Have you ever made a guest list for a party and thought “hmm, I don’t know if these two people will get along…”? Sometimes they get along famously, and other times, well not so much. This often happens in fusion cuisine as well. Sometimes, ideas are just so crazy that they work, and other times they are as bad as they originally sounded.
Chicken and waffles is the quintessential example of when it works.
Who would’ve thought these opposites would attract and stay together for years to come?
In the April issue of Food Network Magazine, Ted Allen issued a Chopped challenge to the readers. You’re familiar with the show Chopped, right? It’s where four chefs compete against each other, the clock, and a mystery basket full of ingredients that are often downright bizarre.
The ingredients for the challenge were peanut butter, chicken breast, frozen cherries, and sauerkraut.
My first two thoughts were “ingredients that don’t belong together” and “reuben sandwich”.
That first thought made me think along the lines of chicken and waffles, because they seem like they don’t belong together but actually work. And so, after brainstorming a few ideas, I reluctantly decided to introduce the two vastly different dishes…
Sauerkraut made me think of a reuben sandwich which is the only time I’ve ever enjoyed sauerkraut. If you’ve never had a reuben sandwich, it consists of rye bread, corned beef, sauerkraut, Russian dressing (thousand island), and usually swiss cheese. Because I had bought rye flour for this dish, i decided to try my hand at baking bread for the first time. I made a dark rye bread adapted from George’s recipe featured over at Simply Recipes. I was actually surprised that this turned out quite wonderful on the first try, especially since I am not typically a huge fan of rye bread.
For the Chopped Challenge dish, I decided it might be possible to make a reuben sandwich using waffles instead of bread, and fried chicken instead of corned beef. I thought maybe I could incorporate the butter into the waffle batter, as well as rye flour and caraway seed so that the reubeness would come through. I had two ideas for how to use the cherries. One was to pickle the cherries and mince them up as part of a Russian dressing, which would really transform the ingredient in an unpredictable way. Russian dressing is made from mayonnaise, ketchup, and pickle relish. For this dressing I used mayo, hot sauce, and pickled cherry relish. The other was to make a cherry syrup which made sense with the waffles.
I fried the chicken according to my taste; brined the chicken breast, seasoned the flour with salt, pepper, and some cajun seasoning. I used buttermilk for both the chicken and the waffles. I borrowed my friend’s waffle maker, and I borrowed a peanut butter waffle recipe from Tracey over at her blog. The only major difference being that I added rye flour and ground, toasted caraway seeds, which are ingredients for rye bread.
Yes I am aware of just how odd this dish sounds…. Now the real question (besides “uh what the heck?”) is “will it taste good?”
Although I was doubtful all the way up to the first bite (well maybe the third), the answer is a resounding “yes!”
Surprisingly the component that really brought it together was the Russian cherry sauce.
I also had two friends try this, and our conclusion was “magically delicious”. None of us thought it would be good, but we all fully enjoyed a whole sandwich, which were really filling. I’m surprised that it worked, especially with the sauerkraut, but it really had a great contrast of flavors that was unexpected in a pleasant way.
I also served this wonderfully strange sandwich with sweet potato fries, which is something I have been making since before I knew how to cook. I ended up using the cherry syrup I experimented with to dip the fries in, which was pretty good, but if I had to choose just one of these cherry sauces to have I would have to go with the Russian dressing.
I don’t think I won the contest, not that I was expecting to. Although I thought the dish turned out really well, and maybe would’ve won if I was on the show, the contest was really looking for a solid recipe. I didn’t even get to share pictures, which I think could’ve helped. The problem was I didn’t really have a specific recipe, and there were too many components anyway. Recipe contests generally have accessibility as one of the judging factors. So for those reasons, and because I can’t see any probable reason why anyone would want to re-create this, I’m not sharing a specific recipe. I just wanted to share this fun experience. If not for the Chopped basket, there is absolutely no way I would’ve ever come up with this dish. Being fans of the show, my significant other has been inspired to go collect crazy ingredients and give me a mystery basket to work with. We think it will challenge me as a chef and push the limits of my comfort zone. I will post those crazy challenges on my blog as well!
Until next time,
May the fish be with you, young rainbow trout!
~Maki Zavelli, over and out <(^_^<)