Thu Jan 26, 2017
I remember when Pok Pok opened in New York—I had heard so many good things about this Thai restaurant, which had already been established as a shining star in the Portland scene, that I couldn't wait to go try it myself. Assuming opening crowds, I decided to hold on a visit for a bit, but then days turned into weeks, into months, into years, and I left New York without having ever ventured to Cobble Hill for their food. A renewed excitement brewed though when I noticed the only destination shopping my wife wanted to do on a recent trip to L.A. happened to be in the same building as the Pok Pok there, and with a mere hour or so between a wedding ceremony and reception, I made that time really count with a quick stop in to finally try it out.
Out of everything at Pok Pok, I've heard and read most about their Vietnamese-flavored, fish sauce laden wings, so that was going to be my go-to order until the wife worried that the combination of wings, my one really nice suit, and less than graceful eating habits may be a recipe for disaster. So instead we got some incredible salty and savory ribs (I didn't see ribs as a much better option, but I relented) and left my first Pok Pok experience both pleasantly pleased and slightly disappointed I missed out on the wings.
So now, months later, the thought of those wings has continued to stir in my brain, which led me to create these grilled savory Vietnamese flavored wings.
I, of course, started by looking up the recipe for Pok Pok wings, which was thankfully well documented. The process though of marinating, battering, and frying didn't translate to my intent to grill, so I my output is pretty different than what's likely served in the restaurant.
In my quest for the best crispy wings on the grill, my goal is to remove moisture from the skin, not add it via a marinade. So I skipped the soaking in a garlic and fish sauce mixture here and instead tossed the wings in baking powder with a little bit of salt and garlic powder.
The baking powder coating, and the following air drying overnight in the fridge, are both crucial factors in achieving a wing who's skin is both crunchy and textured, providing the ideal exterior that can hold sauce and remain crisp.
I'm a lover of fish sauce to the extent that it adds a great depth and savoriness in small quantities to a lot of dishes. In too large a portion though, the fishiness elicits a response from my seafood aversion and can turn me off. I thought a good foil to avoid that happening to me here would be to add some heat to the sauce—I'll eat almost anything spicy. I decided to try out nam prik pao, a Thai chili and oil paste. While I knew that nam prik pao included some preserved seafood, that shrimp-like flavor was a little more forward than I was expecting, leading me to only use it sparingly due to my own tastes.
Besides the chili paste, the sauce is pretty much a replica of recipes I found for the Pok Pok wings—equal parts fish sauce, sugar, and water with some garlic boiled together until it darkens and thickens to a coating glaze. With all the sugar in the sauce, this only took about four minutes with a continuous boil over medium heat.
In the recipes I scoured, I sometimes saw additional garnishes by way of peanuts, fried garlic, or both. I opted only for fried garlic here because I can never resist those crunchy morsels with a great garlicky flavor. Making fried garlic is pretty easy—add a few tablespoons of minced garlic to oil in a small pot and then slowly heat. Once the garlic begins to turn a light golden brown, it's time to strain it and transfer to a paper towel to drain.
After their stint in the fridge overnight, I transferred the wings to the grill and cooked them over indirect high heat. After about 45 minutes they looked like this—lightly browned with an excellent crispy exterior that looked incredibly appetizing.
That mouthwatering feeling faded a little for me after I transferred the wings to a large bowl and tossed in the sauce. The hot wings made the aroma of the fish sauce fill the room, which smelled a bit too strong for my personal preference.
But luckily in flavor, things fared better for me. Yes the fish sauce was at the forefront, but when combined with the sugar and chicken, it added more of a savory quality than anything else. It wasn't until about four wings that things started to turn "fishy" for me, but some quick pickled cucumbers and carrots were an excellent contrast to counteract that. The fried garlic was really key, adding an extra crunch and another sharp, prominent flavor that added even more depth to the already insanely flavorful wings. You should take any reservations of "fishiness" in my description with a grain of salt too as it comes from a seafood averse soul—my other guests ate these up with no qualms at all, enjoying the unique sweet and savory profile that made these wings really stand out.
Savory Vietnamese Flavored Wings
- Prep Time:
- 20 Minutes
- Inactive Time:
- 8 Hours
- Cook Time:
- 45 Minutes
- Total Time:
- 9 Hours 5 Minutes
- 4-6 servings
- For the Wings
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 3 pounds chicken wings, cut into drumettes and flats
- For the Glaze
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 teaspoon nam prik pao (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
- For the Fried Garlic
- 1/3 cup canola or vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons freshly minced garlic (about 6 medium cloves)
- 3 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh cilantro, for serving
- For the wings: In a small bowl, mix together baking powder, salt, and garlic powder. Place wings in a large bowl and sprinkle in baking powder mixture, tossing to evenly coat. Arrange wings in a single layer on wire rack set inside a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil, leaving a little space between each wing. Place baking sheet with wings in refrigerator for 8 hours to overnight.
- To make the glaze: Whisk together sugar, fish sauce, water, nam prik pao (if using), and garlic in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and cook until sauce thickens and turns a deep golden brown, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
- To make the fried garlic: Place oil and garlic in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic turns light golden brown. Transfer garlic to fine mesh strainer and drain. Spread garlic out on a paper towel-lined plate and set aside.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Place the wings skin side up over the cool side of the grill, cover, and cook until skins are crisp and and browned, about 45 minutes.
- Transfer wings to a large bowl. Add in glaze and toss to thoroughly coat wings. Transfer wings to a platter, garnish with fried garlic and cilantro to taste, and serve immediately.