Pizza Lab #38: Chicken & Waffles Pizza
So I was born and raised here in New York. New York’s got some decent foods it calls claim to fame. Bagels, pizza, buffalo wings, etc… It’s great. But despite that, I have to admit part of me rues the fact I missed out on certain treats more exclusive to southern cooking while growing up. In particular, a few years back I became acquainted with the so-random-it’s-brilliant homestyle concoction known as chicken & waffles. Fast-forward to present day, and we’ve finally gotten around to crafting a Pizza Lab after this scrumptious classic of American recipes.
Let’s not beat around the bush. Chicken & waffles is preeetty simple in execution.
Step 1. Chicken.
Step 2. Waffles.
Step 3. Chicken & Waffles.
To go a bit further into detail, it’s actually the process of serving southern-fried chicken on large, Belgian-style waffles. For the record, I’m not entirely sure what separates southern-fried chicken from plain old fried chicken, but that’s what they always refer to it as, and hell who am I to ask? As I mentioned earlier chicken & waffles is delightfully random, and actually some people find it repulsive. I can see why you’d have some apprehension to the idea at first since you’re basically taking breakfast and dinner and cramming them together. Also consider the southern states tend to be infamous for having a reputation of serving the unhealthiest, most greasy-ass foods on the planet, and some people might write this one off as falling into the same trash category as Paula Deen’s fried butter (yes that actually happened once). But wait! Give it a chance.
Salty + sweet has become a bit of a buzz phenomenon in the food world over the last ten years, or at least to boring, white people in the U.S. Caramel has always had a bit of a saltiness to it, complementing the buttery sweetness it has, but only recently did some jackass decide to market “salted caramel” as if it were some brand new invention, and suddenly everyone and their mom lauded the concept of combining salt and sugar in the same meal. Chicken & waffles takes that concept, or rather, took that concept long ago, and demonstrated it well. Put your personal bias aside, and think for a moment. Fried chicken is crunchy and awesome, with just the slightest salty, breading flavor to it. Waffles on their own are a bit bread-y tasting, and often get served with butter and maple syrup. Is that really so odd to combine those two things?
For the purpose of our pizza, we made chicken fingers in place of fried chicken pieces, since bone-in chicken (while moist) is an enormous pain in the ass to actually work with. Ironically, making the chicken took up the majority of the work involved since the rest was pretty cut and paste. After frying up a batch of homemade chicken fingers, we cut them up in preparation for the pizza.
A quick aside, interestingly we originally tried this idea for a pizza a year or two ago in a duel-action, two-pizza-lab experiment for Valentine’s Day one year. Unfortunately at the time, we used two small doughs and tried making personal pizzas, which didn’t work out very well. Consider this edition a revival of sorts for that lost pizza lab.
On the original version of this experiment, we tried setting maple syrup as the sauce layer on the crust. At the time, it turned out too sweet and the maple syrup overpowered everything else on the pizza. This time we sought to reconcile that problem with a few solutions. After attempting to make a sort of bourbon BBQ sauce, it ended up tasting kind of shitty, and we ended up having to throw it out. We won’t name names, but we don’t know how that recipe is posted on a website, for everyone to read, when it’s so awful. Rather than try a different BBQ-style sauce, we went with another idea we had, to set chicken gravy as the base layer sauce. In doing so, the pizza gets its “sauce”, and we get to enhance the chicken flavor.
The next step was to load the cut-up fried chicken onto the pie. In placing it directly in the gravy, the tastiness was likely multiplied tenfold, due to the steamy, chicken-on-chicken action. (I can’t actually verify that claim) Either way, we then added some cut up pieces of generic, Eggo waffles as a sort of garnish. At its heart, this IS a chicken & waffles pizza, so for us to not actually include waffles would be wrong. Obviously, Eggo waffles barely qualify as waffles, especially since true chicken & waffles is meant to be served on nice, thick, homestyle waffles, but really that ventures into the realm of too much work for a single pizza. Lastly, we topped it off with a drizzle of maple syrup, and a layer of mozzarella cheese, since we needed a cheese that wouldn’t be too pungent on top of the light, sweet flavor the rest of the foodstuffs added.
Lately we’ve been finding that almost all of our dessert pizzas are instant classics, while the savory pies are more hit-or-miss. Fortunately we eliminated that trend with the chicken & waffles pizza; this one was an absolute winner. Our original incarnation of this pizza years ago was too maple-y and you really couldn’t taste the chicken. The real-deal version was the opposite. You could taste the delicious, crunchy chicken in all of its breaded goodness, and even the gravy lent itself well. In addition, the maple syrup added that perfect amount of maple flavor and sweetness up against the salty chicken, to make it great. The waffles… well, they were there. Again, we added them as a garnish. And actually they’re pretty fun looking just sitting there. Really, look at ’em.
The chicken & waffles pizza was an absolute success. If anything, it was really awesome to see that one of our original ideas which didn’t pan out, ended up working really well in the end. It just goes to show you that almost any recipe/food idea can turn out awesome if you tweak it enough and work on it enough. (Except for that disgusting bourbon sauce recipe we tried. Screw that.)
If The South Had Pizza…
Hankering for chicken fingers after this post? Make some homemade using our long-developed, super awesome chicken fingers recipe!