with 1 tbsp butter. Combine flour, cornmeal, salt and chile powder in a large shallow bowl.

Remove chicken from marinade piece by piece, letting buttermilk drip off but not shaking. Dredge in flour mixture, turning to coat and pressing to adhere. Place chicken meaty-side down on baking pan. When all pieces are coated, bake 15 minutes, then flip with a large metal spatula. Reduce oven temp to 375F and bake 15-25 more minute or until meat thermometer reads 165.

While chicken is baking, make the waffles:
1 and 1/3 cups flour
1/3 cup fine cornmeal
2 tsp sugar
1.5 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp espelette pepper
4 eggs, separated
1.25 cups buttermilk (again, thinned yogurt + vinegar works)
1 tbsp snipped fresh chives
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar

Whisk together dry ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk together egg yolks, buttermilk, chives; stir in cheese.Pour over the flour mixture and stir until moistened.

Beat egg whites and a pinch of salt in medium bowl until stiff peaks form. Fold 1/4 of whites into batter until combined; gently fold in remaining whites until no streaks are visible.

Brush heated waffle iron with oil; scoop batter into iron and cook until golden and crisp. Place on a rack on top of a baking sheet as they finish. When chicken comes out of oven, place waffles in oven for five minutes. Serve immediately with chicken and warm syrup.

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