This Unexpected Cocktail Ingredient Is the Key to Superior Chicken Wings

Chef Tyler Kord shows us the way.

October 22, 2019

For better or for worse, football season is in full swing. For the next few months, Sundays will be spent huddled around a TV, with nearby tables of snacks—nachos, wings, potatoes, dips of all sorts—and frosty pitchers of beer, available in near-unlimited supply. While the former doesn't make a huge difference in my life (I didn't find out what a "down" was until my second year in college), I do care deeply about the snack portion.

Which is why I'm about to give you the football snack that will change the way you football-snack: perfect chicken wings, baked, grilled, or fried, if you please. Because what could be more appropriate for all your Ravens, Falcons, Seahawks, and Eagles than another feathered friend?

Chicken wings—cooked until tender on the inside and crispy-skinned on the outside, then coated in a tangy sauce—can be greasy, salty, fatty, sticky. In many circumstances, this is why we love them in the first place; they're the perfect thing to wash down with aforementioned frosty beer. But too much of that greasy-salty-stickiness, and your palate will cry out for something fresh and verdant, zesty and acidic, that can cut through the heft.

While we do love our Buffalo sauce (especially the Genius riff Kristen told us about last week), which hits some of those acidic, vinegary, cut-through-the-grease notes, every now and then we need something lighter, brighter, more citrusy.

Enter Tyler Kord: chef, author of our newest cookbook, Dynamite Chicken, and—something he probably never expected to have on his resume—creator of The Perfect Wings™. See, Tyler's perfect wings are so perfect because of an even-more perfect sauce. And this even-more-perfect sauce is created with an Übermensch of an ingredient (if not a little unconventional). What is it, you ask? And where can I find it?

Look no further than your bar cart. You'll probably see the iconic clear bottle of light-green liquid with a kelly-green label right away. Yep, it's none other than Rose's lime juice you're after!

And if it's not on your radar already, here's why you need some Rose's in your life: Invented in 1867 by Lauchlan Rose of L. Rose & Co., a British producer of fruit juice concentrate, Rose's lime juice is the juice of fresh lime shipped from the West Indies, made shelf-stable without the help of alcohol; instead, Mr. Rose and his team leveraged a proprietary preservation method that they also patented. The resulting concentrated, sweetened juice is thick, limey, and extremely refreshing—in Tyler's words, "tart and a little bit sweet and smell[ing] like magical candy."

And its great taste is not its only good quality. In an advertisement in a leading British medical journal, The Lancet, at the time of the syrup's invention, Rose's lime touted its medicinal properties, including being "antiscorbutic, highly beneficial in Rheumatism, an excellent tonic, also a cooling drink for heat in blood and skin." It also had enough lime juice to combat scurvy, and to comply with the Merchant Shipping Amendment Act that required all seafaring ships to have stores of Vitamin C–rich foods. As it caught on with the British Navy, Rose's lime is said to have eventually made its way into the same cups as Naval-strength gin—and thus, the Gimlet was born.

Nowadays, Rose's lime is used less so for scurvy-curing, but is still popular in cocktails like the Gimlet. And though there are a number of DIY versions that skip the corn syrup and artificial flavorings of the current recipe, few can match the unique qualities of Rose's—that bittersweet, puckery, multidimensional vibe it uniquely possesses.

This very vibe is what makes Rose's lime such a good supporting character to chicken wings, especially when combined with medium-heat Fresno chiles and a pinch of nutmeg, blended into a consistent sauce, and reduced enough to coat the back of a spoon (or, um, a wing). (And you could use a mixture of lime juice and honey, if Rose's lime isn't quite your thing, as Tyler instructs in the recipe.)

The lime-but-not-quite-lime base; fruity, smoky, lightly spicy red chile; and subtle hint of warmth and earthiness from the nutmeg all come together to form a complex, can't-put-your-finger-on-it sauce.] As it coats the wings after they cook on the grill or in the oven, the sauce soaks into the crispy, savory chicken skin, giving it—and the ever-so-slightly gamey dark meat underneath—a much-needed lift. A sprinkle of chopped cilantro on top, and you have an unbeatable snack.

"I find that Rose’s lime juice makes a perfect glaze for grilled or fried things because it is tart and sweet and sticky," Tyler says, "and chicken wings are no exception."

But if you're not so into the wings, you could just as easily use the glaze on many other roasted, grilled, or fried things: on cubes of firm tofu, before throwing them into the oven, on the grill, or in the deep fryer; on hardy roasted or grilled vegetables, like carrots, fennel, winter squash, and corn; drizzled over crunchy, cool raw vegetables, like cucumbers and radishes, in a minimalist salad preparation.

Come this Sunday, however, we know which route we're going.

How do you like to enjoy your chicken wings? Let us know in the comments!
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The Dynamite Chicken cookbook is here! Get ready for 60 brand-new ways to love your favorite bird. Inside this clever collection by Food52 and chef Tyler Kord, you'll find everything from lightning-quick weeknight dinners to the coziest of comfort foods.

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Brinda is the Director of Content at Food52, where she oversees all site content across Food52 and Home52. She likes chewy Neapolitan pizza, stinky cheese of all sorts, and tahini-flavored anything. Brinda lives in Brooklyn with 18 plants and at least one foster pup (sometimes more). Find her at @brindayesterday on Twitter and Instagram.

1 Comment

whirlow November 10, 2019
Once I was preparing jerk chicken and realized I didn’t have enough lime juice, I threw in a couple of glugs of Roses, now it’s part of the recipe, with the nutmeg and peppers this has a similar profile