"This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook – try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!" Julia Child
While today there is no disputing that fiery Buffalo Chicken Wings rule, there are literally thousands of flavor variations out there just waiting for us to devour. Among my favorites is one that I created for a grilling competition a few years ago (I won), a smoked wing featuring an Asian-inspired marinade that deftly balances sweet, salty, and savory.
This recipe leans heavily on miso paste, a traditional Japanese ingredient rich in umami, the rich meaty savory flavor, made from fermented soy beans and grains and a mold called koji. It is something you may not find in all groceries but well worth the effort making a run to an Asian market. Although there are hundreds of types of miso with each producer putting its own twist on the process and flavor profile, in general this thick grainy paste comes in three colors/flavors. White is mostly rice with a smaller percentage of soybeans. It is the mildest and has a hint of sweetness. Yellow miso is ranges from yellow to tan, and it is fuller and richer, heavy on barley. Red miso is cordovan in color, sometimes even close to black. It is heavy on soy, has been fermented longest, and is the most intense and salty.
If you haven't used it before you will find many uses for it, and it lasts for many months in the fridge. Use it in marinades (it is salty), soups, in salad dressings, sauces, stocks, on veggies, in mayo, and in savory pasta sauces.
Makes. 6 to 8 servings
Takes. 15 minutes of prep. 2 hours to marinate. 1.5 hours to smoke.
Serve with. Japanese beer such as Kirin or Sapporo.
3 pounds chicken wings
1 cup white or yellow miso paste
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoon mirin
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon sesame seeds (optional)
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro (optional)
About the rice vinegar. This is less strong, about 4% acetic acid, than most commercial white vinegars or even cider vinegar, which are often 6% or more. Most good groceries sell it as either plain or seasoned. Get the plain. If you must use white vinegar or cider vinegar, add a couple of tablespoons more water.
About the mirin. Mirin is a mild, slightly sweet very mild white rice wine. It is usually in the import section of good groceries. If you can't find it, sake will do or a dryish white wine like chenin blanc or American riesling (not late harvest).
About the sesame oil. There is no substitute for this amazing aromatic extract from toasted sesame seed. If you see clear or yellow sesame oil, keep looking. The toasted stuff is dark amber to brown. It is also stocked by better groceries.
About the sesame seeds. Sometimes you can buy toasted sesame seeds, but most of the time they aren't toasted. Even if they are toasted, toasting them again just before serving, as described below, brings the oils and aromas out.
1) Using a sharp chef's knife or kitchen shears, separate the wings at the two joints to create drumettes, wingettes, and tips. Freeze the tips for making chicken stock.
2) Combine the miso paste, rice wine vinegar, mirin, honey, ginger, sesame oil, and water in a mixing bowl and blend well to combine.
3) Place the wings in a large re-sealable freezer bag and add the marinade. Seal the bag while removing as much air as possible. Use fingers to work the wings inside the bag to ensure that they are evenly covered with the marinade.
4) Refrigerate the wings for a minimum of two hours, overnight is better.
5) Prepare a smoker or a grill for 2-zone indirect cooking. Adjust the smoker or grill to bring the temperature to about 225°F in the indirect zone and place 2 to 3 chunks of your favorite smoking wood on the fire.
6) Once the smoker or grill is ready, remove the wings from the marinade and pat dry with paper towels.
7) Place the wings on the main cooking grate in the indirect heat. Allow the wings to smoke for approximately 1.5 hours until they are tender and have reached a minimum internal temperature of 160°F.
8) While the wings are cooking, pour the sesame seeds into a dry frying pan and turn the heat to medium. Let them sit there for 30 to 60 seconds and toast, or until they get fragrant and golden brown. Remove them quickly so they don't burn.
9) Remove the wings from the smoke and garnish with the toasted sesame seeds and cilantro before serving.