I was watching the Master Chef cooking show on Television and one of the challenge dishes was chicken and waffles. It was touted as a Southern comfort food. I grew up in Missouri and vacationed with relatives in Arkansas and Oklahoma and went to college in Texas. Never were chicken and waffles on the menu anywhere. So as any good TV show or movie or book should do, it sent me to research and to read about this dish. And in this day and age that means browsing the web for information. As a kid I would have gone to the end of the hallway to the bookcase in which the World Book Encyclopedia was housed. I have fond memories of those Encyclopedias. That is where I found the college in Texas that I attended and graduated from, Baylor University.
Back to the food issue: According to what I read it may have originated after the Civil War among folks who relocated to the North. It apparently is not in the earliest southern cookery books. And in my youth when KFC was Kentucky Fried Chicken the offering was chicken and biscuits with mashed potatoes and gravy with side of coleslaw. No waffles there! Also according to what I read it is a variation of fried chicken served with some bread. Waffles are a quick bread. The waffle iron was introduced to America by Thomas Jefferson who brought it home from France. And ‘waffles with stewed chicken’ has been a Pennsylvania Dutch dish for centuries. (A few years ago npr wrote about this same topic. If I knew how to insert a link I would put it here)
My mom made pancakes, not waffles. We did not have a waffle iron. The waffles we ate for a fast breakfast were small rectangle ones that came from the frozen food section of the local Kroger. After my older sister moved back home with my parents her kitchen stuff came with her. I remember visiting and seeing a waffle iron sitting on top of the fridge. It was not used. I had small children and I actually thought about taking it back East with me but I did not know how to operate it and felt intimidated by it. The house has been cleared out now for years so hopefully it found a good home. Perhaps my niece took it but I do not know.
My daughter got married and she received a waffle maker for her home. She made waffle making look easy. So one day when she and her husband and I and my husband were out “tag-sale-ing” I picked up a waffle iron for $5. I’m making waffles one fine Saturday morning for them and I think I saw a small blue arc when I plugged it in. But perhaps my eyes deceived me or I just denied it to myself! Half-way through the waffle making the blue arc returned in full force with accompanying smoke and crackles; I reach behind the appliance quickly and pull the plug from the wall. Needless to say we ate pancakes that morning and that $5 went into the trash. (Actually it was an appliance so we took it to the town dump for disposal). My daughter soon replaced it with a brand new one for Christmas that year. What a sweetheart! Now I do make waffles on occasion for weekend breakfasts with no fear of starting an electrical fire in my kitchen. Any leftovers freeze well for reheating in the toaster. But I have not made chicken and waffles, nor do I plan to.
Now fried chicken was served frequently in my childhood home. My mom had a marvelously large steel or aluminum skillet with a domed lid. (I was unable to find this when we cleared out the house. It was not “old blackie” the cast iron one.) She would buy whole chickens, cut them up into parts, put a large scoop of Crisco in the pan and when it was good and hot she would drop in the chicken parts. To prepare the chicken parts she would lay out a sheet of wax paper on the counter on which she separated the parts. She then liberally sprinkled them with salt and pepper and dusted them with flour. She turned the pieces over and sprinkled them again with flour so they were mostly covered. The chicken had its skin left on. It was not the crispy crusty chicken one buys at Popeye’s or KFC but was good eating. This was served with mashed potatoes and cream gravy. The gravy was made from the drippings in the frying pan.
So this brings us to chicken fried steak, or country fried steak depending on what part of the country you live and if eating it at home or at a restaurant. My mom did fry steak similarly to how she fried chicken. I don’t remember her calling it “chicken-fried”. This was a popular meal to have at one restaurant/bar I occasionally frequented in Waco. In her older years Mom would order this at the local Bob Evans Restaurant .My husband had his first taste of this dish when we were vacationing in Virginia this year. I decided to make it for him at home.
We start with cube steak. Be sure to have a mallet, waxed or parchment paper, salt and pepper, and flour. Since I am a bit fancier of a cook than my mom I also have a bowl of egg beaten with a splash of milk. I am thinking this will make a crustier version than Mom’s. It does a little. Pound out the meat even though it has pounded out markings on it coming out of the package. Use salt and pepper as desired and flour it and then pound the flour into the meat. Turn the meat and repeat. Heat a small amount of cooking oil in the cast iron skillet and get it good and hot. Dip the pounded meat into the egg bowl and then flour it again on both sides. Fry up the steak a few minutes on each side so as not to overcook. Remove steaks from pan. Make your gravy: scrape up the bits in the pan, add flour and milk. My husband snuck in some half-and half so we had creamy gravy! I do not always have success with gravy. I had to add a bit more butter and I put in a bit too much flour.
My husband tells me that I’m spending time with my mom (she died in 2003) every time I go through her recipe books and think of her when I am in my kitchen cooking. Hi Mom, I love you always.