I figure most of us have tried hot wings at some time. They come in so many names and varieties due to restaurants and frozen food companies trying to outdo each other that the result is mostly confusion. Even within a restaurant you may find half a dozen different degrees of heat or other flavors. Seldom have I tasted any wings in restaurants or prepared commercially that were worth talking about. In short, the very best wings are those made at home by true aficionados who have been fortunate enough to find or create a great recipe. Always make them fresh.
My recipe is a great and simple one I developed after thinking about what a hot wing should be like. First, the cooked wing must be crisp on the outside and very moist and tender on the inside, which means it will be deep fried, usually from fresh raw chicken, though vacuum sealed frozen and thawed raw chicken wings are okay too. That eliminates all commercially available coated processed wings from consideration. They will never be crisp unless you bake the *!#$ out of them and in so doing make the interior dry and tough instead of moist and tender. Second, the sauce used to flavor the wing should be light in terms of thickness or viscosity else you will taste only the sauce. This means the fried chicken wing itself has a lot of flavor that should not be lost to have the best experience, so the sauce has to be one that complements the taste of the wing.
How do I know my recipe is among the very best? I get rave reviews and a lot of my hot wings disappear in a hurry. My sauce is designed to accommodate every preference from mild to very hot. I do not make a sweet sauce so if that is what you want then look elsewhere.
The instructions in this recipe are very thorough so that you will have excellent and uniform results in a safe environment. Follow the instructions carefully.
The raw chicken wings should be purchased at a good supermarket where they have not been commercially processed into a tightly packed water logged clear plastic heat sealed pack. The wings should be loose in traditional foam and plastic wrap packaging so you can see what you are buying. Buy very large wings if you can. I refuse to buy the tightly packed type of wings, available at places like Costco®, because they have been water processed. You get ripped off on weight and the product is inferior for deep frying.
Oh, before I forget, I have a few other things to say about specific ingredients. I much prefer Texas Pete’s Hot Sauce® compared to McIlhenny’s Tobasco Sauce®, for I want hot pepper flavor without too much vinegar overtone. And I also much prefer peanut oil for frying the wings. It doesn’t break down at the recommended frying temperature and it imparts a nice flavor to the wings and it can be reused. Note that you can cover and cool the oil after use and then strain it into a sealable container and reuse it up to three times before discarding it. Thus, the cost of the oil does not have to break your budget. Of course, the best way to buy peanut oil at the best price is at Costco® in a bulk container.
Well, that’s enough of my "thou shalt" instructions. Try my recipe and let me know what you think.
2 lbs. of fresh chicken wings
½ stick of butter
1/2 tsp. of sea salt
2 to 3 tbsp. of rice vinegar (based on how much hot sauce you decide to use below)
1/4 to one cup of Texas Pete’s Hot Sauce® (mild or medium or hot, your preference)
½ to 1 gallon of peanut oil (depends on the size of the deep fryer or pot)
Heat the peanut oil in your deep fryer or in a six quart or larger pot to 365ºF. The top of the oil in the pot should be at least four inches below the top of the pot. Deep fryers typically have minimum and maximum oil levels shown on the stainless steel frying container. Always use high heat when you are frying in a pot unless the oil temperature temporarily exceeds 365ºF, which it should not do if you are paying attention. If it does, turn off the heat and wait until the temperature returns to 365ºF. Do not under any circumstances attempt to move the hot oil to chill it, for that is a disaster waiting to happen.
You must use a frying or candy thermometer for careful temperature control. Do not try to guess. Uniform results and safety considerations demand using a thermometer. Typically there will be a wait time after frying each batch of wings of one to three minutes while the oil is reheating to 365º F. You can speed up this process by mostly covering the pot (except for the thermometer area) with a lid or anti-splatter screen.
Cut each whole chicken wing in half at the primary joint with a large butcher knife on a wooden cutting board. Dry the wing pieces with paper towels.
