Sunday, March 3, 2013

Monkey See, Monkey Do, or How I Overcame My Fear of Frying
What's cooking? Thai Sweet and Spicy Wings and Turnip & Cabbage Slaw with Yogurt Dressing

It was the sort of comment you make without thinking. And for me, that always means trouble.

I was just forwarding a recipe to our friends, Bob and Laurie, who are avid fans of both chicken wings and Thai food.

“This looks good and really easy,” I emailed, attaching a link to a video in which a professional chef was featured making one of his restaurant’s most popular dishes. “I thought you might want to try it.” Then I added in a moment clearly without real thought, “I would even offer my kitchen up for the test...”

“Excellent,” came the reply. “I vote we pick one of our recipes and cook up a mixed batch and sample!”

So now I was stuck. Hmmm, how hard can it be, I thought. I’d only watched the video once and it did look easy. But when I went back to the site, it turns out that the only thing there was a video of the chef cooking it – no recipe, no measurements, no guidelines other than what the guy said as he blithely whirled away in his professional kitchen.

The other catch was that his method involved deep frying. Now this will be hard for all you folks to believe, but the Kitchen Goddess has herself never deep fried anything. In fact, I make a habit of not frying – deep or shallow – any food but bacon, and I’ve figured out at least two other ways to cook bacon that don’t involve a skillet.

It’s the grease. I’m not afraid of making a mess in my kitchen, but I remember what grease buildup looks like from my Manhattan apartments, and my Texas  kitchen – only four years old – still has that new car shine. So the idea of heating up a giant batch of oil on my stovetop and plunging food into it just about gave me the vapors. I could picture my open shelves covered with splashes of hot oil, droplets oozing their way down the plaster walls, and little pockmarks on my face and arms from the splatters. And I must admit to that age-old fear of doing something tricky for the first time.

But an offer is an offer, and these friends are such nice people, I couldn’t bring myself to renege. So I took a deep breath and watched the video another four or five times to guess at the timing of each step, the proportions of the ingredients, and the chef’s technique for handling the wings. I also noticed – with more than a little relief – that it looked like the oil would be relatively contained.

The experiment was a smash, and I say that in all modesty. You know how modest I am. The technique worked just like it looked in the video, I got the breading mix just about right, and the sauce, which I could have made a bit spicier, was delicious. If you watch the video, you’ll notice that the chef calls for a 4:1 ratio of chili sauce to Sriracha; what I noticed was that he’s Thai, so in deference to my husband – who is from Pittsburgh and prefers the less spicy – I scaled back to 7:1, which was easy because my bottle of sweet chili sauce was 7 ounces. Unless you are confident in your love of the truly spicy (and Sriracha lends new meaning to the word “hot”), I would start at 7:1 and add from there. Remember, you can always make it more spicy.

I should also say that I’d have been a wreck but for Laurie, who stirred the hot wings into the sauce and murmured encouraging words as I worked my way through the deep frying.

Click here to watch the Chef in action.
So here’s the recipe. I strongly recommend at least a couple of viewings of The Video to get the breading technique. The results are well worth the mess – and yes, there is some mess, and of course you have to then deal with the oil, which we rebottled and put into the trash. The oil doesn’t splatter nearly like I thought it would, so the only area that got pretty greasy was the cooktop. And having a friend there made it fun.

We were so busy with the coating and the deep frying and the saucing that we forgot entirely to take any photos. Here's the only little wingette that survived the evening. But – huzzah! – mine looked exactly like Chef Tila's, which you can see at the end of the video.

Bottom line? It’s an adventure, and it's only cooking. If it doesn’t work out, you throw it away and call for pizza.

