Well, it had to happen, but Wing Month 2021 is coming to a close. It feels fitting to end this most special time of year with a wing that is often a choice for me when eating out, but one I never attempted to make at home—mango-habanero wings. Being a fan of barbecue in general makes me a predisposed fan to the sweet-fruity-spicy combo, and these wings certainly have that to an extreme that I find pretty irresistible. Coming up with my own recipe let me fine tune everything I love about them to end up with some really ultimate specimens, in my opinion anyway.
Mango and habanero are common partners in crime for good reason—super sweet mangos get an extra boost of complimentary fruitiness from habaneros, which also deliver a contrasting heavy heat to the sugars. While I have not made a wing recipe until now with this duo, you can find the pairing throughout my extensive recipe work with other greats like mango-habanero shrimp or mango-habanero salsa.
When considering how this flavor combo would best work with wings, it required some initial thought on how to make a dry seasoning effectively come into play. Most all of my wing recipes begin with a base of baking powder and salt—the former helps with giving grilled or baked wings a textured skin. By that's just a blank slate to build flavor upon, and I used a few additions here by way of white pepper for its unique sharpness, chipotle powder to add in some smokiness, and paprika mainly for a boost of color.
After placing my wings into a bowl and patting them dry with paper towels, I sprinkled in the rub and tossed the bowl at the same time to evenly coat all of the little pieces of chicken with the seasoning.
I then arranged the wings on a wire rack set in a sheet pan, leaving a little space between them, and then placed the entire thing in the fridge overnight. This air drying step is really crucial and well worth the effortless time if you want crackling skin on your wings without deep frying. I add the word "crispy" into most all of my wing recipes because most of the time grilled or baked wings are not associated with crunch, but as long as you don't skip this step, you should end up with that excellent cispy skin.
Now it was onto the big gun of this recipe, the sauce. No surprise that we start with a combo of mango and habanero. I tried hard to find Ataulfo mangoes, which are smaller, sweeter, and more tender than the larger standard mango varieties in the U.S., but could only find ones in an already rotting state, so settled on the ripest mangoes I could find from the plentiful common ones. I ended up using the flesh of almost two full mangoes and began the mix with three stemmed habaneros. I pureed those along with rice vinegar, brown sugar, and soy sauce and tasted. It was damn spicy, but I knew once cooked and then applied to wings, the sauce would lose some of its kick, so I added a couple more habaneros to deliver the intense heat I was after with these wings.
Next it was time to move to the stove, where I started by heating garlic and ginger in oil until both were fragrant, but not yet browned. Then I added in the puree and brought it to boil, reduced the heat, and let it simmer.
The sauce was already pretty viscous, so it didn't take too long for it thicken up just a bit more to a consistancy to make it proper finishing glaze. As the sauce cooked, I tasted it and adjusted the seasonings as necessary to make it fully in balance and flavorful, which required a little more brown sugar and soy sauce from my starting point.
Now I try to make most of my recipes during the daylight hours for photographic purposes, but I was making these wings on a night we had a guest coming over who would be arriving just after sunset. I had to make a decision to either cook early to get better glamour shots, or cook later for the best eating for me and my guests and I chose the later. The air dried wings went on the grill over indirect heat just around sunset, and when they were done 45 minutes later, there was precious little light for photos and am surprised I could even get this one of their orange-hued and crispy skins.
I then moved indoors and worked with the non-ideal kitchen lights to grab a shot of me saucing the wings. I had made the sauce the day before and stored it in the fridge, so I took it out a couple hours before serving so the sauce wouldn't be too cold when it was applied to the hot chicken.
The wings were smelling really awesome at this point, and I didn't even try to improve my less than stellar lighting and plating and just snapped some photos real quick and dug in. The first flavor to hit in these wings was the strong sweet and fruity mango, which was so prominent that at first I couldn't imagine them being spicy. But then, as a fruitiness increased from the habaneros and a light smoky undertone added an extra flavor dimension, the heat hit and hit hard. I got the lip numbing spiciness I was after, but it wasn't so intense that eating wing after wing wasn't pleasurable. It certainly helped that some pizza slices were consumed between rounds of wings, but that incredible sweet, fruity, and spicy progression had me coming back for more and more. I think my homemade sauce delivered some nice nuances that elevated them in my mind from what I usually get while eating out, with the fresh garlic and ginger being part of that, but the savoriness from soy sauce was really what delivered that extra something special. So it's sad to say this recipe puts a bookend on another wing month, but at least I know I'm leaving y'all with four great new recipes added to my already lengthy wing explorations to keep you going through the winter and beyond.
- Yield 4-6 servings
- Prep 25 Minutes
- Inactive 8 Hours
- Cook 45 Minutes
- Total 9 Hours 10 Minutes
- For the Sauce
- 1 1/2 cups diced peeled ripe mango
- 3-6 habanero peppers, to taste
- 1/3 cup rice vinegar
- 1/4 cup light brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger
- 2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh garlic (about 2 medium cloves)
- Kosher salt, to taste
- For the Wings
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder
- 3 pounds chicken wings, cut into drumettes and flats
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish
- To make the sauce: Place mango, 3 habanero peppers, vinegar, brown sugar, and soy sauce in the jar of a blender and puree until smooth. Taste sauce and add in more habanero peppers to taste to reach desired spiciness, pureeing after each pepper addition until sauce is smooth.
- Place oil, ginger, and garlic in a medium saucepan set over medium heat and cook until garlic and ginger are faragarent, but not browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Pour in mango and habanero puree, stir to combine, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and let sauce simmer until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes. Remove sauce from heat and allow to cool. Transfer sauce to an airtight container and store in refrigerator until ready to use.
- To make the wings: In a small bowl, mix together baking powder, salt, white pepper, paprika, and chipotle powder. Place wings in a large bowl, pat dry with paper towels, and sprinkle in seasoning mixture. Toss until wings are evenly coated in the seasoning. Arrange wings in a single layer on a wire rack set inside a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil, leaving a little space between each wing. Place baking sheet with wings in the 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 sauce and toss to thoroughly coat wings. Transfer wings to a platter, garnish with cilantro, and serve immediately.