Chicken and waffles are a ridiculously effective combination. A shattering-skinned piece of tender meat meets the crisp edge and pleasing pillow of baked batter, and it all gets slathered in syrup. Glory. Buffalo chicken is also a brilliant thing, with the happy sting of hot sauce (this may feel like a paid ad for Frank’s RedHot, but it’s just pure love) mellowed out by melted butter. Chicken tenders, too—they’re just perfect in their finger-borne, dippable format. In these head-spinning, heart-racing times of large, televised sports events, political apocalypse, and The Bachelor, it just makes sense to consolidate as many good things as possible and stuff them into our mouths to maximize pleasure. That’s why I made Waffle-Crusted Buffalo Chicken Tenders with Spicy Maple Syrup for you.
Gonna fess up here that they’re not technically chicken tenders because they’re not actually made from the tenderloin cut. I opted instead for dark thigh meat, which is infinitely more delicious, so perhaps you will pardon the imprecision. Toss them in a marinade of buttermilk and Frank’s (seriously, not sponsored—just accurate if you’re Buffalo-ing things), turn some frozen waffles into coating crumbs and fry away to a happier place.
Oh, and the dipping sauce of Frank’s, maple syrup, and butter is so dementedly good that I licked the little testing bowl after I nailed the ratio I liked, and I am not ashamed to admit that.
Waffle-Crusted Buffalo Chicken Tenders with Spicy Maple Syrup
For the chicken tenders
For the spicy maple sauce
Slice the chicken into evenly-sized strips and/or chunks. Chicken thighs vary in size and shape, so don't stress tremendously—this is just to ensure relatively even cooking. Everything will be fine. Put the chicken in a lidded container, mix hot sauce, buttermilk, and a hefty pinch of salt, and pour over chicken. Cover and chill for 4 hours or overnight, shaking a few times to make sure the chicken is evenly covered.
Bake frozen waffles at 325°F for about 20 minutes, flipping halfway through. Bake as long as needed for the waffles to completely dry out. Note: Frozen waffles also vary wildly in size, but figure on using around 5 to 6, and you can always cook more, or use the crumbs elsewhere. This, again, is all just fine. Break the cooked, cooled waffles into pieces into a food processor and pulse until you have a mixture of fine crumbs and larger shards. If you feel like being incredibly ambitious, you can make waffles from scratch and do this, but really just follow your bliss.
Heat a deep fryer to 350°F. (Note, you can also pan-fry in an inch of oil and a heavy, deep vessel. Please be careful. I worry.) Set out three bowls and fill with half the flour (seasoned to taste with salt and pepper), egg, and half the waffle crumbs. Dredge the buttermilk-covered chicken pieces in flour, then egg, then waffle crumbs, and set aside until you have enough to fill a fryer basket with pieces without crowding. Top up the dry ingredients in the bowl as you go, if they get too damp and gross.
Fry the chicken for 3 minutes, pull from the oil to make sure that they are not over-browning, and fry for an additional 3 to 4 minutes. Let the hot strips rest and drain onto a paper towel-lined baking sheet or plate.
Whisk together hot sauce, butter, and syrup, adjusting the ratio for your personal taste. I want you to be happy.
Serve the chicken with a side of sauce while it's all still hot. Know joy.