Wednesday, July 9, 2008

18. "La Brea Tar Pit" Chicken Wings (p. 55)

When I decided to do a cook-through project, I considered a few different books for the project. I chose The Gourmet Cookbook in part because there were already three other people working on The Project, and I could learn from their mistakes benefit from their accumulated wisdom. If I had only checked Kevin's blog before making these wings, I would have known what I was getting myself into and I could have planned ahead to deal with the temperature and cooking time (I know, cooking time again!) problems in this recipe. But instead, I winged it. Get it? Winged it? OK, you can stop groaning now.

The title of this recipe conjures visions of chicken wings smothered in a thick, sticky, rich sauce. That's exactly what these wings are. However, the name of the recipe is not a description of the wings, it's a warning about what your roasting pan will look like after you're done cooking. That's right, the burnt, crusty, inky surface of the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles (see photo at left) is an apt analogy for what you, and your scrubber sponge, will face when the wings come out of the oven (see photo below).

Now, don't get me wrong, these were the best chicken wings I've ever had, and I'm already thinking of making them again soon (knowing now what I wish I'd known then). The preparation is very easy. Heat up some soy sauce, sugar, red wine and a little ginger on the stovetop. Pour it over the wings and pop them in the oven. That's where it gets complicated. The Book says to cook the wings at 400 degrees for 45 minutes, turn them over and cook for another hour to hour and 10 minutes. That's a total of 115 minutes! Now, cooking times in wing recipes are all over the board. This recipe from Southern Living calls for a total of 30 minutes of cooking time. Alton Brown, who knows a thing or two about cooking times, cooks his wings for 40 minutes (he steams them for 10 minutes first). Martha Stewart's wings cook for 25 minutes (under a broiler). Emril's wings are cooked for 80 minutes. But, The Book's 115 minutes is by far the longest.

After the first 45 minutes, I turned the wings, set the timer for another 60 minutes and went upstairs to get ready for our family's Fourth of July cookout. After about ten minutes, the sauce turned pitch black and started to smoke. My wife was afraid that the house would burn down, or worse, that the wings would be ruined, so she took them out of the oven. And not a moment too soon! The sauce in the bottom of the pan was a burned, ashen mess, but the wings were perfectly cooked.

The next time I make these wings, I'll try the cooking instructions from the creator of the recipe, Metta Miller of Boston, as told in the comments on (hat tip to Kevin for pointing me to Metta's comments):

If you follow my original instructions (Gourmet altered the recipe) they will be delicious every time .... To the salt sensitive: Use low-sodium soy sauce. To those concerned about burnt pans/sauce: Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes; turn and check after another 30-45 minutes. I've been making these wings this way for years and haven't ended up with a single ruined pan — or a single complaint — yet. Good luck!
One last note. When I first looked at this recipe, four pounds of chicken wings and a yield of 48 pieces seemed like an awful lot of wings for a smallish family cookout. So, I made two pounds of wings. Big mistake. The wings were gobbled up in a couple of minutes, and everyone was left licking their fingers and asking for more. Next time, I'll make the full four pounds of this crowd-pleasing recipe.
Date Cooked: July 4, 2008
Degree of Difficulty: Medium (due to scrubbing)
Rating: A (despite the recipe flaws)

1 comment:

Robert said...
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