Serious Eating: Oven-Fried Buffalo Wings and a Prize

Can you tell what’s different about this fried chicken wing? OK, if you hadn’t already read the title of this post would you have thought that this wing was deep-fried? See the blisters on the skin, the crunchy bubbly bits that will hold all that buttery hot sauce? That does not just happen on oven-fried chicken skin, no matter how long you keep them in the oven, no matter how close to the broiler you might dare to put them. I know, I’ve tried. As I’ve mentioned before, I avoid deep-fat frying and even shy from shallow frying if I can help it. Not because of health concerns but because I hate the clean up. You have to be a deep-fried stuffed olive to tempt me to the fryer!

But I do love Buffalo wings. I remember the first time I tried them. I was visiting Seattle. The restaurant specialized in seafood, but one of my companions insisted on ordering this strange appetizer — it was the 80s, Buffalo wings were just hitting the far coast. One bite, two. The plate was soon emptied and a great love was born.

As a rule, I have limited Buffalo wing consumption to an occasional treat enjoyed only when eating out. In the last few years, though, more often than not, Buffalo wings we’ve been served have been a disappointment and not worthy of the caloric overload they entail. A year or so ago I tried oven-baking wings at home, it satisfied the taste craving but not the crunch craving because the oven-baked chicken skin came out smooth and slick. I was consigning myself to the dread task of frying for this year’s Buffalo wing orgy until I came across a Food Lab dissertation on how to get the fat-fried effect in the oven. Again, our sensei in this journey is J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, the very same who talked us through making fresh cheese at home. The great (and twice repeated) success of that venture prompted me to try Mr. Lopez-Alt’s carefully researched method for the perfect crunch in oven-fried chicken skin.

As you can see, it worked very well! I won’t spoil the secret to Mr. Lopez-Alt’s method — his writing is always a fun read and his research is thorough (did he really say 12lbs. of chicken wings to perfect this method?) so I encourage you to discover it for yourself. (Hint: the first picture of the uncooked wings below gives you 2 clues on how it’s done.)

Food Lab is part of the Serious Eats family dedicated to all things that can be imbibed, noshed, slurped, and otherwise happily consumed. While we were in the midst of prepping these wings, I received an email from Erin, an editor at Serious Eats, with the stunning news that an haiku I submitted for their BBQ feast giveaway was one of three selected by the SE team as a winner!  How exciting is that?!

What this means is that instead of re-creating these wings this Sunday, we will instead be immersed in intense BBQ porkiness in the form of a couple of racks of ribs, pulled pork, baked beans, sauce and Magic Dust from none other than BBQ legend Mike Mills of the 17th Street Bar & Grill in Murphysboro, IL. Consistently chosen as “best ribs” in the U.S. (Bon Appetit, and Playboy!), 17th Street Bar&Grill was most recently featured on the Food Network’s Food Feuds wherein host Michael Symon declared 17th Street’s “the single best rib I’ve ever had in my pork-lovin’ life.” I’ve only heard tell of legendary Memphis BBQ, never having had the pleasure of a visit myself — so to know we’ll be receiving the best of the best, I can hardly contain myself!

Mahalo nui loa, Domo arigato gozaimashita, Vielen Dank, Merci beaucoup, and a heartfelt Thank You to the Serious Eats wordsmiths and to Mike Mills and the 17th Street Bar&Grill crew for this incredible bounty! We’ll be sharing the spread with friends, and will post the Feast here over the weekend. In the meantime, you can read my winning tribute to the sauce and bone here. If you’d like to order a BBQ Feast for yourself, 17th Street can deliver to your doorstep, too! BUT I’m seriously digressing… 

Back to the wings… Here is a quick look of how we achieved better (especially for our hearts) than deep-fried chicken wings for our favorite Buffalo hot sauce.

After 18 hours of non-attentive prepping (3d hint), the wings are ready for the oven.
One thing I did that was not in JKL’s method was to drizzle a bit of
light olive oil over the wings after this pic was taken.

