Winter Wings

While I have lots of good memories of Moriarty’s wings (old school, buffalo sauce classic), my recent cravings gravitate toward the confit buffalo wings at Devil’s Den (preferably when they’re using the whole wing) or, the brined whole wings that Taproom On 19th did for a short time around their opening (while they’re featuring a solid take on classic bar wings now–along with some banging, not too sweet, somehow still crispy Korean/kung pao wings–the previous incarnation was degrees apart).

I also think of the wings from the roasted chickens I’ve purchased from Ledamete Grass Farm in Lehigh Valley (see my article featuring them on pg. 14 here). Given a two-day brine (see below), the more textured, deeply flavorful pasture raised chicken (actual physical movement equals better texture; a diverse diet leads to better flavor) makes for juicy and delicious wings.

Legends of The Fall

Back in the september,inspired in part by Cheu’s infamous black garlic wings, I carried over the shishito and cilantro that Puchowitz applies. Rather than sauté the shishito, I cut them into rings and put them on the finished wings with the cilantro. Like most people, I don’t have a fryer at home. But that’s hardly holding me back since it’s easy enough to cook wings to a crisp finish in the oven (while I like Cheu’s wings, the best are crispy).

To the light sweetness that came from a bit of cardamom in my brine, I added a coating of black and sichuan peppercorns before and after baking. To get to the desired crispness, I coated the wings with garlic oil before and during cooking. Afterwards, I smashed garlic confit into the wings ahead of layering on the contrasting somewhat spicy/lightly vegetal shishito and the brightness of the cilantro.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago and I realized both cilantro and shishito were a bit harder to come by as we were squarely in the middle of winter.

Winter Wings
I recently took another bag of wings from Shady Acres Farm–purchased at Fair Food Farmstand at Reading Terminal Market–and changed up my brine a bit. For no reason other than I just purchased a bunch of it from Melange Tea & Spice, I added a lot of Vietnamese cinnamon (for all you bakers, the measurement was a shit ton), along with some cardamom.

Photo by Jackie Philleo

Photo by Jacki Philleo

Upon tasting one of the wings as they finished, they were sweeter than I expected. Immediately, I was thinking of what I could add to complement the flavor. I remembered I had carrots and cabbage.

The carrots were an obvious choice. Thinly sliced, I roasted them for about 30 minutes, long enough to break down enough of their starches into simples sugars. I sprinkled some cinnamon and honey on them before tossing them in a bowl with some cream from a jug of Trickling Springs Creamery milk. I also roasted the cabbage–cut to different degrees of thickness–before cutting and placing atop the finished wings. I also applied a very simplistic red wine reduction to which I added cream, diced dry sour cherries, and some pan juices from the roasted chicken.

On trying this recipe again, I improved upon it by pan frying half inch to one inch cuts of cabbage in a cast iron skillet with lots of butter. When added to the wings, you get a nice textural contrast, while the butter helps to bring out the sweetness of the cabbage. My friend Craig Parahus, who provided the plating for the attached shots, improved the sauce: a reduction of aged balsamic, sugar, a little bit of red wine, and whole dried chilis  that he later picked out. To the tartness and sweetness of the sauce, the light cast of cayenne inflected nicely off the peppercorn coating the wings.

Wings baked for 30-40 minutes. Be sure to leave them out ~15-20 minutes before putting in the oven.
Coat with oil and black peppercorn in the pan. Set in oven preset to 350. Crank up to 450 after 15 minutes.

Reduction: Cook down on low heat. ~20-25 minutes. Add diced sour cherries at the end or during cooking process. We’re not splitting the atom here.

Brine: Here’s the template that I started with when first brining whole chickens.
It’s from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc At Home cookbook:

5 lemons, halved
24 bay leaves
1 bunch (4 ounces) flat-leaf parsley
1 bunch (1 ounce) thyme
1/2 cup honey
1 head garlic, halved through the equator
1/4 cup black peppercorns
2 cups (10 ounces) kosher salt
2 gallons water

Reduce this brine recipe to the amount of water you need to submerge whatever you’re brining. I do not go as heavy with the citrus. I put in some lemon juice and whatever dried peels I have lying around (sometimes not cleaning up your kitchen–i.e. leaving orange and lemon peels around to dry–pays off). Add herbs, juniper berries, throw different spices in, THE WORLD IS YOURS–make this brine your own. After salt, pepper, garlic, and sugar (I use honey and brown sugar since honey isn’t cheap), it’s up to you to decide which flavors you want to infuse into whatever you’re brining.

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