Playing Chicken

Getting a grasp on balancing full-time work, a commute, and everyday housework has sidelined one of my favorite activities. This beloved space. I have just enough time to cook, yes. Writing? There’s only so much of me to go around. At the end of the day, after my commute, after cooking and/or chores, I don’t have much gas left in the tank to pick up the laptop and write. I miss writing. I got my degree in English Literature & Language after all. Reading, writing, …and cooking, fulfill me more than anything else. My day job is a great way to pay the bills and be a blessing to others, but my heart is in the home. A friend of mine from childhood once said she always thought I’d turn out to be a writer. In some small way, I feel like this space is the fulfillment of that prophecy.

I recently was seeking some re-inspiration. Something to give me a little kick in my pants. I pulled out some old back issues of Saveur magazine for some fresh joie de vivre. I enjoy reading about a wide variety of cuisines and cultures and Saveur really delivers on that. One particular issue featured a recipe for Japanese-Style Chicken Wings (Teba No Karaage). If there’s ever a winner-winner-chicken-dinner in our house, it’s definitely chicken wings. The crispy wings, fresh from the fryer, gently tossed in a bold sauce or dusted in a zesty seasoning are the ultimate game day snack or even an indulgent Saturday night dinner. We’re pretty partial to them in our house. They may be chicken, but there are so many ways you can spin them.

The typical way to prepare chicken wings is to deep fry them in hot oil until crispy and finish them with a little S&P and/or seasoning/sauce of choice. With the rise in popularity of the air fryer in recent years, many a home cook has switched over to the much more user-friendly appliance to “fry” their game-day grub. I honestly think deep-frying has it’s place, but if I can have delicious, crispy chicken wings without hauling out the large, heavy pot and stinking up the whole house and trying to figure out what to do to dispose of the fryer oil afterwards… I can go to town on an order of BWW Garlic Parm wings, but at home, I’m gonna pick the air fryer 99% of the time. I bet you can guess what we did in this instance…

Truthfully there were other things we did differently. For some reason, we were having trouble finding a couple of ingredients locally. Even my personal Mecca (Central Market) was sadly out of them. Amazon is good for many things, but I think there’s even a limit to what I want to source on Amazon. I drew the line at mirin and sansho in this instance. Would more authentic ingredients be better? Probably. But why buy things I will likely only use once and then have the remainder taking up space in my pantry for who knows how long? Sometimes, you just have to do yourself a favor and use what you have on hand that is close enough to the essence of the dish. In this case, that meant cooking sherry for mirin; and a combination of fresh cracked black pepper and chili flakes for sansho. All of a sudden, I’m hungry again…

The sprightly, umami forward marinade turned out to be one of my favorite ones to date, surprisingly. I’m not super fond of sake, but I found that it made for a great marinade base not unlike the vermouth-and-maple-syrup-based marinade that was such a hit at Thanksgiving a couple years ago. Plus, when you’re using these kinds of things to cook, you really don’t want to spend a ton of money when it’s just going to blend with the other ingredients. I literally bought the smallest cheapest bottle I could get in my Walmart pick up order for the week. I often use the more economical cooking wines if a recipe calls for it. Is it 100% the same? No. But I’m fairly confident in my cooking skills and no one really notices the difference. I’m not cooking at Jean Georges here.

The acidity in the marinade was tempered by the tropical notes from the fresh ginger. All was brought down to earth by the warm, nuttiness of the sesame oil. Don’t sleep on this ingredient. Sesame oil is cheap. You can get a little tiny bottle for like $3 at Walmart and it really makes this marinade. This is one concession to unique ingredients I don’t mind taking up space in my pantry. If I’m making any sort of Asian-inspired meal or salad dressing, I swap sesame oil in for whatever oil is involved. My favorite is Lee Kum Kee. La Tourangelle certainly has a good one, but it is generally harder to find, so I always just have the LKK on hand by default.

I wasn’t always so sure of the air fryer. I wasn’t sure I wanted “another gadget,” but The Mr really wanted one, so I relented and bought him one for his birthday or Christmas one year. I gotta say. I’m sold. It’s become a part of the family like the Instant Pot. I’m so impressed with how it gives food that crisp and crunch you’d only expect from deep-frying. A couple of things haven’t turned out, but hands down, our favorite thing to cook in the air fryer is chicken wings. The wings are plucked straight from the marinade, generously dredged in potato starch, and straight into a preheated air fryer. Once fried, the wings are quickly tossed in a snappy sauce and sprinkled with pepper. They are to be to be enjoyed immediately, but try to sit down first! If you can’t find potato starch, corn starch will do. You can use regular AP flour, but you won’t get the same crackly, crunch as you would from either starch.

These wings are very Asian-forward in flavor, but in a completely approachable way to someone who may prefer more Mediterranean/Tex-Mex/BBQ flavors. I have plans to steal some of these ideas and flavors for chicken wings in the future. They’re lightly sticky-sweet with a steady undercurrent of savory nuttiness that keeps it from being cloying and too assertive on the palate. I’m absolutely keeping potato starch handy for Summertime Friday nights in. We didn’t have lemons on hand, but we did have limes. Truthfully, neither was needed. The balance of flavors was such that, even if left off, the additional acid wouldn’t be terribly missed.

What did we serve them with? Plenty of napkins! A nice green salad lightly dressed in a zippy vinaigrette would have paired well with the wings, but I can’t lie and say we did that. I feel like we checked the “healthier” box by air frying vs deep frying. Don’t judge me! When we’re making chicken wings, healthy sides are the last thing on my mind. Fries are usually in the sidecar, so may I recommend fresh french fries topped with a little kimchi.

Question: What is your favorite chicken wing flavor? One that you just can’t quit.

Scripture: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” -Matthew 23:37

Currently Reading: Birds of a Feather (on audiobook – thanks to Libby) by Jacqueline Winspear

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