Hot out of the oven, they are perfectly browned and
have just the right kind of bumps and bits to cling to sauce.

An incredibly satisfying first course (we had these with rice — weird, I know)
or perfect for a party since you don’t have to stand over a hot stove
and splattering oil to cook up a large batch!
Read how this was done, or go straight to the recipe.

BMB: New York-style Light Rye Breads

My new year’s resolution to bake bread at home has continued apace (Bake More Bread: BMB). From Anadama to Oatmeal to fruity Banana Yeast, finally we get to the sourdoughs. These are New York style sourdough rye loaves.

On the first day of the new year, I began a wild sourdough starter and attempted to follow directions from Sue, an accomplished bread baker and cheesemaker, at Know Whey. I began running into trouble early on. Sue’s directions called for removing a quantity of the starter each day by weight. That sounds logical, and on sight it seems easy. It was not. At least not for me.

The starter batter is very sticky. Could-be-used-to-set-wallpaper sticky. And equally gloppy. In the end I was just not talented enough to weigh and remove the required amount of starter each day without creating a huge mess. Goop on my clothes. Streaky smears on the counters. And paste coating all the utensils, bowls and kitchen scale. It was getting discouraging, so rather than give up on my starter, I gave up on the weighing the starter. Instead I eye-balled what looked like 50% of the starter to use or dump, but still weighed the flour and water going in. And I kept my fingers crossed.

After the requisite one week development period, I was happy to see that the starter looked healthy and active. I gave her a couple more days to really settle in and develop some “sour” before putting her to work. Yes, her. We know sourdoughs are live, active cultures — they must be fed and changed on a regular basis, right? Well, meet “Katharine” or Kate for short — she’s bubbly and energetic, with a stern backbone (of whole wheat) despite her soft appearance. Kinda like the actress after whom she’s named. This photo was taken today.

My first attempt to make an all sourdough bread (i.e., no yeast) was a potato sourdough that I made into a braid and into rolls. This recipe cautioned that raising and proofing times could be quite extended. The first rise took 8 hours, and the proofing sometime less than 6. In fact, I miscalculated the proofing time based on that first rise, and by the time I checked the breads at 6 hours, the braid had collapsed. The rolls came out all right — a bit dense and light-colored.

For the second sourdough I chose a light rye recipe from “Secrets of a Jewish Baker” by George Greenstein since I had made a Jewish recipe called Schmalz & Gribenes that is often served with rye breads. This is a very involved bread recipe. You begin well over 48 hours before you want to bake by first making a caraway-seasoned rye-based starter. After the first 24 hours, the starter is fed more rye flour in 3 additional stages. After another 18 hours, you’re ready to start the dough.

Instead of starting from scratch, I used Kate as the beginning starter and added crushed caraway seeds along with the first measure of rye flour and water for Stage One. The seeds completely disintegrate by the time the starter is ready to be made into a dough, so if you don’t want seeds in the final bread, you can still add them at Stage One for the flavor boost they will give your starter. After each feeding, the starter is allowed to double, though the time required for doubling shortens with each stage. Maybe because I did not start from scratch with Mr. Greenstein’s recipe, the Stage One rise took 10 hours. Stage Two took about 5, while Stage Three took about 4 hours.

After Stage Three, I removed about a half-cup of the rye sourdough to use for our next loaf — his name is George, of course. Per Mr. Greenstein’s recommendation, he’s covered with a film of water and lives in the fridge. Kate sits on the sideboard at room temperature.

