The Dyke Kitchen: Classic Air-Fried Cornish Game Hen & Waffles

The Dyke Kitchen written over a drippy yellow shape that has checkerboard at the ends

The Dyke Kitchen is a bi-weekly series about how queerness, identity, culture and love are expressed through food and cooking.


Kamala & The Waffle Maker

Back in February, before we had a full view of what was in store for us in 2020, my mom texted me frantically one evening to say that her favorite waffle iron was on sale, and did I want a version of my own. I said yes, of course.

I love waffles. The are perfect for toppings. I also really like that while, yes, there are traditional types of waffles, the waffle iron, as a tool, is an invitation to make whatever kind of waffle you want! When I lived in Oakland, I spent a lot of weekends hauling my mom’s 4-slice All-Clad stainless steel waffle maker — it’s very heavy, so that’s just one of the reasons I wanted my own — to my own apartment to make bacon & chive waffles, cornmeal waffles to eat with salsa, waffles made from dosa batter, regular sweet ones smothered in butter and truffle honey.

Long story short, I didn’t know in February that I wouldn’t be seeming my mom again until August. So on my last trip home, after six months of built-up anticipation, spending every brunch-ish moment of quarantine thinking about the waffles I would not be making, I did finally receive the gift of my very own waffle iron! It’s a 2-slice, but it’s just as amazing as my mom’s. And I knew I wanted to break it in with something special.

When my close friend Vinh;Paul told me that he was bringing his air fryer back from his mom’s house (this great story is below!), it seemed like the perfect reason to put our new kitchen tools together for our own style — always-original, always-sorta-Asian — of chicken and waffles. So here you have our menu for a night we spent making a tiny hen and waffles, and guzzling really great watermelon cocktails made by Sarah — those are also below! For texture and freshness, I also made a very similar cabbage salad to the one I made with these scallion pancakes, though this time, with the addition of peaches.

an overhead view of a table setting with a large bowl of purple cabbage salad, a tray of waffles, a pitcher of gravy, a small bowl with a little round fried hen nestled inside

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Vinh;Paul & The Air Fryer

Mother and I love TJ Maxx HomeGoods. We take great pleasure in buying fun gadgets at discount prices, loading up the house with conveniences that we only use once or twice before shelving it in the laundry room. If there’s a gadget, Mother definitely has it. From a yoghurt maker to three different kinds of high-speed blenders, a food dehydrator, garlic presses, a dedicated almond chopper, and my personal favorite: the Yonana Classic, a contraption that turns frozen bananas into soft serve.

Some may find Mother’s penchant for these conveniences excessive. And though we’ve gotten into some arguments about her laundry room being too cluttered to wash clothes, she’ll have it no other way. Mother grew up in the countryside of Việt Nam, during an extra tumultuous time in Việtnamese history: post-French colonialism but still in high tensions due to the American occupation. When she had to suddenly flee in ‘75, or else risk persecution, she lost everything: keepsakes, photos, and a link to her parents and eight siblings, all of whom were too far away to leave with her.

But don’t feel sad for Mother. She’s done wonderfully — if this wall of gadgets could talk, it’d probably say, “She has soft hands because she doesn’t believe in exerting effort when a machine can do the work for her.”

And what better machine than an air fryer! No more heavy cast irons filled with hot oil greasing up the kitchen. “You can have fresh eggrolls anytime,” Mother said, “without wasting good oil.” She grew up with so few things, only to still lose everything. I don’t think she ever imagined a life of such ease. Since I moved to LA, our trips to TJ Maxx HomeGoods have become a thing of the past, but the spirit of convenience still lives on. During this pandemic, while everyone has been sheltering in place, Mother donned two layers of masks and went right back to shopping the minute the discount doors of the Maxx reopened.

It may seem silly to some, but Mother and I certainly have a deep care for each other, even if it’s gone mostly unspoken. As her youngest child and also her queer little baby, I know that helping me live a life that is filled with ease is her way of saying, I love you. And I feel very lucky about this. Despite our differences, she has always opened her arms wider to show me tenderness, the intuitive nature, and How can I anticipate your needs before you know you even need it?

