Once in a while I come across a dish so spectacular, so original that I can’t shake the flavor from my tastebuds. Such was the case when I tasted Pok Pok’s famous Fish Sauce Wings on a trip north to visit my sister and brother-in-law in Portland, Oregon. While I was warned beforehand about how delicious the iconic wings were, it wasn’t until after we finished our meal that I came to understand the seriousness of their claims — I was addicted. Simultaneously crispy and sticky, sweet and salty, these delectable wings pack more rich, umami flavor into each bite than most Vietnamese restaurants do in an entire meal.
As is usually the case when I have something amazing at a restaurant, I decided that I had to try to make them on my own. The problem, of course, was that I had no idea how to go about doing so. And then, Pok Pok was featured in an article in Food & Wine. It was like fate, only the recipe I was looking for was no where to be seen. Real disappointment set in. My sister had moved away from Portland, and it was starting to feel like I would never taste those salty wings again. Until Diners, Drive-ins and Dives decided to make a visit to the restaurant. As luck would have it, they decided to film Andy, the owner, whipping up a batch of their wings. To get the technique down, I re-watched the clip multiple times, and then I got to work.
Ironically, the recipe I’ve adapted here is actually from Food & Wine online and came up when I searched “Pok Pok wings,” though I don’t know which issue they originally appeared in. Applying the flavors listed with the method I gleaned from “Triple D,” I was able to come up with a fairly authentic composite. The wings were crispy and sticky, salty and sweet–the fix I’d been searching for for over a year. One craving satisfied, now onto the next. . .
FISH SAUCE CHICKEN WINGS
Adapted from Andy Ricker’s recipe for Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings, Food & Wine Magazine
When frying anything in batches, it’s important to allow the heat of the oil to rebound to its original temperature for consistent and efficient cooking. While these wings taste great as is, the addition of crispy fried garlic at the end add another dimension of flavor. Simply fry another two cloves of minced garlic in a couple of tablespoons of oil until golden and drain on paper towels before adding during the final toss with the caramel.
- 1/2 cup Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce
- 1/2 cup superfine sugar
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- 3 pounds chicken wings, split at the joint
- Vegetable oil for frying
- 1 cup rice flour or corn starch
- 1-2 tablespoons chili garlic sauce (such as Huy Fong brand)
- 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro and/or mint for garnish
- In a small bowl, add 2 cloves of the minced garlic and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Massage the salt into the garlic to begin to extract its oils. Dilute with 1/4 cup of water and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Strain the garlic mixture through cheesecloth into a clean bowl, squeezing to extract as much flavor as possible.
- In another bowl, prepare the marinade by whisking together the liquid garlic extract, fish sauce and superfine sugar. Add the chicken and the marinade to a resealable zip-top bag and place in the refrigerator overnight. Make sure to toss the wings occasionally to evenly distribute the marinade.
- Preheat the oven to 200°. In a large heavy bottomed pot and using a deep-fry thermometer, heat 2 inches of oil to 350°. Remove the wings from their marinade and pat dry on paper towels; reserve the marinade.
- In a medium bowl, lightly dredge each wing in a coating of the rice flour, making sure to pat off any excess. Fry the wings in batches until golden and cooked through, about 7-10 minutes. With frying subsequent batches, remove the wings to a baking sheet lined with a wire rack and place in the oven to stay warm.
- Meanwhile, make the wing caramel by adding the reserved marinade to a medium skillet over medium-high heat. When mixture begin to bubble, add chili garlic paste to the pan and continue to cook until reduced to a syrupy consistency. Add the fried wings to the caramel and toss to coat. Glaze the wings by adding a small splash of water to the pan to collect the caramelized bits. Remove to a platter and garnish with chopped cilantro and/or mint.
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