Calabrian Chili Wings
Ever since my local grocery started to stock Calabrian chilies on a regular basis, I've been using them often in my cooking. They pack a good amount of heat in a small package with a unique fruity tilt that I've found makes this pepper stand out more than other varieties when used in recipes. Also of importance is that they're packed in oil to preserve them, allowing me to pick up a jar and just keep it on hand for continually use, so they kind of end up being a chili of choice by default because they're always there. It felt only fitting to for one of my current favorite peppers to season one of my favorite foods, which made Calabrian chili wings a no brainer for Wing Month 2022.
Most of my wing recipes follow the same process of applying a baking powder and salt mixture to the outside first. While that remains a constant, it also affords me the opportunity to start to introduce different dry seasonings, which I tailor to whatever the finishing sauce will be. To go with the Calabrian chilies, and further the Italian flavor profile, I chose to add some garlic powder and cayenne pepper this time around.
Once I had the seasoning mixture made, I placed my three pounds of wings in a large bowl and patted them dry with paper towels. This is the first step to achieving a dry exterior, but it also helps render the surface of the wings be tacky, instead of wet, which is better for getting the rub to adhere in a more even fashion.
Once seasoned, I placed the wings on a wire rack set in a baking sheet and moved that whole thing into the fridge overnight night. This is where the majority of the drying happens, which is the crucial part to achieving crunchy skin on the grill or in the oven. The baking powder in the seasoning mixture also helps by giving the skin more of a texture that enhances that crunch and also aids in the ability for the sauce to cling to the wings.
With the wings resting, it was onto the sauce, where I went in heavy with the Calabrian chilies because I wanted a hearty heat in the final product. I took a queue from all the Calabrian chili oil I've made and started the sauce off by slowly heating the chilies in oil to release a lot of flavor without really cooking them much. I also included garlic and oregano as part of this step.
Once the oil began to bubble, I let it simmer for just a few minutes, then added in white wine vinegar, butter, lemon juice, and honey. When the butter was melted, I removed the pan from the heat and attempted to smooth out the sauce with an immersion blender. There was too little liquid to do that effectively, so I transferred the sauce to the narrow jar the blender came with and tried again, and that did the trick to get everything blended and smooth.
When it came time to cook the wings the next day, the exteriors looked sufficiently dry, which was a good indication I was going to get that crackling skin. After getting a batch of coals lit, I dumped them out and arranged them on one side of the charcoal grate, put the cooking grate in place, and then arranged the wings on the cool side of the grill and covered.
About 40 minutes later, those little chicken parts had browned and crisped up beautifully. I had also removed the sauce from the fridge, which I had made the night prior, while I got the grill going so that would be at room temperature and ready to be wed with the chicken.
I did that in a larger bowl, putting the wings in first, then adding in the sauce, and tossing to coat. The aroma that was given off was amazing with garlicky and fruity notes that had a strong peppery kick that could induce a sneeze if put too close to the nose. I then transferred the wings to a serving plater and garnished with chives before taking the glamour shots.
From the photos alone, you couldn't tell these are any different from Buffalo wings really, but they definitely had their own unique and incredible flavor. I kind of made them in the fashion of Buffaloes, so they had a familiar spicy and tangy taste upfront, but those Calabrian chilies really were front and center, releasing bright, fruity, and slightly smoky components too. The garlic was also pretty present, adding a sharpness to the equation that's not found in your standard wings. I think I put together a pretty good Wing Month for 2022, in my opinion, but I saved this recipe for last because it was undoubtedly my favorite of the lot.
Calabrian Chili Wings
- Yield 4-6 servings
- Prep 15 Minutes
- Inactive 8 Hours
- Cook 45 Minutes
- Total 9 Hours
- For the Sauce
- 1/4 cup finely chopped Calabrian chilies
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 teaspoons finely minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon honey
- Kosher salt, to taste
- For the Wings
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 3 pounds chicken wings, cut into drumettes and flats
- 2 tablespoons finely sliced chives, for garnish
- To make the sauce: Place chilies, oil, garlic, and oregano in a small saucepan set over medium-low heat; cook until oil begins to bubble around chilies and garlic. Stir in vinegar, butter, lemon juice, and honey and continue to cook until butter has completely melted. Remove sauce from heat and puree until smooth using an immersion blender or transferring to the jar of a regular blender. Season sauce to taste with salt. Transfer sauce to an airtight container and place in refrigerator.
- To make the wings: In a small bowl, mix together baking powder, salt, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper. Place wings in a large bowl, pat dry with paper towels, and sprinkle in spice 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.
- Remove sauce from refrigerator. 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 sauce and toss to thoroughly coat wings. Transfer wings to a platter and garnish with chives. Serve immediately.
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