The last one is my favorite. Anticipating someone’s wants before they want it is so fun to me. When Kamala told me her mom was giving her a waffle maker, I thought, What better way to honor our moms then by using these gadgets together! Fried chicken and waffles was an obvious choice, but knowing Kamala so well — and Kamala knowing me so well — a regular chicken just wouldn’t do. I like food to be fun, delicious, offbeat — a touch of my weirdness in every bite — a kind of performance piece conceptualizing flavors. I’ll admit that frying a cornish game hen isn’t that weird, but what it lacks in novelty it makes up in being damn tiny and super cute — sometimes eating up cuties is my favorite thing.

Vinh;Paul in a cute apron with floral frills, stirring a pot of gravy

How To Make Savory Cheddar Waffles

cripsy waffles being pulled hot out of a waffle iron with chopsticks

I wanted to make a waffle that would be a good match for the air-fried hen that Vinh;Paul was making. In my dreams it would be light and crispy, and I wanted it to have a savory flavor. I ended up adding some shredded cheddar for the sharpness, and also because I love how cheese melts in something very hot, like a waffle iron. I also added some dashi and yogurt to the batter. Lastly, I employed my mom’s greatest trick for a fluffy waffle, which is separating the eggs and whipping the whites into stiff peaks.

Ingredients

This made about 10 waffles in my iron.

2 cups of all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
A few grinds of black pepper
2 egg yolks
2 egg whites whipped so they are very stiff (you should be able to hold the bowl upside down)
1 ½ cups warm whole milk
2 tablespoons of plain whole fat yogurt
⅓ of liquified, browned butter
1 tablespoon of concentrated dashi
½ cup of sharp shredded cheddar

Directions

Get out your waffle iron and set it to the desired setting so it starts heating up.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt, sugar, baking powder, and black pepper.

In a small or medium bowl, add the egg yolks and the dashi and mix them together.

In a liquid measuring cup, warm your milk (I did mine the microwave for 2 minutes) and then add the yogurt to the milk and stir it up so it’s more or less combined. Add this to the bowl with the egg yolks and dashi and stir to combine.

Brown the butter, and when it’s ready, add it directly to the flour mixture and stir them together.

Now add the bowl of warm milk and egg yolks into the large bowl of flour + butter and stir to combine.

Now that you have one bowl of batter, toss in your cheddar (I really just grabbed a big handful and added it) and stir to get them evenly distributed.

Whip your egg whites into stiff peaks and then gently fold them to your batter until they are fully combined. They’re going to lose some air as you combine them, but if you’re slow and methodical, you’ll still get a lift.

There was enough butter in this batter that I did not need to grease the waffle iron. So I put about a third of a cup of batter into each waffle square and cooked them to crisp level 6 on my iron. My iron beeps when it’s ready to cook and when it’s time for me to take out the waffles, so the actual cooking I can’t say I put much effort into.

an open waffle iron and two clumpy batches of wet waffle dough on the bottom part of the press. in the foreground crispy cooked waffles stand in a tray

In the end, they were light and fluffy, success! They cheese was delicious and the dashi is hardly detectable, but does add a savory undertone to the waffle itself, so it has a depth of flavor that makes it enjoyable to eat on its own.

a bright green plate with a thick pool of gravy, a pile of purple cabbage salad w peach chunks, and a waffle and pieces of fried hen on top

How To Make The Cornish Game Hen

When I originally cooked this hen, I soaked, dredged, air fried it whole. The flavor was right, but as one side crisped up, the other side would go soggy. The extra step of cutting the hen in half will solve this soggy bottom problem by giving it enough space to breathe and get super crunchy. In honor of our moms, and their love of gadgets, I hope you enjoy this recipe and make it into a delight that you will also share with those you love.

Ingredients

Hen prep:
1 cornish game hen weighing approximately 2 lbs
2 cups buttermilk
2 tbsp salt
1 tbsp black pepper
½ tbsp turmeric powder
½ tbsp garlic powder

Seasonings:
2 tsp salt
2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp onion powder
1 ½ tsp oregano
1 ½ Italian seasoning
1 ½ dry rosemary
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp aleppo pepper powder**
1 tsp Korean gochugaru**
½ tsp nutmeg (optional)

*Buttermilk substitution: combine 2 cups whole milk + 2 tbsp white vinegar and let sit for 5 minutes to sour.

**Flavor is personal! And we don’t always have some of these ingredients on hand. We just happen to prefer a spicier fried hen and have these spices around the house, but feel free to add or omit herbs and spices to taste.