When making the dough, I again had to depart from Mr. Greenstein’s meticulous directions because I had neither clear flour nor left-over rye bread to make something called the Altus, basically a wet mash of left-over rye bread that provides that je ne sais quoi of real rye breads. Clear flour, also called first clear, is a specialty bakery flour — it is traditionally what’s left after the first sifting of milled wheat to create white flour. So clear flour has some quantity of wheat bran and germ that are considered undesirable for white flour purposes. Evidently one doesn’t find clear flour on market shelves(super-, co-op, specialty or otherwise). You either have to chat up an artisan baker into selling you some, or order it online. Online sources can charge twice as much for shipping as they charge for the flour itself, so you might want to plan accordingly and put all your specialty baking needs in one order. Alternatively, one bread baker’s forum suggested a ratio of 3:1 all-purpose flour to whole wheat as a passable substitute for clear flour. I used 3:1 bread flour to whole wheat flour. This bread uses yeast as a leavener in addition to the sourdough, and I also included vital wheat gluten to increase the bread’s lift and keeping ability.

The bread is painted with cornstarch solution before it is slashed, then again as soon as it comes out of the oven. I had not used this glaze before — it adds an interesting powdered shine to the finished loaf, don’t you think? During baking, the sides of the oven are sprayed with water to create steam that for that distinctive chewy thick crust.

These are the final loaves we got: 2 plain, free-form loaves and one stuffed bread (a la Reuben). I am tickled at how chewy and tasty these breads were — pleasantly sour and redolent of rye. I doubled the amount of caraway seeds called for in the recipe, and I think it could hold up to even more. The rye and sour develop beautifully and taste even better on the second and third days. It was kind of hard but I portioned out a couple of slices to dry and keep for the Altus next time.

I refer any interested bakers to Mr. Greenstein’s recipe for the directions for this wonderful bread — they reflect a lifetime of learning and a close understanding of the bread baker’s art. Don’t be put off by the long lead times — the starter itself is very simple, and most of the work is done by Mother Nature. I am looking forward to baking this again with the Altus and clear flour to see just what the difference will be, but I would not hesitate to bake this with the substituted flours again if I didn’t have time to sweet talk a baker.

As I hoped, the light rye was the perfect foil for the Schmalz and Gribenes (GRIB-buh-nuhs).
Translation: Seasoned chicken fat and crispy chicken skin.
Mmmm, chicken skin… Look for that soon.


Loroco Cream Sauce

Loroco (Fernaldia pandurata). As piquant as capers but not pickled, and with the full earthiness of an artichoke, these buds of a flowering vine are native to Central America and are used as a flavoring agent or vegetable in many popular dishes of the region.

We were introduced to Lorocos soon after our arrival to the D.C. area in 2008. Of course, it was at one of the many Salvadoran pupuseria that can be found in Maryland’s metro area near D.C. This one was across from the hotel to which we had encamped while we hunted for rental housing. We were there for a month. We ate a lot of pupusas. (For the uninitiated, pupusas are thick cornmeal tortillas with a filling of beans or cheese or meat or lorocos, or some combination of these, and often served with pickled cabbage and carrot salad, see photo left, the pupusas are the flat discs on either side of hte salad). But I digress. One of the more popular pupusa fillings is cheese and lorocos, and not having any idea what lorocos were as we pondered our first pupusa menu, we had to try them first. The woman taking our order told us loroco was a flower — great, we like edible flowers!

Truthfully, there almost was not a second order. On first bite, T and I looked at each other with that look, “Do you like it?” Uhhhh, not sure. In addition to the sheer vegetal quality of the flower buds, there was also the surprising tanginess, then a slight bitter aftertaste. But we eat lots of bitter vegetables, so onto the second bite. Now that we were over the shock of first taste, we had time to focus on how the sharp lorocos blended with the creamy blandness of the cheese. Mmmmmm, nice counterpoint. By the time we had finished the first pupusa, we were hooked — pupusa con queso y lorocos became our favorite order and the standard by which we evaluated new pupuseria we visited.

We find lorocos most often in the frozen section of Hispanic groceries and even many Asian markets (H-Mart, Korean Korner, Lotte Plaza in the metro DC area) that also serve large Central American communities. I’ve also seen large jars of pickled loroco buds but have not tried these since we prefer the frozen buds, which have only one ingredient: lorocos. The first loroco recipe we tried at home was for a soup of beans and lorocos, which proved to be equally addictive — we’ve made it at least 3 times and which I promise to post that as soon as I remember to take a photo before we finish off the whole pot.

