Chicken wings. Let’s take a moment to savor that thought together. What comes to mind? Is it your favorite variety? Or the times in which you usually eat them? Do you think of health effects or the cleanliness of the way you eat them? Or, do you think of the debate between the pro-breading and anti-breading camps or whether they’re best cooked by deep frying or baking?
Whatever the actual thoughts or wherever you’re from, the point is that you’ve probably got some opinion of them, and you’ve most likely tried them. I’d even venture to guess—unless you’re vegetarian, have some diet restriction not allowing you to eat them or generally have a distaste for delicious things—you probably like them. In fact, even if you think they’re completely unhealthy, there’s a very good chance you love them.
Everyone knows chicken wings, seriously, everyone. If you don’t believe me, you probably haven’t traveled much. You could probably go on a chicken wing tour of the world to see all the variations concocted by different cultures and see most of the planet. From the lime-paprika-cumin marinades in Peru to the gojujiang-ginger-sesame bastes in Korea, you can find a form of this finger-lickin’ snack or appetizer wherever you go. It’s a pretty safe thing to eat when traveling, too. If you’re too afraid to try famous delicacies like dried shark, fetus eggs or bird’s nest soup, you can always fall back on chicken wings to get you through a multicultural meal.
Not many cultures are as proud of wings as Americans. Buffalo hot wings—supposedly from Buffalo, New York—tend to be the most popular variety, usually served up deep-fried and doused in hot sauce. They are the most prepared dish during Super Bowl season and are so loved during that time of year that there can even be a shortage of them in some areas. There are whole restaurants dedicated to the American love of chicken wings, and they serve a plethora of variations, most of them proudly boasting to serve the best wings around.
Being an American, I have sure missed American-style wings in China, although I do find it very amusing to see locals eat them with chopsticks. Of course, I can always hit up a local sports bar for their rendition of hot wings, and I don’t have to look hard at all to find them on Chinese menus or sold by street vendors. They’re popular at KTV and just about anywhere as an appetizer, and some of them are absolutely delicious. You can even get them sold on sticks like kebabs at shaokao places.
Making homemade wings hasn’t always been easy, but pretty soon after moving here, I learned to make a version of them in a pan on the stovetop when I really needed a wing fix. Later on, I bought a small oven and re-learned the art of making crispy oven-baked wings, the recipe for which is below. When making them on the stovetop, they’re not going to be very crispy, unless you actually deep fry them. But try them out, you might like this style even if the method seems strange. Season them as below, put them in a pan, and then heat them on medium-low until the meat is cooked through. Turn up the heat for the final round on each side, boiling off all remaining liquid and letting the pan make them crispier. Since these wings tend to be softer, you can add more liquid marinades before cooking since they’ll infuse well with the skin.
When baking them, however, you can make them quite crispy without drying them out, with a little patience and time. The recipe below asks you to pour off fat halfway through, which minimizes their unhealthiness. If you want to try to make oven-baked hot wings with an American flavor, find some hot sauce at a local import store or have a friend buy some from the States to bring to you. But, as any person who has traveled and tried them in different countries can tell you, wings can be a blank canvas for a variety of flavors, so get experimental and try different things. With this recipe below, you don’t even need sauce.
Oven-baked hot wings
20 chicken wings and/or small drum sticks
Sea salt and cracked black pepper
15mL extra-virgin olive oil
Mixed Italian herbs, dried
Hot wing sauce, if desired
1. Preheat oven to 170 degrees C
2. Wash chicken wings and pat dry. Place in a mixing bowl.
3. Add oil and all seasoning to the wings, as much as desired (start with a pinch of salt and 5mL each of the others). Mix to coat evenly.
4. In a glass pan (or, metal pan lined with foil), arrange wings so that they are touching but not overlapped, skin side down.
5. Cook for 30 minutes.
6. Remove from oven, and drain fat from the pan. Rearrange wings as before, with skin side up.
7. Cook for another 30 minutes and remove from heat.
8. Remove to a bowl and toss with sauce if desired, preferably hot wing sauce.
When buying wings in the market, you might need to specify that you only want the meatier part of the wings, unless you do actually want to try the wing tips. Wing tips don’t have very much meat, but they’re often cooked by street food vendors here. Traditional wings tend to be the middle segment and upper arms, which also look like small drum sticks. If you think wings are too difficult to eat, you can follow this exact recipe for leg drum sticks as well for similar results. Finally, when I want to spice up this recipe without changing the seasoning altogether, I add ingredients like fresh minced garlic, minced spicy chili peppers, grated ginger, lemon juice or soy sauce.
Serve with: beer
Serving size: 4 as an appetizer