Pancake Chicken Poppers with Maple Whiskey Dipping Sauce

Sweet and savory is one of the best flavor combinations, which is why chicken and waffles are widely popular at trendy eateries across the country. My take combines the concepts of two of my childhood favorites--corn dogs and chicken nuggets--into the perfect grown-up game-day snack. Prep the chicken and batter the day before for effortless entertaining.
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  • Level: Intermediate
  • Total: 50 min
  • Active: 50 min
  • Yield: 8 to 10 servings
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Ingredients

Maple Whiskey Sauce:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons finely grated yellow onion

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

1/2 cup (120 milliliters) bourbon whiskey

3/4 cup (175 milliliters) grade A maple syrup

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon hot sauce, such as Texas Pete

Chicken Poppers:

About 4 cups (1 liter) canola oil, for deep-frying, plus 2 tablespoons

2 pounds (910 grams) chicken tenderloins, cut into 1-inch (2.5 centimeter) cubes

2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons Chinese five-spice powder

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup (120 grams) coarse yellow cornmeal

1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour

1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/4 cups (300 milliliters) whole milk

1 large egg

Directions

Special equipment:
a deep-fry thermometer
  1. Make the maple whiskey sauce: Add the butter, grated onion, and lemon zest to a medium saucepan over medium heat, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until the butter melts.
  2. Add the bourbon whiskey, maple syrup, tomato paste, salt, black pepper, five-spice powder, cayenne, and hot sauce to the pan. Whisk to combine. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer for 8 minutes until the sauce has reduced by a quarter. Keep warm over low heat until ready to serve.
  3. Make the chicken poppers: Pour 4 inches (10 centimeters) oil into a deep heavy pot and bring the oil to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) over medium heat.
  4. Place the chicken in a large bowl and season with 1 teaspoon of the salt and the five-spice powder, and black pepper. Using your hands or a large spoon, mix until the chicken is evenly coated with the seasonings.
  5. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat until it begins to shimmer. Add the chicken to the pan, in batches, if necessary, making sure not to crowd the pan. Cook, stirring, until the chicken is golden brown, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a paper towel-lined plate to absorb any excess oil. Add more oil as needed between batches and set aside to cool.
  6. In a separate large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, and baking powder until combined. Add the milk and egg and mix until the ingredients are fully incorporated.
  7. Set a wire rack over a sheet pan. Working in batches, using tongs, dip the reserved chicken pieces into the batter, then carefully (as not to burn yourself) lower the pieces into the hot oil in the deep heavy pot. Cook until the chicken rises to the surface and the crust is golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to the wire rack. Serve immediately, with the dipping sauce on the side.