A chicken wing is a terrible thing to waste.
So why do the wings we have in restaurants taste so good, while the ones we make at home tend to be greasy or dessicated? Or greasy and dessicated, which is a feat in itself.
Turns out there’s a trick, and it lies in the same thing that makes restaurant fries so good. You cook them. Then you cook them again.
“I look for two things in a great wing,” says Kyle Itani, executive chef at Hopscotch, the chic Oakland diner with a Japanese sensibility. “First, the crunchiness of the exterior balanced against the moistness of the interior meat. There is nothing worse than a soggy wing or a dried-out wing. Second, how spicy the sauce is, balanced against how flavorful the sauce is.”
So Itani steams the wings first. Then he fries them.
“It’s a double-cooking process. We’re borrowing from Peking duck,” he says. “Steaming melts the skin a little bit. You don’t have to worry about the meat being raw. It’s already cooked through. The frying gets it nice and crispy, but it’s moist inside. It’s like you double-cook fries.”
If you’re anxious about the prospect of deep-frying — especially deep-frying while concentrating on bungled calls and gridiron debacles on the flat screen across the room — Gabe Caliendo, the chef at Concord’s new Lazy Dog restaurant, understands.
“In a restaurant setting, wings are usually deep-fried to order to crisp the skin. At home it is difficult to accomplish this,” Caliendo says. “Also, most people are usually slightly stressed when cooking chicken, as they want to make sure the chicken is fully cooked. Combined with the pressure of entertaining at home, you have the potential for less-than-desirable results.”
Caliendo favors a double-cooking technique for the same reasons — the chicken stays moist inside, crispy outside and there’s no danger of distinctly pink meat — but he suggests using your oven and broiler to achieve a similar effect. He bakes the wings first on a rimmed cookie sheet with a cup of water and a layer of tightly crimped foil so the chicken can steam its way to moist doneness. A final stint in the broiler crisps the skin.
“Tossing them in sauce makes them go soggy faster and limits your guest to one flavor,” he says. Serve the sauces on the side and guests can choose whether they want to dunk their wings in that American classic, Frank’s Red Hot Buffalo Wings Sauce, teriyaki sauce, a blue cheese or ranch-style dressing, barbecue sauce or — Caliendo’s favorite — a Thai red chile sauce.
Itani likes the zip and heat of Frank’s Red Hot, too, but he gives the concept an Asian twist with kochijyang, a Korean chile paste, red miso, charred green onions and fresh ginger.
“It looks like Frank’s, but it isn’t,” he says. “I like heat, but not to the point where you can’t taste the chicken or the nuances in the sauce. Substituting a mix of kochijyang and red miso adds a deeper flavor than Frank’s, and the green onion and ginger add complexity to the dish.”
And, of course, you have to have blue cheese dressing. It’s Buffalo wings by way of Tokyo.
Hosting a Super Bowl party is a juggling act. It can be tough to turn out tasty dishes while watching the game. So Gabe Caliendo, chef at Concord’s new Lazy Dog restaurant, shares a few tips:
“Do as many things in advance as you can so you can look calm and relaxed and enjoy your guests,” he says. That includes tossing the chicken wings with a little vegetable oil, and seasoning them with salt and black pepper or red chile flakes up to two days ahead. The chicken wings can be baked or steamed ahead of time, then fried or broiled at the last minute to get crispy.
Double-bake the wings. “Low and slow to cook and tenderize,” he says, “and then high and fast to crisp.”
“Serving wing sauces on the side allows your guest to make the choice, removes one more step for the host to do and keep the wings crispier longer.”
Serving a few unexpected items will help jump-start party conversation. Caliendo suggests serving a homemade Thai chili sauce and pickled celery with those wings.