Chicken and waffles—on a Tuesday
I’ve always been a bit curious that chicken isn’t more of a breakfast protein. I mean, we’ve got steak and eggs all over the place, and every part of the pig is revered at the morning meal. Even turkey has been getting its due with bacon and sausages becoming mainstream enough to be offered as options at IHOP and Dunkin’ Donuts. But chicken is overlooked at breakfast.
Perhaps it traces back to old taboos about serving parents and children on the same plate, Kosher dietary laws about mixing meat and dairy came from some biblical phrases about not cooking the kid in the milk of its mother, or something to that effect. And since the egg is the undisputed king of breakfast, perhaps it is understandable to not want to create a dining version of a before- and-after shot on one plate.
Fried chicken has been slowly making more appearances in the morning, in no small part due to the fried chicken and waffles craze, the history of which we have covered before. And many Southern or Southern-influenced restaurants have been making fried chicken biscuit sandwiches. But while these are delicious going-out-to-breakfast and brunch options, they are an occasional special treat sort of thing, and I don’t know anyone who makes them at home.
So, beyond the world’s most perfect breakfast of leftover cold fried chicken right out of the fridge, I wondered if there were a way to get chicken on the menu at home, without the need for reservations or pants.
I love chicken and waffles but getting up on a weekday to start frying things and dragging out the waffle iron seemed like more trouble than it is worth. My first thought was simply frozen chicken tenders and frozen waffles, which is a great place to start, but in general, frozen chicken tenders are usually pumped full of chemicals and preservatives and all sorts of stuff I don’t really want to eat. Making my own chicken tenders, to stash in the freezer for quick morning match-ups with a toaster waffle appeared to be the best plan, but again, not really worth telling you about—until I decided to turn the chicken tender on its head.
A perusal of my poultry case in search of chicken tenderloins came up empty, but next to the vacant slot where they usually live, there were packages of thin sliced chicken breasts. Designed for use in cutlets or piccatas, these wide thin pieces of chicken breast suddenly seemed to call out for being turned into breakfast. I brought them home, smeared some hot pepper jelly on them, and rolled them up into tubes that looked kind of like chicken tenders. But of course, you can’t just leave them like that—they’ll unroll—so I needed a way to hold them together. Enter thin-sliced bacon, wrapped in a spiral around the chicken rolls kept everything in a neat little package. I made a batch and stashed them in the fridge to firm up while I contemplated coating.
I seasoned some flour with salt, pepper, and a Cajun style seasoning. I used Jimmy Bannos’ Angel Dust, but Tony Chachere's seasoning mix, or any other seasoning blend you like, will work. I dosed some buttermilk with a few dashes of hot sauce and went with a flour/buttermilk/flour dunking.
I shallow-fried them in peanut oil, and once cooked and drained, froze them in a single layer on a sheet pan, and then stashed them in a zip-top bag. The next morning, I cranked my oven to 400°F, popped a few in there, and while the coffee was brewing and the waffles were toasting, my fried tenders heated up and re-crisped. A little maple syrup, and a few dashes of hot sauce for my husband who loves the heat in the morning, and we had a super fancy chicken and waffles breakfast. On a TUESDAY.
The recipe multiplies up endlessly, so if you’re going to bother to get the oil spatters happening, make a big batch so that you have them on hand. The pepper jelly in the inside even gives you enough sweetness to be able to just eat them one-handed on the drive to work if you don’t have time for a whole waffle situation, but be prepared for crumbs.
Feel free to experiment with other smears, I think mango chutney, onion jam, ginger jam or tomato jam would all be great in this, same with honey mustard or bbq sauce.
Fried Bacon-Wrapped Rolled Chicken Tenders
1 pound thin sliced chicken breasts
3 tablespoons hot pepper jelly (or another spread you like)
½ pound thin-sliced bacon
1 ½ cups buttermilk mixed with 4 dashes hot sauce
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon Cajun style seasoning mix
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
Peanut oil for frying
Spread about a teaspoon of jelly on one side of each slice of chicken, and then roll up the long way to make a rolled tube of chicken. (If you roll the short way the tender will be too thick and will burn on the outside before cooking through in the middle.) Using 1 piece of bacon per tube, wrap the chicken in a spiral fashion, stretching the bacon as you go to make sure that the wrapping is tight and helps to create a compact piece. Tuck the ends of the bacon under themselves, and set on a rack over a sheet pan and put in the fridge for about 20-30 minutes to firm up, or in your freezer for 10-15 minutes.
Set up a breading station with the buttermilk in a shallow dish, and the flour mixed with the seasonings in a second shallow dish. Dip the tenders gently in the seasoned flour first, just to coat, then in the buttermilk, then back in the flour, and back onto the rack. When all of the tenders have been coated, let them sit uncovered at room temperature while you wait for the oil to heat.
Pour about a half-inch of peanut oil in the bottom of a nonstick skillet or well-seasoned cast iron pan. Heat over medium high heat for about 3 minutes. When it is shimmering, drop a small pinch of the flour mixture into the oil, it should immediately start to sizzle. Carefully place your tenders into the oil with plenty of room between them, you will likely have to do this in batches unless you have a giant skillet. Cook, turning about every 2 minutes, on all 4 sides until the breading is golden browned and crispy, and the tenders register 165°F on a meat thermometer. Drain on a rack over a sheet pan. When they are all done, transfer the rack to your freezer and let freeze solid. Then move them into a zip-top freezer storage bag.
To reheat, place in a single layer on a rack over a sheet pan in a 400°F degree oven for 18-20 minutes. If you have an air fryer, that would work great for these as well. Serve with toaster waffles and maple syrup.