as babies, most of us regularly ate and bathed in our food at the same time. and even though we are all adults (some more than others), i think a small morsel of that glorious messy-eater mentality remains in each and every one of us, regardless of how cultured, well-preened, and properly educated we may be. somewhere deep inside, we all have a soft spot for getting really super messy at meal time.
it follows, therefore, that there are very few people in this world who don’t enjoy a good chicken wing.
in the states, we love our buffalo wings. as is the case with most insanely popular foods, nobody quite knows exactly how buffalo wings came about. most people think they were engineered by one teressa bellissimo, who (alongside her husband frank bellissimo) owned and operated a bar in buffalo, new york. all sorts of rumors surround how she invented them, so i won’t get into that here.
the linchpin of the buffalo wing is its sauce. once fried unbreaded, the chicken wingette or drumette is tossed in a sauce made from mostly butter/margarine and a vinegar-based hot sauce. in my home state of missouri, known for its dedication to balanced nutrition and eating healthy, we step things up by “trashing” our wings. trashed wings (a.k.a. dirty wings) are fried, dunked in their sauce, fried once more, then redoused in the sauce. the result is a extremely crispy, slightly smoky tasting heart-attack on a bone. that, and a few very sad deep fryers.
hot dang, i’m proud to be a midwesterner.
but despite my midwestern pride and down-home missouri upbringing, i will be the first to admit there are a few late night drinking foods in japan that we americans just can’t hold a candle to. ramen, yakiniku, and gyoza are the first few that come to mind. but in the city of nagoya, one drunk food reigns supreme. when nagoya locals are ten beers deep and hankering for a rib sticking meal, most wander into their local mom-and-pop ramen stop, order a bowl of ramen, six gyoza, and an order of three or four tebasaki.
tebasaki 手羽先 (translated loosely as “wing tips”) are whole chicken wings, normally deep-fried and covered in sweet soy sauce or salt. some places serve them with a wedge of lemon, others don’t. some shops bread their wings. some skewer their wings. some even grill their wings over a bed of ominously glowing charcoal.
the general idea of serving the whole wing (not drumettes or wingettes) is to maximize the surface area. the more wing, the more flavorful crispy skin. the more flavorful crispy skin, the bigger the canvas upon which to paint your saucy/salty masterpiece. and i have to be honest, it works. despite there being basically the same amount of meat, tebasaki somehow put drumettes and wingettes out to pasture.
you can bet your butt that every time i have ever had professional development in the city of nagoya, i have made a conscious effort to eat at least one or two before heading home.
but after two years of occasionally day trips to nagoya, i got to thinking, which is never a good thing. why go to nagoya to eat tebasaki? why not experiment with them at home? why not enable myself to eat tebasaki whenever i want? barring the obvious reasons (e.g. i would never eat anything else and most likely die of a heart-attack at the tender age of 25), i couldn’t think of any downsides. so i probed my memory, did a little research, and came up with a ridiculously tasty tebasaki recipe.
sweet sesame-covered tebasaki (goma-tappuri tebasaki)
- 10 to 12 whole chicken wings
- a dusting of potato starch (a.k.a. katakuriko)
- salt and black pepper
- paper towels
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons rice wine
- 2 tablespoons mirin
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 4 cloves garlic
- half a thumb of ginger
- hot pepper flake
- toasted sesame seeds (white or black)
- vegetable oil for frying
- remove your wings from their package, given them a quick rinse, dry the off, and sprinkle them with a few pinches of black pepper and salt. once the spices are evenly distributed across the surface of the wings, put them in a large sealable plastic bag, and pop them in the fridge to hang out for a few hours (over overnight).
- ready the sauce. peel the garlic and ginger, the mince them both super finely. add them to a frying pan or small sauce pot with the soy sauce, rice wine, mirin, brown sugar, and hot pepper flake. give the contents of the pan a stir until the sugar dissolves, then bring them to a boil over high heat. once the whole surface boils for a few seconds, kill the heat, pour the sauce into a metal/glass bowl, and set on the kitchen counter to cool off.
- take the wings out of the fridge and use a few sheets of paper towels to make sure the surface of the meat is as dry as possible. think twice about skipping this step. it really makes a difference in the crispness of the wings.
- sprinkle them with a light dusting of potato starch, and toss to coat evenly.
- sprinkle your sesame seeds onto a large plate.
- put enough oil in a frying pan to completely submerge a wing. test the heat of the oil by placing the very tip of a wing into it. if it bubbles moderately, you are good to go. if it hisses and bubbles violently, your oil is too hot and you should dial it back a little.
- add a few wings at a time and allow them to brown ever so slightly. this should take about eight minutes depending on the number of wings in the pan. once done, remove the wings and place them on a rack over some paper towels to drain.
- when all the wings are slightly browned, kick up the oil temperature. this time, when the wing tip goes in, it oil should bubble up strong. as before, add the wings a few at a time and fry them until they turn a light golden brown. it shouldn’t take more than two or three minutes.
- here is the moment of truth. as each wing finishes, take it out of the frying pan and allow as much oil to drip back into the pan as you can. then, drop it in the bowl containing the sauce. it should be completely submerged, but if not, flip it over once or twice. it is very important the wing is piping hot when it goes into the sauce. the pores of the hot chicken skin allow the sauce in, but they contract after cooling to keep the sauce from escaping. give each wing three or four seconds in the sauce, then move them to a cutting board or platter.
- while they are still hot, roll both sides of each wing onto the plate full of sesame seeds. the result will be a crispy, nutty, salty, and sweet wing the likes of which you have never had before.
- ready a piping hot bowl of ramen or rice, a pair of chopsticks, and a gurney. you might have to call a friend to wheel you off when you are done.