Japanese curry became a staple meal in my house over the pandemic times because it was delicious, made for good leftovers, and became a way to fill the time as I opted to make my own roux starting with whole spices. After a few years of tinkering with my recipe, I have a spice mixture I like and started thinking of other ways to use it outside of that staple curry rice dish. Since I'm always on the hunt for new chicken wing ideas for my annual Wing Month round up, wings and a curry powder seemed worthy of an attempted pairing, and after doing so, I'm happy to report that curry-spiced wings are a pretty great thing.
My spice mixture journey started with my usual trusty source of Serious Eats, and it really doesn't deviate all that much from the recipe Daniel Gritzer developed. It relies heavily on whole spices that are toasted first to increase their potency, which also starts making the whole kitchen smell amazing.
The spices are then all finely ground in a spice grinder and mixed with a fair amount of turmeric. Where my spice mixture starts to vary is the addition of some herbs, like sage and thyme. One of the primary differentiators between Japanese curry and its original counterparts that came from India is that Japanese curry dishes tend to introduce more sweetness into the mix, so I followed suit here by also adding in some light brown sugar.
I went back and forth trying to decide if I should apply the seasoning before or after cooking the wings, but then realized I should be doing both for maximum flavor. This also allowed me to keep my standard procedure for getting crispy skin on the grill, which begins with coating the chicken with baking powder and salt. To those two required ingredients, I added a couple tablespoons of the spice mixture for the first curry application.
The next step for achieving crunchy skin is to allow the wings to air dry for at least eight hours in the fridge. To ensure maximum airflow for complete drying, I arranged the wings on a wire rack set in a sheet pan, and that entire set-up was stored in the refrigerator overnight. The next day the exterior of the chicken had lost a lot of moisture as desired, which allows the skin to brown and crisp more quickly on the grill.
It took these wings the standard 45 minutes to crisp up over indirect high heat—that's with a freshly lit batch of coals all set on one side of the charcoal grate, and then the wings arranged on the cool side of the cooking grate before being covered.
By the end of the cook, the wings had an intoxicating curry aroma emanating from them, but that only grew more so as I placed them in a large bowl and tossed them with melted butter, curry leaves, and additional seasoning. I wasn't sure how much of the spice mixture I was going to need, and you can apply as much as desired to taste, but I still had a fair amount left over which could just be put to use making these wings again, or a different recipe.
Even served outside, the aroma of these wings wafted through the crowd so much that one my arriving friend's first question was, "What has the fenugreek in it?" That aroma translated into even better taste with the complex earthy spice mixture, which had a light heat and sweetness, delivering an ocean of flavor in each small bite of a wing. I was worried the curry profile might be too heavy, but it ended up striking a really well balanced flavor with the chicken itself. I think that was partly thanks to the two-phase application, with the first coating of spices being a bit subdued after being cooked, and then the final dry coating being more upfront, but not overpowering. I was going to mark the curry leaves as optional since they are likely the hardest thing for most folks to procure and then aren't going to be eaten anyway, but if you can, definitely try to add them because they ended up being an important component of the aroma and appearance, even if they're omission won't drastically change the flavor. So now that I have two dishes that work pretty great with a Japanese curry spice mixture, I'll be off looking for the next thing to use it on, which hopefully will be just as great as these wings were.
- Yield 4-6 servings
- Prep 15 Minutes
- Inactive 8 Hours
- Cook 45 Minutes
- Total 9 Hours
- For the Spice Mixture
- 1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
- 2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
- 2 teaspoons whole fenugreek seeds
- 1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
- 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 1/2 teaspoon whole fennel seeds
- 1/2 star anise pod
- 2 cloves
- 1 1-inch piece of cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon turmeric
- 1/4 teaspoon ground sage
- 1/4 teaspoon ground thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
- For the Wings
- 2 tablespoons spice mixture, plus more to taste
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 pounds chicken wings, cut into drumettes and flats
- 2 tablespoon butter or ghee, melted
- 1 handful fresh curry leaves
- To make the spice mixture: Place coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, cardamom seeds, black peppercorns, fennel seeds, star anise pod, and cloves in a small skillet set over medium-high heat. Toast until spices become fragrant, about 3 minutes. Transfer spices to a spice grinder, add in cinnamon, and process until finely ground. Transfer ground spices to a small bowl, mix in brown sugar, turmeric, sage, thyme, cayenne, and nutmeg.
- To make the wings: In another small bowl, mix together two tablespoons of the spice mixture, baking powder, and salt. Place wings in a large bowl, pat dry with paper towels, and sprinkle in spice/baking powder mixture. Toss until wings are liberally and evenly seasoned. 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.
- 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 browned, about 45 minutes.
- Transfer wings to a large bowl. Add in butter or ghee, curry leaves, and additional spice mixture to taste (you will not need all of the spice mixture) and toss to thoroughly coat wings. Transfer wings to a platter and serve immediately.