The secret to super-crispy chicken wings

Ali Slagle

THE WASHINGTON POST – It’s easy to think of chicken wings as a snappy- quick snack.

Order some at an eatery and, poof, they arrive, hot from the fryer, golden bubbly-brown, and probably slicked in buttery, spicy Buffalo sauce.

Wings have a way of entertaining us as we angle for good bites, lick sauce from our fingers and go in for another.

If there’s a game on television, I might not even notice.

Because wings have so little meat, you might think they would be fast to make at home. But restaurants wield their fryers in ways that are hard to re-create.

To make wings with juicy, tender meat and lots of shattery skin, you need to play a longer game – a hands-off one that can tap Buffalo sauce, sure, but many other coatings, too.

Wings contain the same elements, and challenges, as any other part of the chicken: Fat that needs rendering and meat that needs cooking without drying out.

A wing, however, has a lot more fat to meat than, say, a thigh.

Chicken wings with shishito peppers. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

As with other chicken parts, we desire crisp skin and cooked-through, succulent meat – a balance that’s easily achieved with a few tricks.

J Kenji López-Alt, the always-hungry food scientist, has tips for that up his sleeve. In his investigation for Serious Eats, he discovered that a coating of baking powder and salt will raise the pH of the skin and promote the browning and crisping of the skin.

We know that dried skin has a better chance of becoming crispy skin, and patting it down with towels is a good start, but that’s a lot of skin to get bone-dry.

Instead, shower the chicken with salt and baking powder and leave it uncovered while the oven heats or, better yet, for an hour on your counter or in the fridge up to overnight. The salt will draw out moisture from the skin, season the meat and lock in its juiciness.

Judy Rodgers, who made her name at Zuni Cafe in San Francisco, was famous for salting early, also known as dry-brining. She was known to season meat and poultry (and even some vegetables) days before cooking.

There are numerous roast chicken recipes, but hers, with only salt, pepper and hard-stem herbs such as rosemary and thyme, is one of the most famous.

It recommends dry-brining the chicken up to three days in advance and roasting it – without oil – in a very hot oven.

With dry-brined, baking powder-coated wings, you don’t need the fryer to get the sought-after texture.

Instead, follow Rodgers’s roast chicken technique and choose a method with high, even heat: an oven or a grill with the lid, which traps the direct heat, circulating it around your food (like an oven).

That great crackle you just created on those wings can be taken even further: Sprinkle the wings with more crunchy crispiness in any number of combinations: sesame seeds (and a little sesame oil to stick), lemon zest and dried oregano, cracked black pepper and grated Parmesan, red pepper flakes and toasted coconut, or za’atar. (That said, I’ve also found them delicious with just a squeeze of lemon or lime.)

The wings will be ready in the same amount of time as if you roasted chicken thighs – but, unlike with the latter, the wings let you eat dinner with your hands.

Let the games begin.

CHICKEN WINGS WITH SHISHITO PEPPERS

Making chicken wings in the oven at home is a long game but mostly hands-off.

In the time you’ve gained back by not hovering over the fryer, prepare some shishito peppers to blister and mix up a crunchy, flavourful sprinkle to dress your wings and peppers with.

MAKE AHEAD

The chicken wings can be dry-brined in the refrigerator overnight. Bring the chicken wings to room temperature before cooking.

INGREDIENTS

Neutral oil, such as canola or vegetable oil

Three pounds chicken wings, or any combination of drumettes, wingettes and tips

One tablespoon baking powder

One tablespoon plus one teaspoon kosher salt, divided, plus more as needed

One tablespoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed

Four cups (eight ounces) shishito peppers

Three teaspoons toasted sesame oil, divided

Two tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

One teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger

One lime, finely zested and cut into wedges

DIRECTIONS

Line a baking sheet with foil, then lightly grease the foil with the oil.

Pat the wings dry. Transfer the wings to the lined baking sheet.

In a small bowl, combine the baking powder with one tablespoon salt and one tablespoon pepper. Sprinkle over and toss to combine.

Let sit for one hour at room temperature or cover and refrigerate overnight. (If refrigerating the wings, let them come to room temperature before cooking.)

When ready to cook, position a rack about six inches away from the broiling element and preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Pat the wings dry again. Roast the wings for 15 to 20 minutes per side, until golden and crisp all over.

Meanwhile, on a cutting board or in a bowl, toss the shishito peppers with one teaspoon of the sesame oil and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Transfer the baking sheet of wings to a heatproof surface and spread the shishitos over the chicken. Return the baking sheet to the oven and roast for 10 to 15 minutes, until the peppers are singed in spots. If you want more browning on your wings or peppers, broil them.

While the wings are roasting, in a small bowl, using your fingers, stir together the sesame seeds, ginger, lime zest and one teaspoon of salt until you smell the lime and ginger. Add the remaining two teaspoons of sesame oil and stir to combine.

When the peppers and wings are done, sprinkle the seed mixture on top and toss to combine. Serve with lime wedges for squeezing.

NOTES

To get browner wings and peppers, position a rack five inches or closer to the heating element. Add the wings and shishitos to a large, rimmed baking sheet and broil until charred in spots, a few minutes. (Depending on your broiler, you may need to rotate the pan halfway through so all the food gets even exposure.)

To grill the wings: Heat the grill to medium-high. Grease the grates with a little oil and cook the dry-brined wings over indirect heat, with the lid on, until cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes. Flip every few minutes. Move the wings over direct heat to brown.

Nutrition: Calories: 576; Total Fat: 42g; Saturated Fat: 11g; Cholesterol: 175mg; Sodium: 1,115mg; Carbohydrates: 4g; Dietary Fibre: 1g; Sugar: 1g; Protein: 43g.