Chicken and Waffles the Amish Way

Casey Barber

by Casey Barber on February 28, 2013

Brace yourself: we’re about to travel deep into the hinterlands of Pennsylvania once again for one of those “only in PA” culinary specialties that surprise and mystify the population at large. This time, it’s chicken and waffles—not the famous Southern version with fried chicken and maple syrup, but the kind I grew up eating with roasted chicken, yellow gravy, and sometimes, for that extra helping of carbs, a scoop of mashed potatoes.

amish pennsylvania dutch chicken and waffles
An Amish/Pennsylvania Dutch specialty, this curious compilation is seen more frequently in the towns east of Pittsburgh, where it pops up on local restaurant and buffet menus from State College to Lancaster to Reading. “Whenever I’ve tried to discuss our style of chicken and waffles with people, they seem confused until I explain that the waffles are just a nice alternative to dumplings or mashed potatoes with a roast chicken dinner (or, at my grandma’s house, an addition to mashed potatoes!),” said food writer and northeastern Pennsylvania native Michele Laudig. “It’s the starch that soaks up all the delicious gravy.”

Unlike Michele’s experiences, this wasn’t a meal served at home for my family. Chicken and waffles were a special-occasion food, a delicacy available when we gussied ourselves up to go to the Oakhurst Tea Room in Somerset, which has been serving the dish since 1933. It’s still part of their smorgasbord buffet and available on the lunch menu, where they’ll let you choose stuffing or french fries in place of the mashed potatoes if you so desire, but warn that there’s “No half portion on Waffle unless two people are splitting it.”

It was also often the closest I came to religion. The dish has always been a staple of Pennsylvania church and community fairs, served in the cool linoleum-floored basement meeting halls as a fundraising tool and counterpoint to the fresh-squeezed lemonade and Slushies from the outdoor booths. Despite not being Catholic, I ate my fair share of chicken and waffles from St. Benedict’s church on Bedford St., tagging along with friends during our summer vacations.

amish pennsylvania dutch chicken and waffles
Once we moved closer to Pittsburgh and further away from the more traditionally rural Pennsylvania Dutch communities, chicken and waffles fell off my culinary radar. I got my driver’s license and spent weekends eating Denny’s caesar salad and seasoned fries (with a side of caesar dressing for dipping!), Boston Market side item samplers, and Eat n’ Park clam chowder with friends, forgetting my food roots as so many teenagers do in favor of the communal booths of chain restaurants. Now that I’m older and look at my upbringing through a nostalgic lens, I think it’s time to bring chicken and waffles back to prominence.

Though the Amish chicken and waffle combo has been spotted as far south as Baltimore, it sadly hasn’t made the leap to nationwide fame. While I understand the appealing mash-up of fried, salty, and sweet that’s brought Southern chicken and waffles to icon status, the “epic comfort food” (as Michele calls it) deserves a bigger place at the table.

Why don’t more Pennsylvania-bred chefs tweak it for their menus and give it an upscale spin? Meat and Potatoes, the downtown Pittsburgh gastropub, does a Southern version with fried chicken, bourbon and bacon-infused syrup, and a savory cheddar jalapeño waffle for brunch, but ignores the PA heritage version entirely. (They also do a fancy bologna sandwich for lunch, but that’s another story.) Supper in Philadelphia serves chicken over a biscuit with truffle mustard cream sauce, which is at least a step closer to my goal of a chicken and waffle on every plate, but it’s still a nearly fruitless search.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to make it at home with the remnants of my roasted chicken, a quick batch of waffles, and a pan of poultry gravy—it’s gotta be creamy, and it’s gotta have that golden hue. If you’re from Pennsylvania and have memories of chicken and waffles, leave your thoughts in the comments. I’d love to hear your variations and if you’ve seen it elsewhere in the country.

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{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

Alice Williams April 21, 2014 at 2:44 pm

I tried chicken and waffles for the first time this last weekend at a restaurant in Huntingdon, PA. It was made the Amish way and I always wanted to try it. It was great and I plan on making it at home with leftover chicken and gravy. The only thing I would have added is a little cranberry sauce. The real thing not the canned.

That is one thing scratched off my bucket list!!

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Russ Longenberger April 23, 2014 at 9:46 am

Sent this recipe to a good friend in Georgia who never heard of chicken & waffles!!
She told me CHICKEN was for Lunch or Dinner & Waffles were for Breakfast.. WE WILL SEE

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Lois April 28, 2014 at 9:25 am

So happy to have run across your website and the story/recipe on my childhood favorite meal, chicken and waffles! I am a native Pennsylvanian, raised in Erie but my mom, who made C & W on a bi-weekly basis, was from Central PA around Williamsport. I’ve since moved to Michigan, and in my travels, find nothing but the “syrup” instead of chicken gravy version wherever I’ve found it on a menu. I was so excited to find a Waffle House, sure that they would offer the “correct” version of it, but alas, again, not the right one.
It’s such a wonderful concoction, I’ve made it for friends who are initially skeptical, then happy, blissed- out converts to the gravy over the waffles. I keep it simple, just fried chicken ( or rotisserie in a hurry), gravy, waffles and perhaps a vegetable such as green beans as a side dish. Perfection! I hope fellow PA’ers keep making this dish generation after generation. It’s too wonderful to let go by the wayside. Maple syrup with your waffles? Fooey! That’s for breakfast!

