Kentucky Fried Chicken first debuted chicken and waffles in November 2018, but sold out quickly. The fast-food chain is now bringing the dish back for one week, March 23-29, 2019.
“The sweet and savory pairing combines the Colonel’s famous fried chicken recipe with a Belgian Liege-style waffle that’s sweeter and doughier than American-style waffles. A packet of Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup comes on the side,” reports Cleveland.
KFC’s U.S. chief marketing officer Andrea Zahumensky said in a statement, “We underestimated how much love there would be, so we’re bringing it back just four months later.”
Which came first, the chicken or the waffle?
Whatever you think of chicken and waffles, the dish’s origin is of some debate. A recipe for fried chicken called Pullum Frontonianum can be found in a 4th-century Roman cookbook. Meanwhile, waffles date to ancient Greece.
Fried chicken is southern. “From the colonial period through the early 1800s, African slaves were doing most of the cooking in Southern kitchens,” reports Tori Avey for PBS. “In 1881, in her book What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking, African American cook Abby Fisher shared a recipe for fried chicken.”
Meanwhile, Dutch immigrants to New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania in the 17th century brought waffle irons with them.
One American, in particular, had a fascination with the waffle. “After a stretch as American foreign minister to France, Thomas Jefferson returned to the United States in 1789 and brought with him many novelties and curiosities from across Europe. Included in the lot were four waffle irons that he acquired in Amsterdam,” writes Will Price.
So You’ve got This Chicken and You’ve got This Waffle
Late in the 19th century, home stove tops grew more common.
It wasn’t until the 1930s, says southern food scholar John T. Edge, that “the combo [of chicken and waffles] was a signature offering at Well’s Supper Club – a Harlem haunt that was a favorite of Sammy Davis Jr. and Nat King Cole. Out in Los Angeles, Roscoe’s chain of soul food restaurants brought chicken and waffles to the Hollywood crowd starting in the 1970s.”
Chicken and waffles were commercially popularized in the 1930s, but the dish is likely as old as breakfast in many rural American places where cooking a fresh chicken for breakfast was common, says Edge, including the Midwest and in Pennsylvania Dutch country where people pair waffles with creamed chicken. The variation, then, exists in the frying of the chicken; that makes chicken and waffles of Greco-Roman origin by way of the African American South with a Dutch American innovation and finally born to the world in Harlem from where it migrated west.
Then again, “Sometime between 7,500 to 5,000 B.C.E., humans living in Southeast Asia domesticated wild jungle fowl, or the ancestors of modern-day chickens (Gallus domesticus) … We see early accounts of fried chicken in China, the Middle East, and West Africa, but those dishes tended to be made with a ‘twice-cooked’ approach, where the meat is butchered and quickly fried, and then braised in a liquid for a longer period of time. The preferred cooking method changed when fried chicken arrived in Great Britain and its American colonies,” reports Adrian Miller, who also cites the earliest fried chicken recipe in the US as appearing in a British cookbook in 1747.
There is More Than one way to eat Chicken and Waffles
KFC serves chicken and waffle in nugget and mini-waffle form. Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup comes on the side because, for all the extras that can be added (you can eat chicken and waffles like a sandwich), there are four essentials to good chicken and waffles: quality fried chicken, a waffle, syrup, and butter.
Nicole A. Taylor reported for Extra Crispy in 2017 that Waffle House, the 24/7 southern diner famous for its hurricane scale as much as its hashbrowns, does not serve chicken and waffles. True, Waffle House does not deep fry chicken. You can, however, order a waffle and a grilled chicken breast à la carte, and have a favorite all night southern snack made to order. While grilled chicken and waffles are not for purists, the dish tastes good, too, and like its predecessor is an innovation of time and place.
The first KFC opened in Corbin, Kentucky in the form of a modified Shell filling station. It now has locations around the globe.