When you tell a chef to stay inside, things are bound to get a little wild in the kitchen. This week Chef Alex Saggiomo turned dinner up a notch with Thai-inspired chicken & waffles.

chicken and waffles
Chicken and waffles with a twist

I’m a big fan of chicken & waffles, but making them at home always seemed a little too indulgent.

Until now. 

When I started quarantining, I threw out the rulebook. Cooking these days is about what makes you feel good. For some that might be a salad, but for me…it’s chicken & waffles. I wanted to do something a little different, and after opening the fridge for inspiration, it hit me (literally, a jar of sambaal fell on my foot), do a Thai version!

Things started to come together quickly with ingredients that I already had on hand: I made a marinade for the chicken out of fish sauce, garlic, ginger, chili powder, brown sugar, and cilantro.  I used boneless/skinless thighs for their quick cooking time and ability to stay juicy. The flavors in the marinade are so intense that it only needs to marinate for an hour. A quick 50/50 all-purpose flour and cornstarch breading meant that I’d have super crispy chicken with hardly any effort. 

Now for the waffles: I decided to use coconut milk in place of traditional dairy, and added some grated ginger and lime zest to ramp up the flavor. A last minute splash of sambaal and an addition of toasted coconut flakes (leftover from a baking project) gave the batter the jolt it needed. 

While the waffles cooked, I knew I’d need a sauce to bring it all together. Using the flavor profiles of a traditional satay, I blended peanut butter with lime juice, a splash of fish sauce, coconut milk, a little more sambaal, and some maple syrup. I don’t know what to call it, but it was delicious. To top it all off, a quick compound butter infused with cilantro, mint, and basil gave the dish a much needed hit of brightness.

While they weren’t traditional by any stretch, they did exactly what they were intended to: keep a smile on my face and transport me to somewhere far away from my apartment…at least until it was time to do the dishes.

Recipe: Thai-Style Chicken & Waffles

serves 2-4

For the chicken:

  • 1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced 
  • 1 tablespoon ginger, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced cilantro 
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce 
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar 
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cornstarch

For the waffles:

  • 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 14-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon sambaal oelek
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted
  • ¾ cup toasted coconut flakes (optional)

For the sweet and spicy peanut sauce:

  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons sambaal
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup

For the herb compound butter:

  • 1/4 Cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon basil leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon mint leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon cilantro leaves, finely chopped

1. In a bowl, mix the garlic, ginger, cilantro, fish sauce, brown sugar and chili powder; rub over the chicken and let stand for up to 1 hour.

2. While the chicken marinades, prepare your waffle batter. In a medium bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture; set aside. In another medium bowl add the eggs, coconut milk, sambaal, and melted butter. Add egg mixture all at once to flour mixture. Stir just until moistened (batter should be slightly lumpy). Stir in coconut flakes.

3. To make the peanut sauce, in a blender, combine all of the ingredients and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

chicken and waffles peanut sauce
Finished peanut sauce

4. On a large plate, combine the flour and cornstarch; season with salt and pepper. Working one at a time, pat any excess marinade off the chicken and transfer to the flour-cornstarch mixture; toss to thoroughly coat. In a large pan, heat a thin layer of oil on medium-high until hot. Once hot enough that a pinch of flour sizzles immediately when added to the pan, add the breaded chicken. Cook 6 to 7 minutes per side, or until golden brown and cooked through. Transfer the cooked chicken to a paper towel-lined plate; immediately season with salt and pepper.

5. While the chicken cooks, pour 1/2 cup of batter onto grids of a preheated, lightly greased waffle maker. Bake according to manufacturer’s directions (mine took about 3 minutes). When done, finished waffles can be kept warm in a 250°F oven. Repeat with remaining batter.

6. While the waffles cook, in a small bowl, combine the butter and minced herbs; season with salt and pepper. Using a fork, mash to combine.

7. Place a waffle (or two—lean in!) on a plate; top with the fried chicken. Drizzle with the peanut sauce and top with the herb butter. Eat until your smile takes up your entire face.

Consider pairing with an adventurous cocktail.