More recently, we read about a lorocos cream sauce with chicken that we could not pass up. Since we had all the ingredients on hand except chicken (yes, we had lorocos but no chicken, go figure), I substituted pork chops for the chicken legs. Another show-stopper — lick-your-plate-and-try-to-steal-your-spouse’s tasty! The sharpness and bitterness that are hallmarks of loroco in pupusas and the bean soup are completely missing here. Instead the buds mellow into a flavor more reminiscent of asparagus. I guess they even look a little like tiny asparagus in the sauce, don’t they? But there is also an earthier undertone than asparagus alone would lend to this sauce that just says, More, please! I’ll be buying frozen lorocos buds in multiple quantities to keep in the freezer from here on out. And yes, I should probably pick up some chicken too!

This recipe is adapted from one shared by Anne at Rainforest Recipes, who lives and works with the Ix-Canaan projectin Guatemala. Finding her site set me off on of those long digressions for which the Interwebs is so infamous to learn about the Ix-Canaan project and their efforts to introduce sustainable agriculture and the preservation of indigenous culture to their corner of Guatemala. Now I’m looking for breadnut flour too… Anne has a photo of the fresh loroco flowers on her recipe page if you’d like to see how pretty those are (follow her link). Don’t recall seeing fresh loroco buds here, but I haven’t frequented Hispanic markets very much in the past. This spring, though, I will keep my eye out for these.

UPDATE (02/16/2011): We craved this sauce again, and tried it with mahi-mahi fillets (above). Still delicious, but would recommend including 1 tsp. fish sauce when adding broth to increase the umami in the finished sauce. Pork and chicken have more natural umami than this firm, white-flesh fish and the sauce needs the boost.

Adapted from Anne’s recipe
Serves 3-4 persons

Apparently in Guatemala the traditional meat for this sauce is chicken (4 legs or a whole chicken, cut up) and we will give that a try soon, but we will also be saucing fish (cod or mahi mahi) and maybe even rabbit with this, too! I would recommend 2 lbs of mushrooms and doubling the quantity of potato as a vegetarian option that would complement and absorb the unique flavors of this sauce.

4 medium-cut pork chops
sea salt and black pepper
2 TBL olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1½ cup broth or water, divided
1 tomato, diced
1 sprig fresh thyme, or ¼ tsp dried
2 bay leaves
1½ cup broth or water
1 package frozen lorocos = 6oz or 170g
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
¾ cup heavy cream

Pat dry chops, and season well. Over medium high heat, warm oil in a skillet large enough to hold all ingredients. Brown both sides of each chop, about 3-4 minutes per side. Remove and keep aside.

Reduce heat to medium low. In remaining oil in pan, add onion and garlic and cook for 5 minutes. Add tomato, thyme and bay leaves, and continue cooking until onions become translucent, another 4-6 minutes.

Add broth, and gently scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the skillet. Add loroco buds, potatoes, and return pork chops to skillet. Cover and simmer gently 10-15 minutes.

(I found it easier to blend the cream into the sauce if I removed the chops before adding the cream, but this step is optional.) Add cream to skillet and stir through to combine, cover and simmer another 5-10 minutes or until the chops are cooked through.

Serve over white rice, with plenty of napkins!

Boston-style Baked Beans (via Tokyo)

Hard to believe isn’t it, that these started as lily-white great Northern beans? Besides all the extra minerals, especially iron, that is packed in unsulphured (also known as “blackstrap) molasses, it also adds such a rich color to everything you cook with it: bread, cookies, Boston-style baked beans.

We’ve been making this recipe from The Bean Bible since 2001. We’ve tweaked the original recipe many times over to include more spices, especially mustard powder, and sometimes even a serrano chile or two. With a nice crusty bread, it’s really a meal in itself.