Prepare the sauce per the instructions below and keep it in a 200ºF oven. Do this after frying the wings so that you are not distracted from the sauce preparation, which can lead to ruining the sauce, i.e., burned butter. Just recently Janet and I tried mixing the cold ingredients with the melted butter and leaving the sauce cold even for use on the hot wings. It worked very well, and any leftover sauce can be refrigerated without separating … nice.
Fry the wings in batches of eight to ten pieces if you are using a gallon of oil; otherwise adjust the number of wings based on the amount of oil you use. The idea is that once the room temperature wings are in the hot oil you don’t want them to cool the oil below 340ºF.
I introduce all the pieces of wings for each batch into the oil at once. I use a five inch diameter long handled nearly flat circular ladle to hold them and dispense them so that the initial "boiling" up of the oil doesn’t splatter me with hot oil. This is far superior to trying to put pieces of chicken into the hot oil a few at a time. Note that the four inch space above the unheated oil is what keeps the hot bubbling oil from overflowing the pot at the beginning of each batch of frying. I also use a screen cover when I fry food in a pot to keep the oil from splattering out onto me or onto the stove. Deep fryers have covers or lids to accomplish that purpose. Oddly, I used to use my deep fryer, but I stopped because the whole process is easier using a large pot, and the cleanup afterwards is so much easier if a pot is used.
Fry the wings for the amount of time based on their size. Small wings only need about eight to ten minutes frying time. Large wings need about 11 to 12 minutes. You will know what is right because if you fry them too long they will look and taste to dry. If you don’t fry them long enough they will not be crisp. Experiment to get the best results and before long you will automatically know what to do in your frying environment to get the best results. But always, and I do mean always, use a kitchen timer to alert you when each batch is done. Don’t "wing it."
Remove the fried wings from the hot oil with metal tongs, one at a time. Let each piece drain oil off back into the pot for a few seconds. If you are using a deep fryer, then lift the basket from the hot oil and hang it in a dripping position for half a minute.
Put each batch of fried wings into a large bowl that has a paper towel under each batch to capture/eliminate excess frying oil. Keep the bowl in a 200ºF oven, initially before the first batch is fried and then after each batch is placed on a fresh paper towel in the bowl. This will keep the fried wings hot and crisp.
After all batches are fried, remember to turn off the heat under the oil. Now is the best time to make the sauce per the instructions below. Then remove the paper towels from the hot bowl and serve the wings as they are along with small cups of the sauce. Your guests can pour the amount of sauce they want over each portion of the fried wings. There is no advantage in mixing all the wings with the sauce prior to serving them. Alternatively, you can keep the sauce in one container and have each guest dip each wing into the sauce as they fill their plate. Some folks will want additional salt so have a shaker of sea salt available.
Making the sauce:
Melt the butter in a small saucepan on medium heat. Add the hot sauce and stir until well blended. Add the vinegar and the salt and continue to stir on low heat until the sauce is completely uniform. When it begins to bubble as it approaches boiling temperature it is done. Keep the sauce in the pan and place the pan in the 200ºF oven to keep it hot, or, use it immediately if all the wings have been fried. The sauce will be mildly to medium hot in terms of seasoning the wings based on how much hot sauce you used.
What about milder or hotter sauces? For a hotter sauce add one half to one tbsp. habanero sauce to your sauce while you are cooking it. For a milder sauce increase the amount of butter from ½ stick to ¾ stick or 1 stick. It really is that simple. Kids can enjoy the mild stuff.
What about leftovers? My advice is to throw them into the trash can. The sauce will not stay uniform if it is cooked and then refrigerated and then reheated as it will not form a proper emulsion upon reheating, but if it is kept cold originally it is fine as a leftover. The fried wings themselves taste lousy upon reheating, especially if a microwave oven is used. Heating them in a regular oven is somewhat better but I think they come out really bad compared to how they tasted when freshly prepared. Why eat bad wings?
If I ever purchase one of the pressure fryers mentioned at the end of the "Your Kitchen" section, I expect even my wings can be improved, for the reason that they should retain even more moisture and yet be crisp outside. Why? As I understand it the frying time is significantly reduced, and that means less moisture loss.