The tome had been taunting me. Daring me to test one of the multi-step procedures to see if, in fact, incorporating scientific principles could generate an ethereal dining experience. So I decided to conquer my fears of new cooking techniques and try some recipes.
Experimenting first with sous vide buffalo wings in Modernist Cuisine seemed as good as any place to start especially on game day. I’ve fried and grilled wings in the past with pleasing results. So I was doubtful that an approximately 4 hour and 3-step process (brining, cooking in a water bath and pan-frying) would yield a better wing than I could make in less than 20 minutes. The first problem I encountered was not having a sous vide machine. So off to Williams-Sonoma to purchase one. Check. (They claim you don’t need to spend the money for this, but I was hesitant to try this method any other way. My oven will not maintain a constant enough low temperature, and I wanted to be precise.)
The next problem was the wing shortage. There were none to be found in several stores I checked. Instead, I picked up some drummettes. Although slightly larger than the drums on the wings, they would do. And yes, this was a departure from the recipe, but in checking chicken leg cooking times/methods in the book, there was no reason to believe that it would alter the process or the end result. In fact, the drums cooked fine after brining for 3 hours and then using the sous vide method (149 degrees/1 hr) as suggested. To remove any redness near the bone, maybe they could have used a few more minutes, but they were cooked.
The last step called for frying the wings in “neutral” oil heated to 392 degrees for about 3 minutes. While many types of “neutral” oil are listed in the book, the recipe doesn’t indicate which type they prefer for this recipe. (NB: If you’re going to be specific, then be specific about everything.) Anyway, I used peanut oil, which is recommended for high temperature frying. But my lovely legs did not achieve the promised brownness. Now we had an insurmountable problem. They were fully cooked and even crisp, but not brown.
Even if we let them fry for 10 minutes…they refused to change from their golden color. Maybe that doesn’t matter to some, but it wasn’t aesthetically pleasing. Since the peanut oil was new, that might have been the problem. Should I try this again, I will use a different oil and see if that helps.
The end result, however, was a very moist and flavorful piece of chicken. This is not the type of wing you’ll find at bars. Overall, I wasn’t disappointed, and the process was actually fairly easy with minimal cleanup. (The use of plastic bags and the environment don’t seem to be a concern for these scientists.) Now the wing sauce is a different story.
We decided to use the pressure cooker to make the infused oil that is the basis for the heat in the recipe. With a ton of garlic, chipotle in adobo and an array of spices, the infused oil is great…for other uses.
But adding it to egg yolks to make a mayonnaise-like sauce, produced a thick coating over the wings.
It was underwhelming for the amount of time and hassle that went into making it, and I prefer a thinner and spicier sauce.
If you want more information, you can email me, but since it doesn’t seem to be public, I didn’t alter it and am not thrilled with the taste, I won’t post it here.
Having been less than satisfied with my the buffalo wings, the only alternative was to try the more popular Asian style of wings (click on the link for the full recipe, which is available on the Modernist Cuisine website). Thankfully, the wing shortage was over. And this cooking method does NOT require any special tools! You just need to locate all the somewhat unusual ingredients.
Not every market carries potato starch and Wondra, not to mention Shaoxing wine, usukuchi (light) soy sauce, and gochujang, a fermented chili paste. But after multiple trips to stores in NYC and the H Mart in NJ (internet research helped), I was finally able to locate and purchase everything to make this recipe. And it was worth it.
These wings were super crispy, not too greasy and had a nice kick. Of course they were a little browner than I wanted (this time I opted for corn oil, which might have been the culprit). They were, however, easy to make and clean up was fairly minimal thanks to the deep pot I used to fry them in and a newly purchased splash guard.
I can’t say that these were hands down the BEST wings I’ve ever had (that award goes to the rarely open Buck Tavern where they put the blue cheese into the wing sauce). But these were definitely the crispiest and moistest wings I can recall. And the sauce, which I’ve managed to add to stir fries, use as a dip for dumplings and put on just about anything I can, was as easy to make as it was delicious.
So now I can do what I enjoy most…take the basic recipes and tweak them. Next time, I’ll try a different brine, cooking oil and sauce to toss them in. After all, experimenting is how science progresses, and that is a concept I can get behind.