New year’s resolutions don’t resonate with me. They always strike me as too general (I’m going to eat better), unattainable (drink less), or things that you shouldn’t need a resolution for (be nicer to friends and family). For some reason Lenten resolutions make more sense to me. The idea of giving up something that we know we shouldn’t do, that will be difficult to do without so that we are reminded that with spiritual redemption comes responsibility seems about right.
Lenten resolutions are also attractive because they only last for the forty days of Lent, between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Sundays are considered mini-Easters so they don’t count. I suspect this is partly so that those who give up booze for Lent can still take communion and note that St. Patrick’s Day is considered a Sunday in Ireland (even if the rest of the world soberly maintains that the day between Monday and Wednesday is “Tuesday”) when it falls during Lent. In past years I have abstained from pop (which may be the new tobacco), french fries (in residence we were served a take on the fried potato every day at lunch), and swearing in mixed company. This year I’m going to try to give up all cured or smoked pork products. No bacon, no ham, no dry-cured sausage.
What the hell heck does all this have to do with waffles? Well, Christians get one last shot at indulgence, Shrove Tuesday, before Lent starts on Ash Wednesday. For some it’s a chance to expose themselves for a string of coloured beads. For many more it means breakfast for dinner and a meal of pancakes. I wanted to push the boundaries a bit further and make fried chicken, waffles go better than pancakes do with the (homemade) dirty bird, and if I’m not going to have bacon for a month and a half I needed to find some way to sneak it into somewhere that it doesn’t usually belong.
My other inspiration came on the weekend during brunch at the Drake I got into a debate about the desirability of serving fried chicken with waffles. Obviously, I like the combination but the counterargument holds that there is too much cognitive dissonance caused by combining savoury fried chicken with the sweet waffles and maple syrup. Fair enough. I like putting meat in sweet foods (see the bacon blondies post for an example) but I see that the connection needs to be well thought-out.
Really its when we go overboard with the syrup and turn our waffles into a matrix of sugary puddles that they become truly sweet. Maybe by making the actual waffle a little sweeter I could do away with the syrup entirely. Once I started thinking along these lines I was reminded of the sweet potato episode of Good Eats where Alton Brown made waffles with the orange tuber. His recipe gets all of its sweetness from the sweet potatoes and a quarter cup of brown sugar.
Sweet potatoes and bacon go well together but bacon comes in many different flavours. To connect the sweet waffle flavour to the savoury chicken I was struck by the idea of using the Italian flavours that accompany pancetta: garlic, rosemary, and black pepper. I really had no clue whether this would taste good or not.
The fact that I’m writing a post about the recipe should be a clue that this experiment was a success. These waffles have a really great flavour that marries the earthy sweetness of sweet potatoes to the darker flavours of garlic and rosemary. Plus, it’s got bacon so what could possibly go wrong? As with all waffle recipe that beat the egg whites separately the texture is really light and that plays an interesting counterpoint to the heavier, richer flavour.
Pancetta Sweet Potato Waffles
Adapted from Alton Brown’s Sweet Potato Waffle recipe
- 1 1/2 C sweet potato (about 1 small-medium) peeled and cut into half-inch cubes
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled
- 3 oz bacon, fried and cut into small bits
- 1 tsp freshly-ground black pepper
- 1 TB fresh rosemary, minced
- 2 C (10 oz.) all-purpose flour
- 1 TB baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 C milk
- 1/4 C packed light brown sugar
- 1/4 C butter melted
Preheat an inch of water in a pot large enough to hold a steamer basket over medium heat. You want enough water in the pot so that it does all evaporate but not so much that it touches the sweet potatoes once the steamer basket goes in. Fill one of those collapsible metal steamer baskets with the cubed sweet potato and the cloves of garlic. Once the water in the pot is steaming put in the basket, slap the lid on, and let it steam for twenty minutes.
Meanwhile fry the bacon. Usually I’m fairly particular about what kind of bacon I use but for this application the more neutral the flavour the better. Or I guess I should say the more savoury the flavour the better. Bacon that tastes heavily of apple smoke, maple syrup, and cinnamon would probably be out of place here. Once the bacon is just crisp remove it to a cutting board and let cool slightly before madly chopping it into smallish bits.
You’ll need three bowls for the rest of the operation, one small to medium, another large enough to hold six beaten egg whites, and a third large bowl. In the smallest bowl mash the sweet potatoes and garlic together. Sweet potatoes don’t mash nearly as smoothly as white ones so don’t sweat the lumps.
In the largest bowl whisk together the dry ingredients–flour, baking powder, salt, minced rosemary, and black pepper.
Combine the mashed sweet potatoes, milk, brown sugar, melted butter, and bacon. Thoroughly stir the wet ingredients into the dry in the large bowl. This is a good point at which to preheat your waffle iron on its highest setting. I happened to use a waffle iron that makes waffles with the small holes but I’m sure this would also work with a belgian waffle maker.
Beat the egg whites in a standing mixer or with a hand mixer until they reach the stage where stiff peaks form. Working by thirds in the usual way–the first third is stirred and the second and third are folded–incorporate the egg whites into the batter.
Once the waffle iron is preheated spray the cooking surfaces with nonstick spray and scoop the batter onto the bottom. Alton says to use two scoops with a #20 disher, I found that two scoops with a 1/3 cup measure works just as well–probably because they’re millitres apart in volume. Close the top and cook for between five and eight minutes, which happily is about the same amount of time it takes to deep-fry chicken. Monitor the steam coming out the sides of the waffle maker–it will slow or stop entirely when it’s done–and I like crispier waffles so err on the side of too much cooking rather than too little. This recipe made four rounds of 8 in. by 8 in. waffles.
Serve with fried chicken and a bit of butter and jam–wild blueberry worked well but I wish I still had some of my serviceberry jam–or maple syrup, if you must. Remember that really good fried chicken will drip glorious chicken fat all over the waffles as you eat it.