If you can forget for a while that the chicken wing is the second most calorie-dense part of the bird (First prize apparently goes to chicken back. Huh.), buffalo wings are really enjoyable and it seems the restaurant scene is catching on to it, too. Gone are the days when they were limited to bars or the appetizer section of family style restaurant menus. Joints that serve up the stuff as mains and in varying degrees of spiciness have started to sprout up around the metro.
I have yet to try all these interesting chicken wing places but so far, I really like Charlie’s. Burgers, hotdogs, craft beer – the wings are really just icing on the cake but they’re good and the Punyeta sauce is very spicy just the way I like it. On the other hand, I don’t get Bon Chon. I really wanted to like Bon Chon, it being a Korean franchise and all, but in my experience their wings are dried out and devoid of flavor save for the batter. I was delighted to see pickled radish on their menu, a classic side in any Korean fried chicken place that reminds me of my childhood, and that was even more disappointing. Way too bland, like radish cubes swimming in water.
More than anything, I think it was the promise of tender chicken wings that so appealed to me about this recipe. And having to marinate something for two whole days. I find it wildly exciting. Even for a chicken wing lover like me, 6 pounds seemed like too much so I scaled down the recipe in half. Well, when I could remember to.
For the wings, you’ll need:
3 lbs. chicken wings cut in half
2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup hot sauce (I used Frank’s Xtra Hot)
1 t cayenne pepper
To make buttermilk, you’ll need:
2 cups milk
2 T vinegar or fresh lemon juice
1. As far as I know, buttermilk is not available in stores here but no biggie, you can easily make a substitute. To make a cup of buttermilk, all you have to do is put 1 tablespoon of vinegar/fresh lemon juice in a measuring cup and fill the rest of the way with milk to make a cup. Let it sit for 5 minutes and voila. To make 2 cups, add 2 tablespoons of vinegar/fresh lemon juice, fill the rest of the way with milk to make 2 cups and let sit for 10 minutes.
You’ll find that when time’s up, the milk will have curdled a little bit. It’s really quite fascinating. In the book The Elements of Cooking, Michael Ruhlman’s entry on buttermilk reads, “Buttermilk is the liquid by-product of making butter. More commonly today buttermilk refers to the cultured milk sold in grocery stores that is thick and acidic. Like natural yogurt, buttermilk is useful as a flavoring device, and in batters its acid reacts with baking soda to release gas and leaven batter.” Hello, buttermilk pancakes. Interestingly, he doesn’t mention it being used as a meat tenderizer and this guy is pretty darn thorough… Anyway, it’s that same acid that leavens that apparently breaks down protein. If you’re not up for this little chemistry experiement, you can sub with yogurt.
2. Add the hot sauce and cayenne pepper into the buttermilk and stir well.
This is where I realized I forgot to scale down the hot sauce and cayenne pepper. But that’s OK. Read my blog title.
3. Put the halved chicken wings into a big container and pour the marinade over them. Cover and refrigerate for 2 days.
Not the most photogenic process, I know. But how exciting! I was really good during the two days of waiting. No peeking.
On the big day, you’ll need:
About 3 cups canola oil (Ruhlman says peanut oil is best for frying chicken. I didn’t have any.)
1 cup all-purpose flour/cornstarch
4 t salt
4 t freshly ground black pepper
2 t garlic powder
1. Retrieve the marinating chicken from the fridge. Transfer everything to a colander so the wings are drained of the marinade. Place them on a baking rack and let them drain further, about 45 mintues. I put the baking rack on top of some parchment paper to catch whatever marinade was left. Makes cleaning up so much easier. The recipe calls this part air drying but I didn’t notice any drying, just more dripping.
2. Mix flour, salt, pepper and garlic powder in a medium bowl to make the coating. Interesting thing about the coating – I mistook the potato starch my Mom keeps in the kitchen as cornstarch which is what the original recipe calls for and so didn’t pick up any at the grocery store. I decided to use it anyway thinking, ‘How bad could it be?’. I found out it can be very bad. When I proceeded to dredge the wings in the potato starch mixture, it seemed to melt away and disappear almost like the chicken was sucking it all up. I kept dredging it anyway and managed to get a couple of wings into the hot oil. Some of the coating seemed to separate from the chicken once it was submerged in oil and floated to the surface like brown scum. The wings turned out black. OK, maybe my oil was too hot but everything else was pretty weird. So I just used good ‘ol all purpose flour and tapped off the excess.
A side note on garlic powder – I find that the only way to stop it from becoming one solid mass inside the bottle/packet is to store it in the freezer.
3. Heat the oil in a medium skillet on medium-high heat. Drop the wings into the oil, away from you. Turn down the heat to medium and fry until cooked.
4. When cooked, drain them on paper towels and transfer to a medium bowl. There is a recipe for sauce but I didn’t follow it to the letter. It’s basically melted butter and hot sauce with some brown sugar and apple cider vinegar thrown in if you like. I think I ended up using about 2 tablespoons butter, 1/2 cup Frank’s Xtra Hot Sauce, a couple tablespoons of Tabasco sauce and a tablespoon of brown sugar. I brought everything to a boil in a saucepan, poured it over the fried chicken wings and tossed it all up. It coated maybe a third of the chicken wings.
5. Serve with celery/carrot/jicama (singkamas) sticks and dip of your choice. I went with blue cheese dressing.
Pretty good but a little ho-hum and I’m not sure why. I first tried a wing that wasn’t sauced. I thought it would be very spicy since I forgot to cut the hot sauce in half for the marinade but it wasn’t. In fact, it wasn’t spicy at all. I find this more strange than disappointing. The meat, however, was soft and tender so I guess the buttermilk really works! I thought I detected a super subtle aftertaste, something kinda starchy, but I can’t be sure where that was from and it’s negligible so I’ve decided not to lose sleep over it. I think what might have taken away from all this was the aftermath of deep frying in a tiny kitchen – grease settling everywhere! Add to that the fact that I waited 2 days with bated breath to make this and maybe it was destined to be never good enough. I’m being melodramatic. They were pretty good.
Fun Food Fact: The chemical responsible for the heat in chili peppers is called capsaicin. It is found in the seeds and white membrane inside the chili pepper. Because it is soluble in alcohol and fat, drinking water does little to distinguish the flames in your mouth. I learned all this from a bag of chips.