Wings Of Desire

Today was just gorgeous, so I tried to get a few outdoor chores done since it’s supposed to take a turn for the shitty tomorrow. Among the things I managed to take care of was digging up the Thai chili plant from the garden and potting it to bring inside. I’m always frustrated at how the hot peppers really seem to be hitting their stride right when the frosts come, and this specimen is so healthy and so pretty that it seemed crazy not to let it live. I have a bay laurel, two citrus shrubs, and the lemongrass (which is now three years old; I dig it up and bring it in every fall, and it’s happy as can be) so the peppers will be a welcome addition to that aromatic arsenal. And right off the bat, I got inspired to make use of them.

I’ve been making some pretty excellent Korean-flavored wings of late, using gochujang, ginger, and kimchi in the marinade and sauce and usually whipping up a blue cheese-miso-celery sort of sauce that complements the slick, sticky, spicy wings with cracktacular aplomb. But tonight was all about the Thai flavors, so I changed the recipe accordingly.

A key part of my wing technique is to dust them initially with seasoned flour; this allows for attaining a luscious crisp crust without having the skin stick to the pan. After jointing the wings, saving the tips for stock, I sprinkled them with salt, powdered ginger, Korean red pepper, and then flour, tossing them to coat. Then I put them in the iron skillet with a bit of duck fat and browned them throughly all over. For phase two: the wetness, I added a mixture of very jellied pork stock, gochujang, cider vinegar, maple syrup, and fish sauce along with finely minced ginger, lemongrass heart, and lime leaves and a generous handful of shredded dried coconut. I tossed the wings in this fabulousness and then let them simmer low to cook through while the liquid thickened.

Since there were only 6 wings in the package, I needed something else to round out the meal. Enter the grass-fed strip steak that also lurked in the fridge, which also was not enough for three by itself but did famously as a second course. I trimmed it, salted it, and seared it on all sides, then took it off the heat to rest. Into the fond-encrusted pan then went slivered onion, red pepper, Thai pepper, and a lovely head of tatsoi that beckoned to me when I was out picking things.

It has been a great fall for the late-planted crops. I deglazed the vegetables with some more stock, plus fish sauce, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, and lime leaf, then removed the greens and strained the liquid into a bowl. The greens went in the center of a serving bowl, covered with slices of beef, and then got semi-artfully adorned with more garden: arugula, wrinkled cress, cilantro, basil, and radishes. I used the liquid to make a vinaigrette with some olive and mustard oil, maple vinegar, and more garlic.

The wings were flat out insane. One of the best things I’ve made in a long time. I’m going to make a trough of them for our next dinner party, although that will mean sharing them, so maybe I’ll make a trough of them tomorrow instead. They needed no dipping sauce or celery or any such superfluities; they were perfect. The sauce was so thick and sticky, and the coconut acted as an aggregate to bind it into a semi-solid, that we just ate the extra with our fingers. Man. I miss it already.

The beef salad was no slouch, either, with a nice contrast between the cooked and raw and the complex vinaigrette tying it all together. Time and ingredients permitting, a coconut curry with shrimp or tofu to follow would have made this a meal for the ages, but it wasn’t in the cards this time. But I have the pepper plant, and the lemongrass, and the citrus leaves all lined up in the window and waiting for next time.

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I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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