My parents' formative years were in the midst of the Cultural Revolution. They spent most of their childhoods in the countryside in spartan conditions hard to imagine today. For my mother, oranges were unspeakably precious and savored in tiny bites on special occasions; my dad was able to spot and catch small fish swimming in the flooded rice paddies of his hometown.
Experiences like these instilled a careful minimalist culture into the Chinese immigrant wave of the 80's and 90's. Purchases were carefully considered, haggled, delayed. This was true of our own household and particularly in our kitchen - which is unquestionably good and prudent in many cases. Why buy single-purpose gadgets? There are actually individual tools for apple coring, avocado de-seeding, and cherry pitting; I reject them with little regret. But there are some kitchen appliances that I've invested in that were never considered critical, or even relevant, to my parents' kitchen. Areas of potential disagreement would be blenders, mixers, and most recently... a waffle iron!
I firmly believe the waffle iron transcends single-use appliance status, and I'm en route to proving it. Waffles aren't just for lazy weekend brunches - just look at the popularity of the Instagram hashtag #willitwaffle and you'll see use cases galore. (Side note: a little absurd that in this post I've gone from talking about foraging in the countryside to documenting meals on social media four decades later.) A waffle has the versatility of flatbread but with shorter cooking time and higher entertainment value. It's all crispy edges and plush flavor-absorbing pockets, the perfect vehicle for toppings savory or sweet.
This particular chicken & waffle combination has a lot going on. The waffle is made with mildly nutty millet flour and loaded with sesame, scallion and five-spice - all common in various Chinese pancakes and bread recipes. I topped the waffles with chicken sauteed in shacha paste, a dried shrimp-based sauce hefty with briny umami and husky garlic flavors. Chicken skin cracklins, crispy fried shallots, and sauteed yuchoy added crunch and bite. The whole combination can be folded in half and messily devoured, each luxurious bite the complete antithesis of minimalism.
The waffle maker is now crammed in a cupboard between my popsicle molds and vegetable spiralizer. I intend to make ample use of it - thank you #willitwaffle! - but how circuitous, and how lucky, to be able to justify consumption with consumption.
Shacha Chicken & Waffle Recipe (serves 4)
Ingredients: Shacha Chicken
- 4-6 chicken thighs, skin on and bone in
- 2 tbsp rice wine
- 2 tbsp shacha sauce
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp fish sauce
Ingredients: Other toppings (optional)
- 1 small bunch of yu choy, or any other greens, chopped with the tough stalks removed
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- Crispy fried shallots
- 1 cup millet flour
- 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
- 2 tsp sugar
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp five spice powder
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 3/4 cup milk
- 1/2 cup oil, plus more for waffle iron
- 1 scallion
- 2 tbsp sesame seeds
Make the chicken skin cracklins: Carefully remove the skins, dry with a paper towel, and slice into vertical strips. Place them in a single layer in a cold, dry, nonstick pan. Turn the heat to low - the fat will slowly render out and the chicken skins will begin to dry up. Gradually turn up the heat, up to medium high, and wait for the chicken skins to begin to curl and turn golden and crispy. Remove the chicken cracklins to a paper towel lined plate and blot them dry. They will continue to crisp up as they air dry; when they are fully dry you can salt/pepper/season them as you wish. Discard all but a tablespoon of the rendered chicken fat.
Make the shacha sauce: Mix shacha sauce, rice wine, soy sauce, and fish sauce with the rendered chicken fat. Set aside 1/2 of this mixture, thinning it with water as needed, as a dipping sauce for the waffles when serving.
Marinate the chicken: Slice the chicken into bite-size strips and mix it with the remaining shacha sauce mixture. Marinate for ~30 minutes. Meanwhile, make the waffle batter and saute the yu choy.
Make the waffle batter: Combine dry ingredients (through five spice powder) in a large bowl and mix thoroughly. In a separate bowl, mix the beaten egg, milk, and oil. Form a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients; mix until just combined and not lumpy, taking care to not over-mix otherwise the waffles will be tough. Set aside and refrigerate.
Cook the yu choy: Heat garlic over high heat until lightly fragrant. Add the yu choy and soy sauce, saute over high heat until stalks are tender and the leaves are wilted. Set aside, covered, to stay warm.
Cook the chicken: Heat oil in a saute pan over high heat, and toss in the marinated chicken. Stir-fry until cooked through, and set aside, covered, while you cook the waffles.
Make the waffles: Lightly grease a waffle iron. Pour in the batter (amount will vary depending on your waffle iron), then sprinkle in scallions and sesame seeds evenly. Cook the waffle according to device directions. With my waffle iron I made four large circular waffles. For waffles not eaten immediately, keep them warm in the oven.
Serve: Top each waffle with yu choy, chicken, crispy shallots, and chicken skin cracklins.