I was raised in the suburbs of Oakland, California. Growing up, the East Bay had a bit of an inferiority complex, especially when it came to comparisons with the gourmet Mecca across the bay, San Francisco. Even though we had a working farm across the street from my high school that grew such seasonal delicacies as strawberries and asparagus, the farm-to-table movement was a given then, and the luster of Fisherman's Wharf's restaurants made us feel like hicks. (Shucks, all we have is fresh artichokes and peas, and they have Steak Diane!) Now when I go home to Oakland, the dining scene is so vital that I hardly venture into "The City" (the local's nickname for San Francisco--it is NEVER called "Frisco") at all.
One of my first stops when I go home is the Merritt Bakery, right on Lake Merritt, the body of water that is surrounded by Oakland proper. It is basically an old-school bakery featuring miles of glass display cases filled with towering pastries with thick swirls of whipped topping. But the equally retro restaurant section is the compelling reason for my visit. I had many a post-movie hamburger here on high school dates, back when I could down the french fries and an accompanying vanilla shake without guilt. Now, I replace these with an equally sinful indulgence--waffles with fried chicken. Here's my version from Breakfast Comforts.
GOLDEN CORNMEAL WAFFLES WITH FRIED CHICKEN
Chicken and waffles is the solution to the ultimate brunch dilemma: sweet or savory? One story claims this retro combination was created to cater to late-night eaters as a compromise between dinner and breakfast. In my experience, everyone can find something to love in the mouthwatering mix of flavors and textures. (This recipe is written in the usual Williams-Sonoma style, which includes weights and metrics for the Canadian and European markets.)
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 6 oz/185 g each)
2⁄3 cup (3 1⁄2 oz/105 g) plus 3⁄4 cup (4 oz/125 g) all-purpose flour
2 1⁄2 teaspoons baking powder
Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 2⁄3 cups (21 fl oz/660 ml) buttermilk
Canola oil for deep-frying
1 1⁄2 cups (10 1⁄2 oz/330 g) yellow cornmeal, preferably stone-ground
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
6 tablespoons (3 oz/90 g) unsalted butter, melted, plus room temperature butter for serving
2 large eggs, separated
1 cup (6 oz/185 g) fresh or thawed frozen corn kernels
Honey or pure maple syrup for serving
Hot pepper sauce for serving
1. Using a meat pounder, pound the chicken breast halves until they are a uniform 1/2 inch (12 mm) thick. Have ready a rimmed baking sheet. In a shallow bowl, whisk together the 2/3 cup flour, 1/2 teaspoon of the baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper until combined. Pour 2/3 cup (5 fl oz/160 ml) of the buttermilk into a second shallow bowl. One at a time, dip the chicken into the buttermilk, letting the excess liquid drip back into the bowl, then coat the chicken with the seasoned flour, shaking off the excess. Transfer to the baking sheet.
2. Set a wire rack on another rimmed baking sheet and place near the stove. Preheat the oven to 200°F (95°C). Pour oil to a depth of 1/2 inch (12 mm) into a large cast iron or other heavy frying pan and heat over high heat to 375°F (190°C) on a deep-frying thermometer. In batches if necessary, add the chicken pieces and cook, turning once, until golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part reads 165°F (74°C), about 8 minutes. Adjust the heat as needed so the oil stays at 375°F. Using tongs, transfer the chicken to the rack to drain. Keep warm in the oven.
3. While the chicken is frying, make the waffles. Have ready a third rimmed baking sheet. Preheat a waffle iron. In a bowl, sift together the 3/4 cup flour, the cornmeal, sugar, remaining 2 teaspoons baking powder, the baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. In another bowl, whisk together the remaining 2 cups (16 fl oz/500 ml) buttermilk with the melted butter and egg yolks. Add to the cornmeal mixture and stir just until combined (the batter will be lumpy). In a small bowl, using a clean whisk or a handheld mixer on high speed, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Scoop the whites over the batter and, using the whisk, gently fold them in evenly. Fold in the corn. The finished batter may retain a few small lumps.
4. If your waffle iron is not nonstick, lightly oil the grid. Ladle some of the batter onto the grid, close the lid, and cook until the waffle is golden brown, about 4 minutes. Transfer to the baking sheet and keep warm in the oven. Repeat with the remaining batter.
5. Serve the chicken and waffles piping hot with butter, honey, and hot pepper sauce passed on the side.