Today: A genius trick for oven-crisped chicken wings that might be even better than fried (plus a magic dipping sauce you're going to use on lots more than wings).
This Sunday, a supply of world-class snacks is going to be the difference between an epic party and a day of too much TV and a bad Dorito hangover.
A platter of blistering, toffee-skinned chicken wings would clinch it.
But that doesn't mean you need to be orbiting a deep fryer moments before your house is filled with people -- not unless you want to (I don't).
If you're smart about it, you can make your wings almost entirely the night before, sending them into the oven just in time to make the house smell cozy in the way that only roast chicken can. But you do have to be smart about it.
You'd think wings -- bundles of mostly skin and fat -- roasted in a really hot oven would crisp up by default, but baked wings tend to either dry out before they develop that taut snap, or stay slack and a little chewy. See Melissa Clark's admission here. They're not bad, but they could be electrifying.
This is where Ideas in Food's Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot, in their latest book Maximum Flavor, changed the game. They developed a low-impact at-home version of Korean-style chicken wings (if you're not familiar, they're normally twice-fried and have the power to turn people into starved coyotes with one bite).
"Alex spent weeks on the wings, roasting and re-roasting a million different ways until we were satisfied that they were perfectly crispy, juicy, and seasoned," Kamozawa told me.
The solution he landed on was a 3-ingredient marinade: egg white, salt, baking soda. And one more unofficial ingredient: time.
The egg white was borrowed from a General Tso's recipe Kamozawa was developing using velveting, the traditional Chinese technique in which chicken (or other delicate ingredients) are coated in egg white and cornstarch and par-cooked to keep them from drying out, leaving them soft and velvety.
They combined this with the seasoning and texture-improving powers of salting ahead (a.k.a. dry-brining), made famous by Judy Rodgers, along with the secret side of everyone's second favorite leavener, baking soda -- "often used for its browning effect in many recipes from pretzels to stir-fried shrimp," Kamozawa explained. (For more on tweaking browning effects by varying pH levels, see López-Alt.)
Thanks to Ideas in Food's legwork, this method is virtually hands-off -- just tumble the wings in those 3 ingredients, then leave them on a rack in the fridge to dry overnight. (Leave a note so nobody panics when they go for the milk.)
The next day, the tray goes straight into the oven. 35 minutes and a couple of flips later, it's party time.
For yours, you can use the tinier sections called drumettes and flats or wingettes -- they might be easier to find and to dunk. But Kamozawa and Talbot prefer the whole, unclipped wings, which they find are slightly juicier and have more crispy bits.
Whichever way you go, you'll need this dipping sauce, which provides a last minute wash of brightness and spice -- meaning the wings can actually sit out and stay crisp, unlike that half-eaten tray of Buffalo wings, which is never coming back.
"You can also use the sauce with fried dumplings, roasted vegetables, fish, or even drizzled over a grilled steak. It goes everywhere and makes almost everything taste better," Kamozawa told me. I can vouch that we've put the sauce on most of the above.
Just think of all the other stuff you can dip at your game day party -- I'd only hold back on the Doritos.
Adapted slightly from Maximum Flavor (Clarkson Potter, 2013)
Serves 4 to 6
3 large egg whites
2 teaspoons (10 grams) baking soda
1 3/4 teaspoons (10.5) grams fine sea salt
4 pounds (1.8 kilograms) whole chicken wings (smaller wing sections will also work)
1/4 cup (65 grams) tamari soy sauce
3 tablespoons (42 grams) apple juice
1 tablespoon (16 grams) honey
1 tablespoon (14 grams) rice vinegar
1 tablespoon (14 grams) toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon (2 grams) Korean red chile flakes
1 tablespoon (3.75 grams) toasted sesame seeds, chopped
1 garlic clove, grated
1/2 teaspoon (2.5 grams) grated fresh ginger
1 scallion, finely sliced
Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at firstname.lastname@example.org. Big thanks to Matt Sartwell at Kitchen Arts & Letters for this one!
Photos by James Ransom