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Sesame ginger chicken wings

My Dad always taught us that the best part of the chicken was the wings. The flesh in the wing is sweet from its proximity to the bone, delicate, and lubricated with plenty of flavour-carrying fat from the skin that covers it. Accordingly, we used to fight over the wings every time a chicken appeared on the dinner table, occasionally with our cutlery. Ours was a savage household.

Dad’s Chinese, and this is the kind of comfort food he used to rustle up for us when everybody else’s Dad was frying mince with baked beans. I used to take great pride as a little girl in helping out – slicing the garlic, chopping the ginger, carefully mixing the cornflour into some cold water, and watching, fascinated, as he whirled around the kitchen with a wok and a pair of chopsticks. You can’t beat the cosmopolitan nature of the food education my brother and I got from my parents: Mum’s wonderful meals were from Jane Grigson, the Roux brothers and Elizabeth David, and Dad’s all did something fabulous with soy sauce. Alongside lengthy gastronomic holidays in France, where my brother and I were expected to sit quietly for hours in restaurants with endless cutlery and a million cheeses while Mum and Dad bibbed and tucked (and we did – there’s still little I find as fascinating as my very own slab of foie gras), there were the frequent visits to Malaysia, where food is as important to the national psyche as football is in Britain. Back in the UK, there were regular and keenly looked forward to family trips to London’s Chinatown, which, at the time, was the only place you could find ingredients like sesame oil, chilli sauces and tofu – even ginger was sometimes hard to find in 1970s Bedfordshire. There were bribes of candied winter melon and sesame caramels for the kids, and Dad swiftly made friends with all the local Chinese restaurateurs. We met Kenneth Lo once at a garden party when I was about six. Dad didn’t stop talking about it for weeks.

While most wing recipes you’ll find will have you grill or fry the wings so they are crisp, this Chinese method will have you simmering them in an aromatic, savoury sauce. You’re best off eating these with a knife and fork; fingers will be a bit messy. The popularity of chicken breasts and legs, all neatly pre-jointed, means that there are a lot of surplus wings kicking around out there, and you’ll likely find that you can buy them very cheaply (I prefer the butcher’s wings to the boxes from the supermarket, because I’m more confident about their origin) – this is a good budget dish for the end of the month.

I like to remove the wingtips, which don’t yield any meat, with a pair of poultry shears, and use them to make stock. This isn’t absolutely necessary – if you’re in a hurry, leave yours on. And although my Dad would use a wok to make this, I find a large casserole dish a bit easier, not least because it’s an even depth and comes with a lid.

To serve two, you’ll need:

800g chicken wings
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
2in piece of ginger
2 cloves garlic
12 spring onions, chopped and separated into green and white parts
75ml sesame oil
100ml soy sauce
Water
2 teaspoons cornflour
Groundnut oil to fry

Half an hour before you start to cook, sprinkle the salt, pepper and sugar over the chicken wings, mix well, and set aside.

Heat a couple of spoonsful of oil in your pan, and brown the wings on each side. You may need to do this in a few batches, depending on the size of your pan. When they are browned, return them to the pan with the chopped garlic, the ginger, cut into coins, and the white part of the spring onions. Keep stirring carefully for a minute until the garlic, ginger and onions start to give up their aroma – be careful not to break the skin on any of the wings.

Pour over the sesame oil and soy sauce, and reduce the heat to a low flame. Add water to cover the wings, stir to combine everything, and bring slowly to a simmer. Put a lid on the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, for 12 minutes.

Combine the cornflour with a little cold water. Remove the lid and stir the cornflour mixture through the dish. Continue to simmer until the sauce thickens. Stir through the green part of the spring onions, reserving a little to scatter over the finished dish, and serve with steamed rice and a stir-fried vegetable.

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5 comments to Sesame ginger chicken wings

  • I’m smacking my fingers here they sound so darned good. Lovely to hear about your mum and dad too. Sounds like you had a better 70s gastronomic experience than I did!!

  • Liz

    Hi Sarah! I’ve got a few 1970s cookery books in the bookcase here, and am reminded how everything back then genuinely *did* seem to be brown, green and dull orange. Especially a lot of the food. I was very lucky with what we ate at home, but god, school dinners back in the day were awful. I have particular horrible memories of something called Manchester tart – a pastry base baked blind, spread with jam and sprinkled with dessicated coconut. Absolutely bleeding awful. (My lovely parents, despite having lived and met in Manchester, never cooked anything resembling Manchester tart for us, for which I remain grateful.)

  • Claire

    Wings are my absolute favourite bit of chicken – the kids have to be really really good to have “earned” one each time we do a chicken! And I spent the 70′s as a kid in Hong Kong – so I’m all about tasty treats with soy sauce.. My favourite was squid on a stick – eat the legs one by one.. YUM!

  • This looks utterly delicious, a real must try!

  • Ah yes, Manchester Tart. That may be the reason for my continuing lack of enthusiasm about jam.

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