Dredge Station:
1 cup flour
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 eggs
2 tbsp Frank’s Red Hot or other vinegar based hot sauce of choice (optional)
2-3 tbsp of olive oil or any other cooking oil on hand

Directions

The night before: Using a sharp knife, cut cornish game hen half lengthwise, from center of breast bone, for two even pieces. Discard gizzards or save to make stock.

Combine 2 cups buttermilk, salt, pepper, turmeric powder, and garlic powder in a large bowl. Marinate cornish game hen in refrigerator for at least 4 hours but preferably overnight. Marinating the hen before frying allows the acids in the buttermilk to tenderize the meat, resulting in a succulent and tender bite.

Day of air fry: Remove cornish game hen from the buttermilk and set on a rack for 30 minutes, allowing the hen to come to room temperature. Meanwhile, combine seasonings in a small bowl.

Prepare the dredge by combining 1 cup flour and half of seasonings into one large bowl; 1 cup panko breadcrumbs with remaining half of seasonings in a second bowl; 2 eggs with hot sauce whisked together in a third bowl. Taste flour and panko breadcrumbs mixture. Add additional spices or herbs if desired as this will be the final taste of the air-fried hen.

Taking one-half of the bifurcated cornish hen, dredge in flour, then quickly cover in egg mixture, and cover in panko breadcrumbs. Set back on wire rack to rest for additional 15 minutes. Repeat with remaining half of game hen.

When ready to air fry, brush or spritz cornish game hen with a light and even coat of olive oil. Do not skip this step! The hen needs a little oil or else it will not crisp up.

a floured, egg-washed, and panko-covered cornish game hen awaiting her fry

The air fryer does not need to preheat. When ready, place one half of the cornish game hen — cut-side down — onto the air fryer tray, cooking in 2 batches. If using a large air fryer, both halves may be placed on the tray at once, as long as there is enough air flow.

Set air-fryer to 350° and start timer for 30-35 minutes. Brush with second coat of oil halfway through cooking (about 15-18 minutes), checking for doneness, when the internal temperature of the hen has reached 165°.

a finger pointing at the crispy, breaded outside of finished air-fried game hen

Let it rest for 10 min before carving and enjoy with country gravy (we used a packet for convenience) or any other sauce preferred.

Note from Kamala: This air-fried game hen was very tender and tasty and better than a lot of chickens that I’ve had! The brine that Vinh;Paul made added to the flavor of the meat, and all parts of it were tender, none of them got too dry — I think the small size packed in the flavor and made it easier to cook it evenly.

How To Make Sarah’s Wet Ass Watermelon Cocktail

sarah raises a blue glass jar for a toast, with a pink watermelon cocktail inside

This drink requires some prep, but once all the elements are ready you can easily make more drinks for your guests (and yourself) all night long.

For each drink you’ll need

1/2 cup of watermelon juice
1/4 cup of tequila
Juice from one half of a lime
5-6 mint leaves
1 tbsp simple syrup
1/4 tsp of smoked sea salt

an overhead shot of the open mouths of three blue glass jars, three lime halves, a bunch of mint, a glass har of thick simple syrup, and a pink jar of watermelon juice

Directions

For the watermelon juice
I think it’s funny that grocery stores call the small, juicy seedless watermelons “personal watermelons”, but I digress. Cut the rind off your personal watermelon and slice into cubes small enough to blend.

Blend all the watermelon until it’s a smooth pulpy liquid.

Then pour through a strainer into a large bowl or pitcher. If you don’t want any pulp, strain the watermelon juice through a cheesecloth. Press softly on the watermelon flesh to release the rest of the juices.

For the simple syrup
Bring 1 part sugar, 1 part water to a boil. Let cool and pour into a glass container.

To make the drink
In a glass jar with a lid, add 5-6 mint leaves, the juice of half a lime and 1 tbsp of simple syrup and muddle (a wooden spoon works just fine).

Add 1/4 cup of tequila, 1/2 cup of watermelon juice, and 1/4 tsp of smoked sea salt.

Lid the jar and shake until the mixture is frothy.

Unlid the jar and serve it to the lucky mouth that gets to drink it. Maybe it’s yours?!

Kamala Puligandla lives in LA and is the writer of various autobiographical fictions. She is the distinguished recipient of her parents' leftovers and hair compliments from strangers on the street. Her first novel is forthcoming from Not A Cult. Find her work at kamalapuligandla.com.

Kamala has written 46 articles for us.

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