Monday, January 21, 2013

Easy (and Healthy) Chicken and Waffles

So up here in Canada, there's not much of a 'chicken and waffle' culture. But it's catching on. I've heard there's a local restaurant that serves a version for Sunday brunch. And I've seen it enough times on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives that I perk up at the mention.

An ex-chef friend of ours invited us for dinner in November, and tried his own version. He fried the chicken in a traditional style, and then served it atop the waffles with a dollop of cranberry sauce, creme fraiche and smothered the whole thing in a maple-chicken reduction. I vaguely remember coleslaw on the side.

The entire dish was amazing—every mouthful made me think, "MORE!" Half-way through my serving, I was thinking, "I am definitely going back for seconds." (in spite of the fact that this was the third course of a rich meal, following creamy cauliflower soup with bacon and mussels and a fantastic mushroom quiche). However, my body caught up with me. Only two bites later, the deep-fried, creamy, sweet concoction hit the bottom of my stomach with an almost audible thud, and I was instantly over-full and uncomfortable.

Isn't that always the trouble with fried chicken?

Well, in a sort of meandering way that I've started to adopt in the kitchen, thanks to an overstuffed freezer and a workload that often gets in the way of my preferred meal plan approach, I managed to make my own version of chicken and waffles today, which was relatively low in effort, healthy (aka lower in calories and high on fibre), and absolutely delicious. So the answer to "does the chicken in 'chicken and waffles' have to be fried?" is, no. Unless you're a purist.

I am often a purist, but on weekdays, I allow myself to stray far from pure.

I began considering what to do with some turkey pieces that I have in my freezer (as an aside, I ordered a gorgeous fresh farm turkey this year for the sole purpose of cutting it down so that I can use the breasts to make Turkey Mole Poblano. The benefit of getting the turkey breast is that I also got a fresh carcass with which to make stock and I froze two packages of a single leg, thigh and wing together to make other meals. Since the Mole Poblano requires a substantial time commitment, I haven't yet accomplished that, but I've really been enjoying the turkey pieces). There aren't a lot of recipes online, or anywhere, really, for turkey pieces. You're usually expected to cook the whole bird, or just the breast, or use ground turkey. But I discovered tonight that you can truly just season and roast the pieces for a couple of hours, with great success.

I've also been tired of trying to figure out side dishes. I think it's partly the winter blues, and resenting having so little good quality fresh food to work with, partly a lingering virus that has been sapping my energy, and partly burnout from the Christmas cooking season. Anyway, I thought through all the grains I have and the options of root vegetables, and couldn't really get behind any particular recipe. Until I thought about waffles.

We had just had an impressive breakfast of pumpkin pancakes (our favourite pancake recipe, with a 1/4 c. of pumpkin, 1/2 t. cinnamon, a pinch of cloves, and 1/4 t. each ginger and nutmeg), crisped prosciutto and scrambled eggs with salted herbs, and I was still swooning over the pancakes. Could waffles be a side dish? Why not? They're a traditional match for chicken, after all! We also had some mediocre chicken gravy left over from a slow cooker chicken that my hubby had prepared on the weekend while I was attending a conference. The chicken had since been turned into lunch time noodle soup, so the gravy needed using. I thought, "I bet if I added maple syrup to that gravy, it would be just the thing for chicken and waffles."

So I put the turkey on to roast, seasoned with Kosher salt, black pepper, and smoked paprika. I found a delicious sounding whole grain waffle recipe in Mark Bittman's Food Matters. The recipe was thoughtfully posted by another blogger, stirandstitch, here. I must also say that one of the reasons I hadn't yet tried the recipe is that dividing eggs and whipping up egg whites is a little too involved for me, early in the morning. At dinner time, however, it's a-ok. I also added a cup of frozen corn kernels, just to make it a bit more dinner-like.

I topped the waffles with a bit of roast turkey, drizzled the maple gravy over top (I really don't know how to tell you quantities for the maple gravy. I re-heated about 1 1/2 cups of gravy, drizzled in a couple of glugs of maple syrup, stirred, tasted, and added another glug. Probably about 1/3 of a cup, if I had to guess, but don't quote me. Just glug and taste), and served with a side of steamed green beans and a tossed salad. The kids at the table were VERY quiet, which we always judge to be a good sign. And my husband and I liked it too. And it did not hit my stomach like a lead weight, as fried chicken is wont to do. So I could have seconds!