The Dos and Don’ts of Making Mind-Blowing Wings at Home
Four LA toques impart some wisdom on perfecting a classic tailgating dish
As far as appendages go, the chicken wing is rather useless. Even for the end user (us), it requires quite a bit of work before becoming a delicious appetizer.
The wing’s flight, so to speak, began in 1964 in Buffalo, NY, when Anchor Bar owner Tereassa Bellissimo tossed some leftover chicken in hot sauce for her family. They loved it and started serving it, which drew the attention of hot-sauce maker Dick Winger (honest-to-god real name), who — with the help of the Bellissimos — started hawking it nationwide.
This really didn’t take off until the ‘80s. People were then on a boneless chicken breast health kick, which depressed the cost of the wing. Simultaneously, sports bars were emerging, and the owners needed a cheap snack that could sit on tables for the duration of a game. The spicy chicken wing served this purpose, and it’s salty and spicy enough to whet the appetite for more beer.
With the foodie revolution of the last decade, chefs have upgraded the item. “I love the crispness of the skin, the textures,” says Chef Bryant Ng. His wing, found at Cassia, is actually grilled, and comes with the spiced sweetness typical of Southeast Asian cuisine.
But you don’t have to travel for great wings: making a great iteration at home is actually pretty easy, once you know what you’re doing. For some helpful tips, we tapped Ng as well as Steven Fretz (Top Round, Nic’s on Beverly), Eric Greenspan (Bubu’s) and Keith Corbin (Alta Adams).
Take them, commit them to memory, and then spread your wings this weekend and beyond — football season is long, and the National Chicken Council estimates that Americans eat around 1.38 billion of them on Super Bowl Sunday alone.
On the little things home chefs can do to render their wings restaurant-grade …
Ng marinades his bird bits overnight in a curry mix that includes curry, kosher salt, fish oil, coconut or rice vinegar, and garlic cloves. “You want to marinate overnight so the seasoning absorbs into the bird,” he says.
Greenspan, meanwhile, places his wings in a pot of cold water and turns up the heat so that they boil until par-cooked, rendering the fat out of the skin so they get crispy. “I add vinegar, salt, sugar,” he says. “All of the things in a pickle.”
“Most definitely use a brine,” agrees Corbin. He uses a buttermilk and salt and places it in the fridge for 24 hours. Then he flavors his flour with old bay, salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper.
“My biggest pet peeve is to see blood in a bite,” says Fretz. “I have to have it fall off the bone.” For that, Fretz starts with a boil, lasting 20 minutes, and adds enough salt to float a collapsed star. “Do it a day before and cool on either stainless steel or plastic.”
Fried, baked or grilled?
Ng used to fry his wings at The Spice Table, his previous restaurant. Now he grills them. “My wife suggested we do that,” he says. You want to cook them at a medium heat. “Pull one and cut into it,” he advises. “It should be about 165 degrees.”
Greenspan fries his at Bubu’s (fried chicken travels very well, and Bubu’s is delivery only), but he bakes them at home (after par-boiling) at 425 degrees until the skin is crispy. “It’s hard to dry out a wing if you’ve pre-boiled it.”
Fretz is all about the fried, and uses a counter frier. But he admits “it can get messy,” so advocates for grilling as an alternative. Corbin fries, too. But he par-cooks in the oven at 250 degrees until the inside is cooked, then browns and crisps the skin in the fryer. “It’s a fry-baked chicken.”
The one thing you should avoid at all costs …
Cast iron skillets! “Don’t do it,” says Fretz, “People always use too much oil, then they add the chicken and it sloshes around and causes a fire.” For the uninitiated, grease fires are very, very bad.
“Don’t use frozen chicken,” adds Greenspan. “A frozen bird is the lowest common denominator. Go for fresh.” And don’t overcook it. “Chicken is really resilient,” says Corbin. “Some use flour, some use cornstarch and others don’t bread at all. You can do anything to it — just don’t overcook it.”
On where to get the best birds in town …
Any fresh one, says Greenspan. “A meaty wing is super important,” he says. “Don’t just do drumsticks or middles; do both, because different people like different parts.”
“Any good, organic product is prefered,” says Fretz. And whether it’s from Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s or your local butcher, rinse it when you get home. “A lot of people don’t do that,” says Fretz. “Even an organic bird has been handled and wrapped in plastic so it’s a great idea to rinse it in cold water and dry it before beginning your prep.”
At Cassia, they use Mary’s Chicken, which you can get at Whole Foods. “It’s the best flavor,” says Ng. “They don’t use hormones and they treat the animals really well.” Corbin also likes Mary’s, but lately has turned to Naked Chicken, a free-range farm in Georgia. “I like the way they’re raised,” he says. “They eat what they’re supposed to eat, like worms, and the size is perfect — not too big and overbearing.”
As for sauce and accompaniments …
“You don’t want carrots and celery at your home,” says Corbin. “You want some garlic buttery Texas Toast!” Corbin makes wildly delicious okra, and seeing as it’s okra season, you should, too. Grab some at the market, brine it in salt for 7-10 minutes to extract that slim, cut off the tips and slice it down the middle. “Fry or grill it and it’s go time.”
“I’m a ranch guy,” says Greenspan. “But I guess I like blue cheese, too. I’m an equal opportunity dipper.” For his blue cheese, he adds a bit of greek yogurt instead of buttermilk. “It thickens it and adds acidity.” Greenspan is a Buffalo sauce man, using Frank’s and doctoring it up with roasted garlic and herbs. “I emulsify with vegetable oil because it can be done cold and heated up later.” Fretz also uses Frank’s, adding butter and a fine sea salt.
The flavors of Ng’s sauce are complex, but the recipe is simple to make. Like the ones above, you heat it up separately, cool and then coat the cooked wing in it. Ng serves his at Cassia with a Laksa leaf. “That may be hard to come by, even at the farmer’s market,” he confesses. “But you can substitute mint, cilantro or both.”
Nota bene: Feeling lazy? You can order from all of these chef’s via Caviar and Postmates. Both Bubu’s and Cassia’s Rice and Kitchen are specifically optimized for delivery, with dedicated kitchens and processes so that the food arrives tasting like you’re dining at the restaurant.