Recipe: Lydia Shire’s Fish Sauce-Spiked, Fried Garlic-Topped Buffalo Wings
For our October issue, Boston contributor Jolyon Helterman took Scampo chef Lydia Shire out on an extensive Buffalo wing crawl. The reason that Shire was such a good poultry-sampling partner-in-crime? She’s a total pro when it comes to making wings at home. Shire was kind enough to share her own fish sauce-spiked, fried garlic-topped version with us, so if you’re feeling enterprising the next time a wing craving takes over, do try them at home*. If you’re not feeling enterprising? Order in takeout from the winner of our wing crawl. Either way, try them Shire-style: i.e., paired with a martini. Ahead, Shire’s recipe, in her own words.
Football is my passion. It’s just about the only sport that transports me to another world, one where there’s not a single bill to pay or deadline to meet. On Sundays during football season, you can find me at home cooking up a storm for good friends, and nothing satisfies them more than hot, crispy chicken wings—deep-fried and dropped onto some crumpled brown paper to drain—as they stand around, a martini in one hand and a bottle of hot sauce in the other!
To my mind, the “flats” are the only part of the chicken wing worth eating. That’s right. The flat is the middle section of a three-part wing (the section between the wing tip and the drumette), with the two thin bones running down its length. That tiny morsel of tender chicken between those bones is the most succulent and perfect piece of meat on the entire bird! I am quite lucky that my main purveyor for meats, William & Co., will sell me just the wings that include the wing tip (for grasping ) and the flat—or, as they say in the meat biz, the “paddle.” I simply don’t bother with the drum end, which is attached to the breast and, in my opinion, not worth the calories. (It tastes too white and it’s tough and…okay, maybe I’m exaggerating slightly, but I’m trying to make a point here.)
My favorite recipe for Buffalo wings takes a combo approach, an adaptation of a recipe for Vietnamese-style wings I came across a few years ago at a restaurant called Pok Pok, in Portland, Oregon. (which now has outposts in New York City, too). I love this recipe, and was happy to discover how well the flavors of the garlicky fish-sauce marinade work with the traditional Buffalo-sauce flavors of Frank’s RedHot sauce and melted butter. Please give it a try! —Lydia Shire
1 c. fish sauce (my favorite is Viet Huong, available in Chinatown’s Asian markets)
1 c. granulated sugar
2 heads garlic: four large cloves peeled and crushed with the back of a knife, the rest diced small (don’t overchop)
18 whole chicken wings, drumettes removed and reserved for another use
1 head celery, leaves intact
1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch fresh mint (optional)
1/2 c. pure olive oil (or 1/4 c. each extra-virgin olive oil and peanut oil), for frying garlic
1 stick unsalted butter
1/4–1/2 c. Frank’s RedHot sauce
1 tsp. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
3 qt. peanut oil, for frying chicken
1 1/2 c. cornstarch
Freshly ground black pepper
1 bottle good-quality blue-cheese dressing (I like Ken’s Chunky Blue Cheese)
1. Combine fish sauce, sugar, and the four crushed garlic cloves in a large bowl and mix until sugar is fully incorporated. Add prepared chicken wings (the flats, with wing tips left intact) and toss to combine. Let marinate in refrigerator for three hours, turning occasionally.
2. Prepare celery sticks: I use only the paler inner stalks, with the leaves left on. (Save the outer stalks for long-cooked preparations like stocks or stuffing.) I cut the pretty stalks into manageable lengths and gently peel the backside to rid them of strings. Place peeled stalks in a bowl of ice water to crisp, and refrigerate until ready to serve.
3. Prepare garnishes: Pick cilantro tops and add to the ice-water bowl with the celery. Julienne mint leaves into very thin slivers (if using). Heat olive oil in a small sauté pan over medium temperature, being careful not to burn. (Hint: If you see or smell smoke, pour it out and start over.) Add chopped garlic and, swirling the pan on and off the heat to moderate the temperature, cook to a lovely light-golden shade (the color of butterscotch). Remove immediately with a slotted spoon, let drain on paper towels, and salt vigorously.
4. Prepare sauce: In a small saucepan, gently melt butter (do not let it boil), then add Frank’s RedHot sauce, lemon juice, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Set aside.
5. Pour peanut oil into a Dutch oven (or electric fryer), making sure oil only comes up to two-thirds of the vessel’s height, and heat to 350 degrees. Combine cornstarch in a large bowl with 3 teaspoons kosher salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper and mix well. Remove wings from marinade, drain well, and toss with cornstarch mixture. Carefully add half the wings to the hot oil, one at a time, and fry until crispy and fully cooked, about 7 to 10 minutes. (Check the meat nearest the joint to make sure no red tinge of blood remains.) Drain on paper towels, and repeat with remaining wings. Sprinkle lightly with salt.
6. To serve, arrange your beautifully crisp celery sticks and fried wings on a large platter, and spoon a little of the sauce onto the wings. (Unlike many recipes, I do not toss the wings in the sauce, which makes them soggy.) Garnish with the fried garlic, cilantro, and mint (if using), and serve with a bowl of blue cheese dressing, a dish of kosher salt, and the remaining hot sauce for guests to dab on as they please.
*Note: This recipe was not tested by Boston magazine.
Check out our citywide wings crawl with Lydia Shire for a guide to some killer wings around town.