When I mentioned baked beans and brown bread in an earlier post, I knew that after a 3-year absence there would be baked beans in our near future. Well, that was last week. But as I made up my shopping list and automatically added salt pork for the recipe to the list, I asked myself: Do we really needed salt pork to make this dish so tasty? Hmmm… Now, I love pork, amost meats, really, but during the last 3 years of learning from my fellow bloggers, especially those who are vegetarians or come from vegetarian traditions, I realized that you don’t always need to add meat to beans and pulses to make them delicious or luscious. In fact, many of our meat-less meals during the week are meat-less beans. The key, it seemed, is developing a good base of aromatics, including generous amounts of cooking oil and toasted spices. OK, that’s true of all good cooking, so what could I do to keep the flavor of baked beans true to its recipe, but without the salt pork that provides so much umami and body (by way of fat)?

It was a puzzlement…

The answer came later as I started planning for another dish — something completely unrelated: miso-marinated salmon. We had salmon (check), we had ginger (check), we had miso (*lightbulb moment*)… Yes, we had miso! Umami-packed, mineral rich, luscious miso paste! That was it — substitute miso paste for salt pork! Why not give it a try?

So I diced the onion and sauteed it, instead of leaving whole with cloves stuck in it as called for in the recipe. Also added a few cloves of garlic and a touch more of certain spices to ramp up the aromatics. As the beans cooked, I tasted to correct any seasoning, and thought the miso really hit the right spot for flavor in the beans — they were full-flavored, umami-licious and tender. But one thing bothered me. Something was missing: the rich mouthfeel that comes with beans cooked with fatty meats like salt pork — I like that! Fortunately, the fix was an easy one: add more olive oil. Yes, it’s more fat, but it’s monounsaturated fat which is supposed to good for your heart, so no guilt here!

A bowl of of these sweet and savory beans are winging their way across the Atlantic to sweet Simona at briciole, this month’s host for My Legume Love Affair, an event celebrating the humble bean, and the brainchild of that Well-Seasoned Cook, Susan. Simona is accepting recipes for this, the 31st edition of MLLA, until the end of this month. But you can plan ahead for future events by checking out the line-up of future hosts here.

This recipe tweak all began with molasses-rich Anadama Bread, the start of my resolution to bake bread at home. Our second Anadama loaf, shaped into a braid this time, was the perfect accompaniment to these beans.

Inspired by The Bean Bible by Aliza Green
Serves 6-8 persons

1lb (455g) dried great Northern beans
4 TBL olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped (optional)
1½ TBL ground mustard powder
1 TBL ground ginger
8 whole cloves, placed in teaball or wrapped in cheesecloth
1 cup (240ml/ 350g) unsulphured (aka blackstrap) molasses
1 cup (190g) raw sugar, or (200g) dark brown sugar
1 tsp sea salt
1½ tsp ground black pepper
1/4 cup (60ml or 88g) shiro miso paste
2-3 TBL olive oil (optional, but recommended)

Soak beans in 2 qt/L cold water overnight. Or, bring dried beans and water to boil over high heat, then remove from heat and cover for 1 hour.

Drain rehydrated beans and add to slow-cooker with 6 cups (1½ liters) cold water. Set heat setting to HIGH. It’s important NOT to add any salt at this point. If salt is added to the cooking water before the interior of the bean has started to soften, the shell with toughen and the interior will remain hard. Leave on HIGH for 3 hours.

Meanwhile, in a small pan, cook onions and garlic (if using) in first 4 TBL olive oil over medium heat. Cook until onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add mustard and ginger powders, stir to combine and continue cooking for another 2 minutes. After beans have cooked alone for 3 hours, add aromatics to slow-cooker, along with molasses, sugar, salt, pepper, miso and remaining olive oil. Turn heat down to LOW for remaining 5 hours.

Sauce will thicken and beans will become tender when cooked through. Serve with your favorite crusty bread as a meal, or as a side dish with grilled hot dogs, brats or burgers.

For the carnivores in your life, you can quickly turn these into
Franks and Beans by topping with your favorite hot dog.