photo by Heath Robbins
I wasn’t going to share this recipe with you. I’d already blown my wad on three permission requests for Jap Chae, Pork Ribs with Fresh Ginger, and Tofu and Clam Hot Pot, all equally good but in very different ways, and all from The Korean Table. But then I tried these wings, and I got greedy. Oh Tuttle Publishing, would you please grant me permission to use yet another recipe on the blog? Because of their generosity, I present you with the best-ever chicken wings. They are hot and spicy, a tiny bit sweet, and deeply flavorful. The latter is likely courtesy of gochujang (a fermented red pepper paste), soy sauce, and wine. All of these ingredients have what’s called umami—the fifth dimension of flavor that keeps you wanting more. Aromatics—ginger and garlic—also do their part to make these the best-ever wings.
Part of the reason I made these wings was to keep some of the wonderful Korean components I’d made from withering in the back of the refrigerator. So instead of using undoctored Korean red pepper paste, as the recipe calls for, I used Taekyung Chung’s ramped up version: Seasoned Red Pepper Paste, which is also used in the hot pot recipe I shared with you to help you get through the Polar Vortex of 2014. Taekyung’s seasoned version is more flavorful that straight gochujang, and it is also less fiery.
If you don’t have some Seasoned Red Pepper Paste already made up, just use the Korean red pepper paste (gochujang) straight out of the jar. That will save you a step. You will have to make the Sweet Soy Base Sauce, however. Once the Sweet Soy Base Sauce is made, this recipe comes together very quickly—in fact, the quickest of all that I made from the book. I have to confess that I made the oven version. And knowing first-hand how very, very good the oven version is, it’s not hard to imagine that the fried version must be off the charts of chicken wings excellence.
This hunch was confirmed by one who’s tried them both ways, Tuttle’s publicist, Rowan Muelling-Auer:
Fried is the way to go. I’ve done them baked, too, which is actually pretty good, but I thought the fried gave them a much better depth of flavor. Plus that crispy, crunchy texture is the bomb!
Korean Hot Wings
Dak Gangjung 닭강정
8 chicken wings (about 2 lbs/1 kg total), split at the joint (16 pieces total)
1 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt or kosher salt
½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup (250 ml) plus 1 tablespoon neutral-flavored oil with a high smoke point, such as canola, untoasted sesame, corn, safflower or grape seed oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced
¾ oz (20 g) fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
¼ cup (30 g) walnut halves (optional)
1 lemon, cut into 4 wedges
5 tablespoons Sweet Soy Base Sauce
1 tablespoon Korean red pepper paste (or do as I did and add 2 tablespoons Seasoned Red Pepper Paste, or more to taste)
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 to 2 dried finger-length red chili peppers, cut into thin rings
- Place the split chicken wings in a large plastic bag. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Add cornstarch and mix until all pieces are coated. Set aside for 5 minutes.
- In a wok, add 1 cup of the oil and place over medium high heat. The oil is ready when it reaches 350°F on a thermometer or when, after sprinkling a little cornstarch into the wok, the oil bubbles up around the cornstarch. If the cornstarch sinks the oil is not hot enough.
- Working in batches, carefully slip in chicken pieces to form a single layer. Fry on one side for about 2 minutes. With a pair of tongs, turn the pieces and fry an additional minute. It is important not to over crowd the chicken pieces, so if you are working with a small wok, add fewer chicken wings.
- Place a wire rack on top of a baking sheet. Set the wings on the wire rack. Repeat with remaining wings.
- Let the oil heat back up for another minute before adding a new batch of wings. Test the temperature again with the cornstarch to make sure the oil is hot. Repeat the above frying process with the wings, for about 1 minute per side. Drain on the wire rack.
- Strain the oil into a heatproof container, with a lid, and let cool. When cooled, cover and store in the refrigerator.
- In a small bowl, combine the sauce ingredients. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the wok.
- Over medium-low heat, stir-fry the garlic and ginger for 30 seconds. Pour in the sauce and heat over high until the sauce begins to bubble.
- Add the chicken wings and walnuts, if using, to the wok. Stir with a metal spatula until all the wings are cooked and well coated, about 3 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges.
Variation: Roasted Korean Hot Wings
- Preheat the oven to 425°F.
- Place the split chicken wings in a large plastic bag. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Add cornstarch and mix until all the pieces are coated. Set aside for 5 minutes.
- Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and brush the foil with neutral-flavored oil. Set the wings on the baking sheet.
- Bake the wings for 8 minutes. Turn them over and bake for an additional 8 minutes. The wings should be almost done.
- In a small bowl, combine the sauce ingredients.
- In a wok, heat 1 tablespoon neutral-flavored oil. Add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Pour in the sauce. Heat on high until the mixture begins to bubble.
- Add the cooked chicken wings to the wok and the walnuts, if using. Stir them with a metal spatula until all the wings are cooked and well coated, about 3 to 5 minutes.
- Serve with lemon wedges.
(Recipes and photography from The Korean Table by Taekyung Chung and Debra Samuels. Photography by Heath Robbins. Recipe for and photograph of Korean Hot Wings reprinted with the express permission of Tuttle Publishing, http://www.tuttlepublishing.com/.)