Last year I was lucky enough to spend a couple of weekends in Portland, Oregon, where I developed a bit of a city crush. With a great food scene, an even better coffee scene, and an offbeat, artsy vibe, it reminded me a lot of Burlington, Vermont, only super-sized.
I’ve enthusiastically enjoyed every dining experience I’ve had in Portland, but by far the most memorable dish I enjoyed was Ike’s Wings at Pok Pok. Sticky, salty, and sweet, they were unlike any wing I’d had before (loaded with flavor instead of the typical blow-the-roof-of-your-mouth- off heat). And I’m not the only one who became enchanted by Ike’s Wings; Food and Wine named the dish one of the Best Restaurant Dishes of 2007.
So what’s the secret of Ike’s Wings? For the last year I’ve been playing around with ingredients in an attempt to recreate this dish, and then a couple of weeks ago Food & Wine published the actual recipe. Mystery solved.
Luckily, all of my experiments were not a total waste of time. Through a bit of trial and error I think I’ve developed a successful riff off of Pok Pok’s version, with added components of citrus and a nice fiery element.
My twist on Ike’s wings adds an element of heat, nowhere near “lava” or “5-alarm” but a bit more subtle. Instead of a traditional wing sauce I used Sambal Oelek, an Asian chili paste that marries well with the other ingredients (I picked this up at the grocery store in the Asian foods section, so I think it is widely available). It’s enough heat to lift up your palate a bit, but it won’t send smoke out of your ears.
For the sweet element I substituted maple syrup for the sugar/palm sugar. I’ve found the maple syrup adds a nice depth of flavor and is a nice way to integrate a local/Vermont product. I have also tried agave syrup, but I wasn’t as struck with the outcome. A batch made with molasses is next at bat.
I used my handy fryer appliance to get these wings nice and crispy, but baking or grilling would also be options. For an easy baked wing recipe, try this technique from Martha Stewart and simply substitute in the baking step for the frying step below.
For a garnish I like to use a bright herb like cilantro (toasted sesame seeds would also be a nice touch). I’ve also had great success adding a bit of gomasio, or a toasted, salted sesame seed.
Serve these wings with plenty of napkins or wipes-they can get a little messy!
- Yields: serves 6
- Difficulty: Medium
- sea salt and fresh ground pepper
- 1 cup fish sauce
- 1 cup maple syrup
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 8 garlic cloves, minced (divided)
- 3 pounds chicken wings, cut at joints
- 3 tablespoons butter
- zest and juice of 1 orange
- 1/4 cup sambal oelek chili paste (more or less to taste)
- oil for frying
- 1 cup chopped cilantro, garnish
- Season the wings with a pinch of sea salt and a crank of fresh ground pepper. In a large bowl whisk together the fish sauce, maple syrup, orange juice, and half of the garlic cloves. Add the wings and toss to coat. Transfer the wings and marinade to a plastic bag and refrigerate for 3 hours or overnight (I’d go overnight or as long as you can).
- Drain the wings over a medium bowl to reserve the marinade. Heat the butter over medium heat until melted and add the remaining garlic; cook until the garlic is golden brown, being careful not to allow it to burn. Turn the heat to medium-high and add the reserved marinade, orange zest and juice, and chili paste. Continue to cook the dressing until it reduces to a syrupy consistency, about 10 minutes, and then remove it from the heat. Place the warm sauce in a large bowl.
- Heat the oil to 350F. Working in batches, fry the wings until crispy, about 5 minutes per batch. Drain on a cooling rack set over paper towels, allowing the oil to drip off. When all of the wings have been fried, toss them in the dressing (you may need to work in batches). Garnish with cilantro and serve immediately.
- *After the frying step you may also hold the wings in a warm oven–this helps if you are doing large batches. Just be aware of drying out the wings or losing crispness if held for a long period of time.