April 19, 2009
Wings of desire
Easy to make and easy to clean up after you're done, these fried chicken wings will satisfy any craving
By Tan Hsueh Yun
Aside from ratings, some movies should also come with warnings.
Take for example the Japanese movie Departures, about an out-of-work cellist who becomes a mortician. Anyone who plans to watch it should be told that he or she will develop a fierce, uncontrollable craving for fried chicken afterwards.
Now, I will not spoil the fun and say why. Just please take my word for it.
Some friends of mine headed directly to KFC after watching the Oscar-winning film. Another sent me a series of text messages about the movie, many of which ended with variations on the theme of 'I need some fried chicken NOW!'.
Since I am powerless to resist anything to do with food, I emerged wiping tears from my eyes (another warning: bring tissues) and yes, hungry for fried chicken.
Alas, I was cooking dinner for company that night and it was not on the menu.
Two nights later, the craving was still raging, so I took the easy route and got some from the mall. Ugh. The chicken was greasy and unappetising. I was disgusted, disappointed and still hankering after fried chicken.
I decided I would have to make some myself.
Deep-frying horrifies me, not because it is supposed to be fattening (and that should give me pause) but because of the mess it makes.
Oil splatters and fingers caked with marinade and flour depress me. Good fried chicken is worth making but there is also the massive clean-up job to deal with.
Still, I had to satisfy the craving so I went about trying to minimise the impact on my kitchen.
I decided against cooking big pieces such as thighs or drumsticks or breading the chicken. The meat takes too long to cook, I would need a bigger pot, more oil and there would be a bigger mess for sure.
Instead, I would cook the chicken in small batches in the smallest, deepest stainless steel pot I have. I would use wings, my favourite chicken part next to thighs, and cook them Greyhound cafe style.
If you have ever been to this chain of chic cafes in Bangkok, you might have ordered a plate of Greyhound Famous Fried Chicken Wings.
On my trips to the Thai capital, it has become a bit of a ritual to check into the hotel, dump the bags in the room, take a train to the Emporium and hustle over to the cafe on the second floor for a late lunch.
I just love its elegant way of serving fried chicken.
The cafes use only the flat of the chicken wing, the middle bit. Normally, eating this part is a two-handed job because it has two bones.
But the cooks split the flat in half lengthwise before frying.
So you simply pick up a fat toothpick of chicken, strip the bone clean of meat and move on to another piece and then another until all you have on the plate is a neat little pile of bones.
I do not know what marinade Greyhound cafe uses so I improvised. What I came up with is great for pork chops too.
Into a bowl went finely sliced lemongrass, chilli and shallots. Some chopped up garlic and shredded kaffir lime leaves too. Then lots of fish sauce and lime juice. A little sugar. I also added lime zest, which is key.
Biting into a tangy bit of lime zest clinging onto a piece of fried chicken is utterly, toe-curlingly delightful.
Lime juice is acidic and can turn the chicken mushy if it sits in the marinade too long. If that worries you, marinate the chicken for no longer than four hours in the fridge. I throw caution to the wind and leave mine overnight. So far, so good.
After draining the chicken pieces, I used a sturdy pair of kitchen scissors to cut through the two joints, at the top and bottom of the flat, before deep-frying them.
Because I used a small pot and cooked the chicken in small batches, clean-up was not quite as tedious. At some Japanese supermarkets, you can get absorbent pads (below) which soak up copious amounts of used oil for easy disposal. They think of everything.
Finally, a week after watching the movie, I was tucking enthusiastically into a pile of fried chicken. The perky, citrusy marinade had flavoured the chicken perfectly. I devoured the entire plate along with some ice cold beer and immediately wanted more.
Don't say I didn't warn you.
MAKE IT YOURSELF: FRIED CHICKEN WINGS
12 chicken wing flats (the middle part of the wing)
2 stalks lemongrass
5 shallots, thinly sliced
2 red chillies, thinly sliced
5 cloves garlic, chopped fine
2 - 3 kaffir lime leaves, finely shredded
Zest and juice of 3 limes
5 Tbs fish sauce
1 Tbs sugar
Peanut, canola or safflower oil for deep-frying
Lime wedges (optional)
1. Wash the chicken wings under running water, drain and pat dry with paper towels.
2. Chop off and discard the top of the lemongrass stalks, saving the bottom 10cm. Discard tough outer layer, then slice thinly crosswise.
3. Combine lemongrass, shallots, chilli, garlic, kaffir lime leaves, lime zest and juice, fish sauce and sugar in a bowl, mix well and stir to dissolve sugar.
4. Transfer chicken wing flats to a resealable bag, pour in the marinade and move the wings around in the bag so they are evenly coated. Press out the air, seal the bag and leave to marinate for four hours or overnight in the fridge.
5. Remove the wings from the marinade, leave to drain about 20 minutes, pat dry with paper towels. Brush off any lemongrass, chilli or kaffir lime leaves on the wings but leave the lime zest on. Discard the marinade.
6. Using a pair of kitchen scissors, cut each chicken wing flat in half lengthwise through the top and bottom joints (below). Place cut-up wings on a plate lined with paper towel.
7. Pour enough oil to come halfway up a stainless steel pot (I use one that is 18cm in diameter) and set it over medium heat. The oil is ready when it reaches a temperature of 190 deg C. At this point, a cube of bread placed in the oil will sizzle immediately and brown within 30 seconds.
8. Fry four to five pieces of chicken at a time. Use a pair of tongs to move them around the pot if they stick together. They are done when they are a deep, burnished brown. This will take two to three minutes, depending on the size of the wings.
Drain on paper towels or oil-absorbing sheets (below) and eat as soon as possible. Squeeze lime over the wings, if desired.
9. For crisper wings: After halving the flats, lightly dust them in cornflour before frying.
Serves two to four as a snack.