This first foray into crispy chicken doesn’t quite fit into the pattern I mentioned above, because there’s nothing Asian about it at all. Other than that, though, the classic chicken wing fits right into the mold: crispy and doused in a highly flavored sauce. Unfortunately, Wing Basket – my favorite wing place in Albuquerque – closed, and I haven’t found another that makes wings crispy and flavorful enough to satisfy. (Yes, recommendations are welcome! Go to town in the comments!)
I decided it was time to make them myself. I didn’t worry about the sauce – I love bright and tangy Wing Time sauce, and figured I’d work on the frying part first and then maybe move on to figuring out the perfect homemade drench. The most important thing to me is that the skin be extremely crisp. I was going to just throw them in the fryer, but then I came across The Food Lab‘s recipe for “The Ultimate Extra-Crispy Double Fried Confit Chicken Wings.” Arne was out of town and the only other plan I had for the night was binge-watching the second season of Suits (worth watching for Gina Torres and her clothes alone, I’m serious), so I thought I’d take the extra step and double-fry those babies.
The recipe and accompanying article promised perfect wings, with tender meat and shatteringly crisp, crunchy skin. The key was supposed to be the first, relatively low-heat frying, which would dehydrate the skin and break down the collagen, so on the second fry everything would be perfectly set up to achieve mouth-watering crisp tenderness.
I pulled out the big jar of peanut oil I keep in the refrigerator for deep-frying (I carefully strain and reuse it several times, because peanut oil is expensive) and poured it into my red enamel Dutch oven. I have a nice Ninja deep-fryer, but in order to use it I would have to get it out of the garage and, more importantly, clear off a space on the cluttered kitchen table to use it on. Though it just now occurs to me that I could use the counter. Well, next time.
As the recipe instructed, after cutting each wing into drumettes and flats, I added them to the cold oil in the pot. This method might have surprised me if I hadn’t started using a similar method recently for The Best, Easiest French Fries at Home. I turned the heat to medium-high and brought the temperature up to about 230, then kept it there for about 10 minutes (a total of about 20 minutes in the oil). I used my trusty Asian wire skimmer to fish the wings, still pale except for a few brown spots, out of the fryer, placed them on a rack to drain, and left them to cool and rest for about 90 minutes.
After two episodes of Suits, I came back to the kitchen and brought the heat of the oil up to about 400 over high heat, then added the wings and cooked them for 10 minutes, until they were very brown and looked really crisp. While they cooked, I poured the sauce in a large bowl and heated it just a bit in the microwave, so I wouldn’t be tossing my hot wings into cold sauce.
After tossing the wings with the Wing Time sauce, I excitedly took a bite before I even made it to the table. They were tangy and flavorful, and the skin was super-crisp even after several minutes in the sauce – as advertised. They were better than any wing I’ve had in a restaurant lately by a mile. But… were they perfect?
As I dunked my wings in homemade blue-cheese dressing and devoured them, I had to conclude that they were not quite there. The sauce needed more spice – next time I’ll try the classic of Frank’s hot sauce and butter. But what I noticed more was that the meat of the wing itself seemed just a little tough – the recipe included an oven method for step one that was supposed to make more tender wings, so I’ll try that next time – and a little flat, like it needed salt. Would just salting the wings before cooking help? What about brining? I don’t know if adding moisture would be a problem.
My conclusion: This recipe makes great wings. But in order to make the very best possible wings, I’m going to have to keep trying. Which, honestly, seems like no hardship to me. More chicken wings? Oh no! I’ll have to manage somehow….
Tune in next time as The Crispy Chicken Chronicles explores one variation on Korean fried chicken!
Edited 9/3/14: Made the wings again, this time using the oven method for the first “fry,” and it was perfect. Also, I pitted Wing Time against the classic sauce of Frank’s Hot Sauce and melted butter, and it was no contest: Frank’s wins hands-down. When you taste Frank’s, your mouth knows… THIS is Buffalo sauce. Also, and to my surprise, the wings stayed much crisper in the Frank’s sauce than in the much thicker and gloppier Wing Time.