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An American classic meets Southeast Asian flavors

Let’s face it: Buffalo wings are awesome, but dousing them with the same old butter-hot-sauce mixture gets a little old after awhile. Classic though it is, this dish screams to the adventurous cook: “experiment with me!” Many have… entire chain restaurant concepts have successfully exploited the malleability of sauced wings, most often tweaking the heat level from 1 to 11 without really adding anything in the flavor department.

Of course, there are good variations too. One particularly good departure has become the trademark dish of one of Portland’s best and most successful restaurants, Andy Ricker’s Pok Pok. Rising from street-side shack to multi-coast empire, Pok Pok’s unusual, northern Thai menu has never failed to please us since we first tore into one of Andy’s grilled, lemongrass-stuffed game hens seven years ago. We can't wait to salivate on the pages of his forthcoming cookbook (set to be released in late October from 10 Speed Press).

Pok Pok’s wings, tossed in the pungent fish-sauce-sugar mixture they were marinated in, are quite delicious and one of his most popular dishes. Here, we recreate them with a Buffalo-style twist: to the fish sauce and sugar we add butter, chile-garlic paste, rice vinegar, and a little hoisin. A good sriracha or sambal work well in place of the chile-garlic paste too. Similarly, any fermented-black-bean product or a dark miso can take the place of the hoisin. Work with what you have!

These can be paired with a variety of sides… green papaya salad and sticky rice, a mix of Asian greens such as mizuna, tatsoi, and pea shoots, fried rice, etc. We decided to hew closer to the traditional, Buffalo-esque flavor pairing: sliced celery quick-pickled with rice vinegar, sugar, and pepper flake and jasmine rice cooked with coconut milk for that creamy counterbalance to all of the spice. You won’t miss that all-important blue-cheese funk… it’s built right in to the wing sauce!

Chile-Fish Sauce Wings
4 dinner servings, 6 appetizer servings

If you are starting out with whole cumin and coriander seed, briefly roast them in a small skillet before grinding.

Thoroughly mix in a large bowl:
     ½ cup fish sauce
     ½ cup brown sugar (coconut or palm sugar are really good here if available)
     4 cloves garlic, minced
     1 tablespoon ground white peppercorns
     1 teaspoon ground coriander
     1 teaspoon ground cumin
If desired, remove the wing tips from:
     2 1⁄2 pounds (about 20) chicken wings
Cut each wing into 2 pieces at the joint. Pierce each muscle a few times with the tip of your knife so the marinade penetrates deeper and more quickly (they will also cook more evenly). Toss the wings in the bowl with the marinade and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, stirring occasionally (overnight is just fine). 30 minutes before cooking, drain wings in a colander placed over a saucepan to catch the marinade.
Pour onto a plate:
     1 cup cornstarch
Coat the wings with the cornstarch, shake off the excess, and set aside. Heat the reserved marinade in a saucepan over medium heat until bubbling. Simmer for five minutes. Add:
     ¼ cup butter
     ¼ cup chili garlic sauce, sambal, or sriracha
     ¼ cup rice vinegar
     1 tablespoon hoisin sauce, red miso paste, or fermented
          black beans (whole, paste, or sauce)

     (1/2 teaspoon sesame oil)
Remove from the heat once the butter has melted and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 200°F. Pour into a deep heavy pot, or cast iron skillet:
     1 inch peanut oil
Bring to 375°F over medium heat, or until a corner of a wing held in the oil makes a lively sizzle. Add as many wings as will fit in a single layer and fry, turning once, until golden brown and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Drain on paper towels and keep warm on a baking sheet in the oven. Repeat with the remaining wings.
Transfer the wings to a large bowl. Pour the sauce over them, and toss until evenly coated. Liberally sprinkle the wings with:
     Sesame seeds, toasted
     ¼ cup sliced scallions
     (1/4 cup chopped cilantro, sawtooth coriander [culantro], rau raum, and/or mint)
Serve hot with:
     Steamed jasmine rice (made with coconut milk instead of water)
     Quick-pickled celery slices
     Lime wedges

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