I didn't always live in a football household. Four years ago, Sundays were all about lazy breakfasts, farmers market shopping, and maybe a movie matinee before dinner. Then my husband joined a fantasy football league, and now my peaceful Sunday mornings are regularly interrupted by a living room full of dudes eating crumbly doughnuts and checking stats on their phones while watching the Red Zone channel on TV. Am I bitter? Perhaps. But at least these gatherings give me an excuse to fry up a mess of spicy, gingery Korean fried chicken wings.
If you have never tried Korean fried chicken, you are in for a treat. These wings are dipped in a thin batter and fried twice — which gives them an extra crunchy exterior — and brushed with a spicy-sweet sauce spiked with plenty of ginger and garlic. In cities like Los Angeles and New York, where Korean fried chicken restaurant chains are plentiful, devotion to a certain chain's style of fried chicken can border on the religious. But this recipe is non-denominational, appealing to fried chicken lovers of any stripe.
In fact, I started with a step borrowed from the very American recipe for fried chicken in Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc At Home: brining. In the Ad Hoc recipe, chicken is soaked for precisely 12 hours in a salty bath spiced with peppercorns, garlic, bay leaves, halved lemons and parsley, which results in deeply seasoned and very juicy fried chicken. I replaced the bay leaves and parsley with roughly chopped ginger and cut down on the salt, allowing a little more leeway with the brining time. And here's even more flexibility than Mr. Keller would ever allow: you can skip the brining step and still enjoy an utterly tasty plate of wings that are just slightly less juicy and uniformly seasoned.
These wings were a hit with the fantasy football league, who declared them as good or better than the ones served at the dive bar where they always watch Monday Night Football. I'm told this is a compliment. I do know the multiple Korean fried chicken wings I ate while defiantly not watching football made my less-than-peaceful Sunday worth it.
Korean Fried Chicken Wings
Adapted from Saveur
Makes about 2 dozen wings
For the brine (optional)
1 lemon, washed and halved
4 1/2-inch piece fresh ginger, unpeeled and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons honey
4 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1/4 cup fine sea salt
8 cups water
For the chicken
3 lbs chicken wings
5 cloves garlic, peeled
1 ½-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons gochujang (Korean chili paste, see Recipe Notes)
1 ½ tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon honey
Canola or peanut oil
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 1/3 cups water
Make the optional brine: In a large pot, mix all the brine ingredients. Bring to a boil. Boil for one minute, stirring to dissolve the salt. Remove from the heat, pour into a covered container and refrigerate until cool.
Prep the chicken wings by cutting them apart at the joints. Discard the tips (or save for chicken stock). If brining, place the chicken in a large container and cover with cooled brine. Let sit in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours.
Make the sauce: In a mini food chopper or by hand, finely mince the ginger and garlic. Put the ginger, garlic and remaining sauce ingredients in a small pot. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sauce is slightly thickened. Set aside.
In a large, deep pot, pour oil to a depth of two inches and heat to 350°F. Set one or two cooling racks over a large baking sheet and keep near the pot.
Mix the flour and cornstarch in a medium bowl. If chicken was not brined, add a large pinch of salt and few grinds of pepper to the mixture. Add the water and whisk until smooth. Working in batches, dip chicken in batter. Fry until golden, about 5-7 minutes. Remove chicken pieces to a rack over the baking sheet. Repeat with remaining chicken pieces, adjusting the oil temperature to maintain a steady 350°F. Fry chicken a second time until a deep reddish-brown, about 4-6 minutes. Let chicken rest a few minutes, until cool enough to handle. With a small spoon or brush, spread about 2 teaspoons of sauce over each piece of chicken. Serve hot or at room temperature.
• Gochujang is Korean fermented chili paste. It cannot be substituted for in this recipe, so look for it in Asian markets or buy it online. (You can purchase it on Amazon here.)
• You can vary the level of heat in the wings by using more or less gochujang while making the sauce.
• You can use either whole chicken wings or drummettes for this recipe. Whole wings require a little more work since they need to be cut into pieces, but I prefer their skin-to-meat ratio. Drummettes are meatier, but less crisp.
Related: Recipe: Messy Moroccan Chicken Wings
(Images: Anjali Prasertong)