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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Grilled Soy-Lemongrass Chicken Wings

Chicken wings are probably the country's favorite Superbowl finger foods... or for almost any occasion.  Most times I start the bbq, the first things that would be on it are chicken wings.  They're just so damn good.  And for my bbq's it's perfect because everybody's inside-carnivorism tendency comes out.  Yes, I just created a word.  And it's an awesome word.  I mix up a lot of different recipes depending on what we're having with it, but generally this is my go-to recipe.

Why is this recipe great?  Well, I found soy based marinades to be perfect with chicken.  (I know this is probably considered a 'brine' but we'll keep things simple.  I consider anything that imparts flavor into meat, marinades.)  The umami in the soy goes so well with the lemongrass.  I add fish sauce, because it just adds to that umami, and it goes so well with lemongrass.  Also, because, well... I'm Vietnamese.  Top it off with sesame seeds that gives the meat such wonderful flavor when grilled.  It's amazing.

Now, where do I get my wings?  Costco.  $2/lb for the fresh ones.  Yes, I know, you get the whole wing.  I hate buying those frozen precut ones.  I sometimes confuse them for T-Rex legs because they are so freaking huge.  They're not as tender, and dry out when grilled because of the longer heating time required.  OK, so you have a problem with dejointing the wings?  Learn how!

Dejointing wings:

1) Rinse your wings and have a work surface ready.  When working with chicken, be sure you won't contaminate other work areas.  Surprise salmonella in your apple the next day is not cool.  You'll need a nice sharp boning knife.  I'm Asian so I'm using my Chinese chef's knife.  It's like a cleaver except smaller and a bit easier to handle.

2)  I usually start with the drumette.  Hold it upright and you should be able to cut right through very easily.  If you are using a lot of force, you're doing it wrong.  It should come off with one clean slice.  The key is to not use much force.  If you missed, try again.

3) Next up is the wingette and the wing tip.  This part is a little tricker.  How I take care of the problem is that I snap the wing tip back, so you see where you'll be cutting.

4) Using the slicing method from earlier, cut off the wingette and the wing tip.

5) You should now have three separate pieces.  Don't throw away the wing tips!  They are excellent in stock.  Store them in a freezer bag, and when you collect enough, make some stock.  You can also save them for when you have chicken carcasses, and throw them in that stock too, for even more flavor.  Notice that on the pictures, there is very little running juices.  I try to have the chicken wings dry out a bit after rinsing them.  I'll pass on the salmonella :).

Now that you have the pieces jointed, clean up!  Like I said, surprise salmonella sucks.  Wash your hands with soap before proceeding to start the marinade.

Marinade ingredients:

1 lb chicken wings
1 cup soy sauce
1 tbs fish sauce
1 tbs oyster sauce
1 tbs finely chopped lemongrass
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 inch knob of ginger, grated or finely minced (dry ginger will work in a pinch)
2 green onions, sliced thin
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tbs sesame seeds
2 tbs (or to taste) sriacha
2 Thai chilis

Toss all ingredients together.  Pour in freezer bag to marinade or cover work bowl up with plastic wrap.  Marinade for at least 30 minutes, ideally for 2-4 hours.

Grilling instructions:

1) Take wings out of the fridge to allow it to come closer to room temperature.

2) Preheat grill.  Set up grill for indirect grill if using coal grill.  That means placing the coals in one side of the grill only.  If using gas grill, follow the manufacturer's instructions for indirect grilling.  This is essential as you want to get a nice sear on the wings, but you also want to make sure the insides are cooked.  It goes with my let's-not-get-salmonella-philosophy on cooking.

3) While grill is preheating, this step is optional, but I like to dry wings with a paper towel.  Or at least pour out the marinade to dry the wings a bit.  Wet wings do not sear well.  Also, the high sugar in the marinade means burning.  And that's not a good thing.

4) When grill is ready, coat some paper towels with canola or vegetable oil and wipe grates.  This will help prevent sticking.  Place wings on direct heat to sear.  Timing is hard to say here.  It just depends on the heat, but you should make sure both sides of the chicken are seared.

5) Place seared chicken on the side without the coals/flames.  Turn the wings over occasionally.  This will slowly cook the chicken so it does not burn.  It will take about 25 minutes, it really depends on the heat and the size of your wings.  You'll know its ready when the juices run clear.  I've cooked them often so I kinda have an idea and I just poke them.  Also, as chef, you get first privilege.  To be absolutely sure, I always grab the thickest piece and rip off the middle.  As long as the meat is not slimy, you're good.  Eat and enjoy!