awhile back i stumbled upon the grilled cheese academy’s annual recipe showdown in one of my weekly email feeds. while most would promptly filter this into their spam folder, i forwarded it to my husband and with an abundance of exclamation points that required our participation. lucky for me, he was just as excited about inventing a grilled cheese sammie as i was. (one of the many reasons i adore him). so after a few days of brainstorming, planning, and ingredient tweaking we constructed the southern belle: a refined, yet savory take on a southern classic featuring a charming combination of rosemary bacon waffles, havarti, and buttermilk fried chicken.
the contest itself was simple, create a unique grilled cheese that features wisconsin cheese, name it, snap a photo and submit your recipe. this creation was inspired by my love for making waffles for my family every sunday as a kid in our cast iron waffle maker that has been used for several generations. plus i needed some southern appeal to rep my texas roots. most chicken and waffle dishes lend themselves better to breakfast, so we opted for a savory rosemary bacon waffle and nixed the syrup. we didn’t win, but at least we ate well, and we’re already dreaming up ideas for this year’s competition.
the southern belle
4 slices applewood smoked bacon
a heaping ¾ cup of all-purpose flour
½ tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, coarsely chopped
1 egg yolk
¾ cup milk
¼ cup cooking oil
1 egg white
1. cook bacon slices in a cast iron pan and set aside on a paper towel lined plate to cool. once cool, coarsely chop, and reserve for later.
2. in a large bowl combine flour, baking powder, rosemary, and chopped bacon.
3. in a separate bowl, beat the egg yolk with a fork, and then whisk in milk and oil. add this to the dry mixture all at once and mix until batter is slightly lumpy.
4. using a mixer (or a whisk if you want a workout!) beat the egg white until stiff peaks form. gently fold in the fluffs of egg white into the batter with a spatula, being careful not to overmix.
5. pour batter one batch at a time into your lightly greased waffle maker and cook until golden brown. keep finished waffles in the open air and do not stack to ensure that they don’t get soft from moisture.
for fried chicken:
2 chicken breasts, filleted
1 quart buttermilk (1/8 cup set aside)
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ¼ tablespoons seasoned salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon smoked sweet paprika
1 pinch red pepper
1/8 cup milk
vegetable oil for frying
4 slices of havarti cheese
1. fillet each chicken breast lengthwise so you are left with four thinner breast pieces. then, place chicken in a large bowl (or freezer bag) and cover with buttermilk. refrigerate for a minimum of 5 hours – overnight if possible. when ready to fry, remove chicken from bowl and let sit on counter for 30 minutes to remove the chill.
2. preheat oven to 350F. Stir together the flour, seasoned salt, pepper, thyme, paprika and red pepper in a very large bowl. In a small bowl combine the 1/8 cup buttermilk and the milk. pour the milk mixture into the flour and use a fork to mix until there are little lumps throughout. the mixture should be patchy with moisture.
3. heat 1 ½ inches of oil in a Dutch oven over medium high heat with lid on. thoroughly coat each buttermilk-soaked chicken piece with the breading, pressing to adhere the breading. i flip and press each piece through the mixture 4 times for a good thick coating. add the chicken to the oil 2 pieces at a time. cover pan and fry approximately 6 minutes (but check to make sure chicken isn’t getting too brown). using tongs turn the chicken, cover and cook additional 3-5 minutes more.
4. place chicken on a wire rack (with a baking sheet underneath it) and continue frying the second batch of chicken. when done, bake the chicken for 10-15 minutes, until chicken cooked through (use a meat thermometer to check if needed). when chicken is done, turn oven off and place a slice of havarti on each chicken piece. also, place your waffles directly on the oven rack if they need warming. once cheese is melted, remove chicken and waffles and assemble. cut each sandwich in half and enjoy!
NOTE: Prepare the waffles before you begin frying the chicken, as you’ll want to eat the chicken fresh from the oven!