Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Cocoa-Habanero Wings

Let's be honest: there aren't many people out there who don't like chicken wings. Hot, mild, sweet, tangy, messy, crispy, spicy, juicy... whatever your preference, wings are a crowd-pleaser. I, personally, think it has at least something to do with the fact that you have to throw manners to the wind and just get in there if you really want to enjoy them. I hold that to be a somewhat universal law in food: if you have to work a little bit for it (wings, crabs, lobster claws, etc.), it just tastes better. Maybe that's why I became a cook.
So when Julia and I were grocery shopping the other day and she grabbed a pack of raw chicken wings, I got excited. Making wings, for me, is one of the easiest and funnest ways to cook. You need nothing more than a bowl, a bag, and your imagination. I go foraging through my pantry and fridge, scanning the labels excitedly and grabbing armfuls of spice-jars, cans and bottles that clink joyfully as I haul them onto the counter. Sometimes I have to rely on taste to identify an unmarked spice bag (hello, harissa spice mix) or mason jar (mmm, apricot-vanilla jam); it's all part of the fun. From there, it's just about putting shit into the bowl and tasting as you go.
I mean, use your head; don't start with chocolate milk and add a dash of mustard. Think about how you want your wings to taste. Sweet? Start with some jam, maybe, or even fruit juice. Want some spice? Just add something spicy. Anything spicy, in fact. Just add it in small amounts and check it carefully and slowly as you go. There are very few spices and flavors that won't work. The key is adding little amounts of an ingredient at first, then adjusting more generously as you start to taste what works. My mom always said, "You can always add more, but you can never take away." Follow that guideline and you pretty much can't go wrong.
It's a damn shame that there are people who believe that Hooters' wings are the best thing out there. Even sadder are the giant plastic bags of T.G.I.Friday's frozen wings in the supermarket troughs, flash frozen and frostbitten, covered in high-fructose corn syrup. And don't even get me started on boneless "wings." At that point you're just settling for the lowest common denominator, and you might as well get yourself a box of chicken nuggets and call it a day. Jackass.
So this is what I came up with; it was a HUGE hit with a panel of wing aficionados. Full disclosure: the panel consisted of Julia and myself. That being said, the wings are sweet, earthy, and had some nice kick that sort of snuck up on us, which I loved (albeit more so than Julia). I do, however, guarantee you that they were tastier, more succulent, and kicked the crap out of most of the wings you're used to tearing through. And you can tell Hooters I said that.

If you wanna try them, put all this stuff in a big bowl:

1/4 C    canola oil
1 T    chili oil
1 T    worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 T    rice wine vinegar
2 T    jalapeno jam (this is what I used, but any jam can be subbed in; a spicy jam is, obviously, best if you want more kick.)
1 T    honey
2 t    soy sauce
2 t    habanero pepper (finely minced habanero w/ seeds works, as does jarred habanero paste from mercados.)
2 T cocoa powder
1 T garlic powder
pinch of salt

Whisk all this stuff together to a smooth texture, then toss it in a large ziplock bag with 6-12 wings and refrigerate it for up to 24 hrs.

Lay the wings on a sheet tray and bake at 350 degrees, uncovered, for an hour, basting every 15 minutes.* Then eat the hell out of them.

*After you lay the wings out to bake, pour the remaining sauce from the bag into a bowl (or small saucepot) and whisk in 1-2 T of melted butter; keep it warm and use it to baste the wings with a pastry brush every 15 minutes, or more often if you want to baby them (which is juuuuuuust fiiiiiiiiine).

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