Today Fresh Air producer Sam Briger interviewed Mission Chinese chef Danny Bowien.
Here’s a recipe from his new cookbook:
Chongqing Chicken Wings
It’s well known that the sign of a great dish is its ability to silence a large group of noisy people, enraptured by what they’re eating. All you hear is slurping and crunching, silverware against plates, chopsticks clicking. When the dish in question is la zi ji, the predominant sound is a soft rustling, like dry leaves skittering across a sidewalk. It is the noise made by diners sifting through a monstrous pile of chiles in search of golden brown bits of chicken hidden in the sea of red.
I’ve encountered versions of la zi ji, a dish most commonly traced to the Sichuan city of Chongqing, that are 95 percent chiles, 5 percent chicken. Some people balk at the idea of going to a restaurant and paying for a plate of food that is mostly inedible. To serve la zi ji at Mission Chinese, I needed to up the chicken-to-chile ratio.
Chicken wings to the rescue.
I’ve been pursuing the ideal chicken wing for most of my career. I’ve dabbled in all manner of elaborate wing practices. I’ve cured wings, confited them in chicken fat, smoked them, and sous-vided them. I’ve been close a few times, but I’d never really settled on a method until I spoke to a friend whose mom worked at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo. The Anchor Bar is the supposed home of the original Buffalo wing. I prodded my friend, trying to get her to ask her mom for their secrets. Eventually I pried out of them that the key to a perfect chicken wing is to treat it like a French fry: parcook it, freeze it, and fry it. The freezing causes the liquid in the skin to expand and burst the cell walls, resulting in perfectly thin, crisp skin without any breading. Once I learned this technique, I never looked back.
This is how a lot of things work at Mission Chinese. We talk to people with a history of doing things right, and we learn from them. Then we consider how we can add something to what they’ve taught us, improve on it, make it our own. In this case, the addition of fried tripe to a plate of chicken wingsis giving your guests 110 percent. I like mixing proteins and layering similar textures. Here, on the same plate, you get the crackly skin of chicken wings, still juicy on the inside, as well as the crunchy chew of fried tripe. Plus the papery toughness of those chiles, which, I should mention, you don’t eat. Please stop coming to the restaurant and eating the chiles.
Note: You need to parcook the wings a day ahead, so don’t start this recipe on Sunday morning thinking you’ll have wings in time for football.
3 pounds chicken wings (either mid-joints or whole wings)
¼ cup kosher salt, plus more as needed
½ cup vegetable or peanut oil, plus 8 to 10 cups for deep frying
½ pound honeycomb tripe
½ cup cornstarch, for dredging
4 cups dried Tianjin chiles or other medium-hot red chiles, like chiles Japones
About ¾ cup Chongqing Wing
Spice Mix (recipe follows)
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. In a large bowl, toss the wings with the salt and ½ cup oil. Spread the wings out on a wire rack set over a baking sheet. Bake the wings for 15 minutes, or just until the skin appears cooked but not browned. Let the parbaked wings cool to room temperature, then lay them in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze, uncovered, overnight.
3. The next day, clean the tripe thoroughly under cold running water, scrubbing vigorously to remove any grit. Put in a pot, cover with cold salty water by 2 inches, and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil for 10 minutes, partially covered, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 2 to 3 hours, until the tripe is very tender. Drain in a colander, rinse under cold water, and cool completely.
4. Meanwhile, retrieve the wings from the freezer and allow them to thaw at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours.
5. Slice the cooked tripe into strips about ½ inch wide and 2 inches long. Set aside.
6. In a deep pot or a wok (or use a deep-fryer), heat about 4 inches of oil to 350°F. Meanwhile, pat the tripe strips dry with paper towels, then dredge them in the cornstarch, shaking off any excess. Working in batches, if necessary, deep-fry the wings and tripe for 4 to 6 minutes, or until golden and crispy. They should cook in about the same amount of time.
7. Meanwhile, toast the Tianjin chiles in a hot, dry wok or skillet for about a minute over high heat, stirring continuously so the chiles cook evenly. Transfer to a plate.
8. Drain the fried wings and tripe, shaking off as much oil as you can (or let them briefly drain on paper towels). Then transfer to a large bowl and dust them generously with the spice mix, tossing to coat. Add the toasted chiles and toss well. The chiles will perfume the dish, but they aren’t meant to be eaten.
9. To serve, transfer everything—aromatic chiles and all—to a serving platter and present to your awestruck and possibly terrified guests.
Chongqing Wing Spice Mix
MAKES ABOUT 1 CUP
2 tablespoons whole Sichuan peppercorns
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
2 star anise
2 black cardamom pods
1½ teaspoons whole cloves
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons Mushroom Powder (page 299)
2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
Toast the Sichuan peppercorns, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, star anise, cardamom, and cloves in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring continuously until fragrant. In a small bowl, combine the toasted spices with the sugar, salt, mushroom powder, and cayenne.
In a spice or coffee grinder, grind the spice mix to a powder, working in batches if necessary. The spice mix will keep in an airtight container for about a week before losing much of its potency.
This is the gentleman’s MSG. It’s umami incarnate, in powdered form. It makes dishes more savory, but since it’s made primarily of powdered dried mushrooms, it lacks the stigma—unwarranted or not—of MSG. You can find mushroom powder at Asian markets or online, usually from Taiwanese producers. But a slightly less potent, and less mysterious, version is easily made at home. I wouldn’t recommend making this in a large batch, as the flavor dissipates over time.
MAKES ABOUT ½ CUP
1 (1-inch) square dashi kombu ½ ounce stemmed, dried shiitake mushrooms
Toast Use a pair of kitchen shears to snip the kombu into 4 or 5 smaller pieces, then grind it to a fine powder in a spice or coffee grinder or blender. Transfer to a bowl.
Grind the mushrooms to a powder and combine with the kombu. Store in an airtight container at room temperature. Like ground spices, this begins to lose its potency immediately.
Photos and recipes courtesy of Harper Collins. Photo of Chef Bowien by Alanna Hale.