Thai Sweet and Spicy Wings

12 chicken wings, tips removed and meaty portions separated at the joint (If you’re not sure how, here’s a short YouTube clip on cutting them up.)
8 cups Canola oil or other neutral oil
½ cup tempura flour or tempura batter mix
½ cup panko crumbs
7 ounces Thai sweet chili sauce
1 ounce Sriracha hot chili sauce

special equipment: deep fry/candy thermometer, 12-inch tongs

In a large saucepan (I used a 4-quart pan), heat the oil to 350º (the deep fry mark on the thermometer).

Stir the tempura flour and panko together in a large bowl. Put the wing pieces – which should be slightly moist so that the flour/panko adheres well – into the mixture, about 6 pieces at a time, and use your hands to mash the coating onto the chicken. (This is where the “recipe” video is especially helpful for the technique; Chef advises “getting some muscle into it.”)

When the oil has reached 350º, add the chicken pieces one at a time, gently so as not to splash, and fry until golden brown. You’ll want the tongs for this part, so you can delicately lift the pieces up just enough to check the color.

In the meantime, in another large bowl, mix the sweet chili sauce well with the Sriracha and keep it near the pan where the frying is happening. As the wing pieces reach that golden color (4-5 minutes), use the tongs to move them directly to the bowl with the sauce, where they will sizzle as they caramelize the sauce onto the chicken. Stir them around gently in the sauce, then move them to a warm plate.

For the dozen wings, you’ll need to manage them in about four batches, but these quantities of flour/panko and chili sauce were enough for all. The wings taste great warm, but they’re just as good at room temperature.

I served the chicken with cole slaw in yogurt dill dressing, and some steamed broccoli just because I wanted something truly green with the meal.

Today’s hostessing tip: Not wanting to get red chili sauce all over my cloth napkins, I cleverly set the table with a bowl at each place that held a damp microfiber cloth for wiping hands.


Okay, fine – here’s the recipe for the slaw, which was the perfect complement. Just trust me on the turnips.

Turnip & Cabbage Slaw with Yogurt Dressing

Serves 6.

1 large garlic clove
1 teaspoon Kosher salt, plus a pinch for the garlic paste
½ cup plain Greek yogurt
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup fresh dill, chopped
freshly ground black pepper
½ head cabbage, cored and shredded (about 6 cups)
4 medium turnips (about ¾ pound), peeled and cut into matchsticks

For the dressing:
Finely chop the garlic, then sprinkle a pinch of salt on it and, with the flat side of the blade on a chef’s knife, mash the garlic and salt into a paste.

Add the garlic paste to a small bowl with the rest of the salt, the yogurt, the olive oil, and the dill. Whisk until well blended, and add freshly ground pepper to taste.

For the salad:
In a large bowl, mix together the cabbage and turnips. Add the dressing and toss well. Adjust seasonings to taste. Let stand 30 minutes before serving.

Kitchen Goddess note on Turnips: 
When buying turnips for a salad, look for small- to medium-sized bulbs that are firm and feel heavy for their size. They should be creamy white with a purplish ring around the tops, and no blemishes. If they get a tiny bit squishy in your fridge while waiting for you to get around to using them – which just occasionally happens to the KG, do not despair. Peel the skins and cut the turnips into matchsticks, and as you do, toss the slivered pieces into a bowl of water with a couple of ice cubes. If you do this before you shred the cabbage, the turnips will be crisp and lovely when you’re ready for them. Drain and pat dry before combining with the cabbage.

Kitchen Goddess P. S.:
I was having the remains of the slaw for lunch yesterday, and decided to try it with some apple. Apple matchsticks just like the turnip. Wow. If you like a tiny bit of sweetness in your slaw, I highly recommend adding, say, half of a Honey Crisp apple – cut into matchsticks – to the turnips and cabbage.


  1. Although I have no fear of frying, I have never understood the allure of chicken wings. Why don't you just spoon sauce into your mouth and be done with it. But this was fun to read and I'm sure delish. At least the sauce. And the slaw. Yum.

    1. You are too funny, G. Mostly I think some of us just like crispy chicken skin, which is a large part of the fried wings.