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How to make the perfect fried chicken and waffles

Red Rooster founder Marcus Samuelsson offers his tips for cooking tender, juicy chicken with a crisp coating, and shares his recipe for the perfect fried chicken and waffles.

By Marcus Samuelsson
Published 5 Nov 2020, 17:33 GMT, Updated 12 Nov 2020, 11:02 GMT
Learn how to make Marcus Samuelsson's fried chicken and waffles.

Learn how to make Marcus Samuelsson's fried chicken and waffles. 

Photograph by Angie Mosier

While the exact origins of fried chicken are unknown, the dish was influenced by the traditions of West Africa and, according to some historians, Scotland, but it was perfected in the American South, becoming part of special-occasion meals for enslaved people and their families. As the meat became more affordable and accessible, the popularity of the dish skyrocketed, and over the decades it’s been served with an array of different accompaniments.

Fried chicken and waffles became popular in 1930s Harlem, New York. After playing late night shows in clubs around the neighbourhood, many jazz musicians would be looking for a late-night meal that sated both breakfast and dinner cravings. And so, a legendary pairing was born.

One of the keys to juicy and tender fried chicken is a lengthy soak in buttermilk, before dredging and frying. Not only does the buttermilk help the coating adhere to the chicken, but the acidity helps to tenderise the proteins in the chicken.

Use the largest cast iron frying pan you own. The heft of it means it retains heat well, holding an even cooking temperature throughout the frying process. If you don’t have a cast iron pan, you can use a large, heavy-bottomed frying pan or a dutch oven.

To cut through the richness of fried chicken, it helps to serve it with a sauce or glaze that brings some heat, sweetness and acidity to the party. A piri piri glaze is the perfect complement, but you can simplify things by combining your favourite hot sauce with some honey.

The addition of a bit of cornmeal and cornstarch creates a crisp crust on the chicken. I like seasoning this mixture with some garlic powder and paprika, but if you don’t have these to hand, simply play around with whatever spices you have in your kitchen.

In our restaurants, we like to get creative with the types of waffles we serve with our fried chicken. Sweet potato, red velvet and cornbread are just a few examples of flavours we’ve experimented with.


Fried chicken and waffles with a piri piri glaze

In honour of chef and restaurateur Melba Wilson

A native New Yorker with strong ties to South Carolina, Melba likes to say she was ‘born, bred, and buttered’ in Harlem. Chicken and waffles originated here, when jazz musicians wanted something delicious to eat after playing all night. It’s a dish that perfectly reflects Melba and her Harlem roots. This recipe may seem intimidating, but if you make the glaze first, then boil the sweet potato for the waffles while frying the chicken, you can then keep the chicken warm in the oven as you’re making the waffles.

Takes: 3 hrs
Serves: 4-6


nonstick cooking spray, for the waffle iron
1 cup pickled vegetables, such as cucumber or cabbage (you want something bright and tangy to cut through the richness of the dish), to serve

For the piri piri glaze
Piri piri sauce (or a mild hot sauce)
¼ cup honey
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

For the fried chicken
1½ cups buttermilk
1 tbsp Frank’s RedHot sauce
8 small boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup cornmeal
1 tbsp cornflour
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp paprika
Peanut oil, for frying

For the waffles
1 small sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1½ cups wholewheat flour
¼ cup sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch of ground nutmeg
1¼ cups half and half or vanilla coconut milk
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
3 large eggs, separated

You will need
Waffle iron


1. Start by making the glaze. Whisk together the piri piri sauce, honey and olive oil in a small bowl and set aside.
2. To make the fried chicken, whisk together the buttermilk and hot sauce in a bowl large enough to hold the chicken. Add the chicken and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hrs or for up to 6 hrs.
3. Heat oven to a warm setting (or around 110C, 90C fan, gas ¼). Place a cooling rack inside a baking sheet, cover with kitchen towel and set in the oven.
4. Remove the chicken from the marinade and season all over with 1 tsp salt.
5. Combine the flour, cornmeal, cornflour, garlic powder, paprika and 1 tsp salt in a shallow dish or bowl. Toss the chicken in the mixture one thigh at a time and set aside.
6. Heat ¼ inch oil in a large cast iron skillet set over a medium-high heat and bring to 175C.
7. Carefully add the chicken, a few pieces at a time, so as to not overcrowd the pan. Fry for 4-5 mins until golden brown. Turn the chicken over and continue cooking until the other side is golden brown and the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 75C, around 5 mins. Transfer the chicken to the prepared rack in the oven and repeat until all the chicken has been cooked.
8. To make the waffles, place the sweet potato in a medium saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until the potatoes are fork-tender, around 15 to 20 mins. Drain, then return to the pan and mash until smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.
9. Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ½ tsp salt in a large mixing bowl and mix to combine.
10. Combine the sweet potatoes, half and half, butter and egg yolks in another bowl and whisk to combine.
11. Tip the egg whites into a third bowl and beat until forming stiff peaks.
12. Add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients and stir to combine, taking care not to overmix. Fold the egg whites into the batter until minimal streaks of white are showing.
13. Heat a waffle iron and spray with nonstick spray. Once hot, pour one-fourth of the batter into the waffle iron. Close the lid and cook until golden brown and cooked through, around 4 to 5 mins. Transfer the cooked waffles to the oven to keep warm. Repeat until all the batter has been used.
14. Top each waffle with two chicken thighs, drizzle with the piri piri glaze and serve with the pickled veg.

Recipe taken from The Rise: Black Cooks & the Soul of American Food, by Marcus Samuelsson with Osayi Endolyn; recipes with Yewande Komolafe and Tamie Cook; photographs by Angie Mosier (£30, Voracious). Marcus Samuelsson is also chef at Red Rooster Harlem and Red Rooster Shoreditch.

Published in Issue 10 (winter 2020) of National Geographic Traveller Food

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