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Lois DiAndrea May 20, 2014 at 12:44 pm

What fun to read your article.When I was still a girl living at home, my mother would go into Johnstown (where we are from) and pick up my grandmother and her waffle iron. This was laways a good sign, since we knew chicken and waffle would be Sunday’s dinner. Roast chicken, mashed potatoes, dressing and waffles. Peas might also show up, after all the goal is to get as many carbs as possible on one plate.The waffle iron would sit on the end of the table and my mother would bake waffles until we would all just about burst. Now and then I get a real need for chicken and waffles and to the chuckles of my husband and children indulge that craving. Oh, and I still have my grandmothers waffle iron. It makes the thinnest most crispy waffles to soak up all that wonderful creamy gravy. Think I’ll go and roast a chicken right now!! I live in southwestern New Mexico (Truth or Consequences, NM) now, how long do you think it will take chicken and waffles to make it to the land of enchantment. You know it would have to have green chilies in the gravy, maybe on a blue corn meal waffle!!

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Casey Barber May 20, 2014 at 3:43 pm

Oh, Lois, you’re speaking my language with this Southwestern U.S./Southwestern PA mashup… I will most definitely have to make blue corn waffles with chili-rubbed chicken and gravy with green chilies! You’re so lucky to still have your grandmother’s waffle iron too.

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Becky June 26, 2014 at 9:50 pm

I am from central PA and this is probably my favorite meal by far. However, I now live in Reading and have not come across chicken and waffles at any of the restaurants I’ve eaten at. I would be very grateful if you could point me in the right direction in this neck of the woods!!

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Rich July 31, 2014 at 8:57 pm

This is the ONLY chicken & waffles I have ever known. Being from PA Dutch country I’ve learned the real way to make lots of foods. I usually “cheat” and incorporate a can of cream of chicken soup in the gravy for flavor and consistency. Also I always mix the chicken into the gravy before serving. It makes a more blended mixture.

Fried chicken sitting on a waffle is just that. Maybe the waffle is there to soak up the grease?

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Lex D'Messiah August 6, 2014 at 1:40 am

Hi,
My Mother made this all the time while I was growing up – she was from NE PA.
I think a good point to make about this dish is that its not something you make with a lot of spices – just plain old chicken (or turkey is great too ) so if using a rotisserie chicken get the skin off and rinse the meat slightly.
Mom used to use Cambell’s cream of chicken in the gravy to make it thick without adding a lot of flour or cornstarch etc.
Another point to make is that the waffles MUST be the bisquick kind – very simple baking soda type waffles – no added sugar or sweeteners.

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Lex D'Messiah August 6, 2014 at 1:45 am

p.s. Make a pot of gravy and add the meat to it – let it mingle for a long time. You can add carrots or celery or both – but I personally feel that ruins the flavor. To me this is a very specific comfort food.
serve with cranberry on the side and its perfect as is.

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Jay Blauch September 18, 2014 at 2:19 am

The way I was taught is as follows. The Waffles you have pretty much correct, but I make a larger batch and use the rest for breakfast, snack, or sandwich. (maybe a little sweeter by adding a Tbs or 2 when whipping the egg whites). For the chicken, I place a 2lb fryer (split) to a pot, add more if you want more chicken, sometimes I use 2 or combinations of legs thighs, (leg quarters) and/or half breast) It all depends on which “meat” you desire. (If it is white, can use all breasts,(bones help) but some thigh and leg brings out better flavor. Anyways, place the chicken in a pot, add 1 or 2 cans chicken broth (yes, I know that’s cheating), I also add about a Tbs or so of “chicken Base” (used for soup shortcuts) do not know how “chicken bouillon cubes” would work. Boil/Simmer for about an hour till done. Remove chicken, let cool till you can handle. Meanwhile, you could be making the waffles…lol. When chicken cool enough to handles, remove skin and discard (unless you have a pet that would devour it. lol). remove bone, discard the bone, tear, pull or cut chicken to desired size. Meanwhile, after removing as much fat as possible, bring “broth” back to a boil. add a little milk to get that “poultry” color. If you have “Poultry Gravy” Mix, can use some here, but only to about half the consistency you desire, add a slurry of “cornstarch and cold water” to achieve desired consistency (this keeps the salt count lower), add the chicken to the “gravy” heat through. Serve over the “Fresh” waffles. one, two, three or more layers, I usually do 2 layers. Serve with mashed potatoes if desired. Save the “leftovers” of the chicken gravy and make a “Baked chicken Pot Pie” with a double crust (like the ‘Banquet’ pies).. Want to know? contact me.

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