Cookbook Club Review and Dry-Fried Chicken Wings Recipe from All Under Heaven
Sunday, December 11, 2016 at 10:34AM

I love Cookbooktober – most of the cookbooks released in the year are released between September and November (with another lesser push every April), to fully ensure we are dirt poor by Christmas.  Thanks, publishers!  My cookbook hoarding collecting is a point of contention in our house; one I’ve worked around (mostly) by setting expectations that no Birthday or Christmas gifts are wanted other than the gift of David’s silence when those magical Amazon boxes start showing up on the front doorstep.  The past few years, this STFU Accord has worked and I can gleefully schedule, time sit on the floor with a drink, my dog, and stacks of books, and lose myself in cookbook heaven to determine what I need to make next. 

Occasionally a book comes along that is so amazing and so inspiring, we gather the troops and use it as fodder for a cookbook club.  Everyone makes a recipe or two and comes together to graze on a huge assortment of dishes.  My normal cookbook club meets every couple of months, and most of the books have been anywhere from good to great.  Naturally there are some exceptions (that’s the subject for another blog post), but we’ve had good luck overall.  Recently I invited a group of friends over to explore the book that in my opinion is THE cookbook of the year, Carolyn Phillips’ comprehensive tome on Chinese cookery, All Under Heaven: Recipes from the 35 Cuisines of China.  I have a large cookbook library, and Chinese cookbooks, both from the US and around the world, are the second largest section in my collection -- second only to Italian.  None of my books come close to covering the breadth of Chinese cuisine explored in Carolyn’s book.  Not even close. This book blew us all away.  We made 10-12 dishes together, and Every. Single. Dish. Was amazing. Every one!  We always rate dishes between 1-10.  Nothing was less than a 9.  That never happens.

These recipes are accessible regardless of your level of cooking experience, but there are some advanced techniques as well.  I’m still trying to master the hand shaved noodles.  Thanks to Carolyn’s patient advice and suggestions in response to my questions, I’m getting there.  I've made them 5 or 6 times, and the last batch was great but not…quite…perfect.  I tried ordering a noodle shaving blade  from China, but it still didn't nail it like I wanted, so I just invested in a single-beveled Japanese knife (in this case a Shun Pro 6-1/2-Inch Usuba Knife) to help me thin out the cuts to get the perfect thickness.  I'll let you know how that progresses...

On the other hand, the easier recipes are impossible to screw up; the dry fried chicken wings are pure gold.  The Chinese version of agrodolce coating these light, crispy wings will make you pretty much want to forget the rest of the meal and just shovel them into your pie hole as quickly as possible.  The Dongan chicken, a Hunan favorite, was so good we wiped it out in about 2 minutes. 

You can find more of Carolyn's recipes on her blog here. I've followed this blog for years, have cooked my way through many of her posts, and was one of the recipe testers for this book, which did nothing but heighten my anticipation for it to be released. I’ve shared the Dry Fried Chicken Wings recipe I mentioned below.  You want this book. Trust me.  This is THE book of 2016, IMO. 

...I'm probably going to need to buy a second copy because I see this one being used...a LOT.

Spicy Cucumbers

Coiled Bread

Carolyn's Hand-Shaved Noodles, my Dan Dan accoutrements

Diced, Braised Pork over Rice

Dongan Chicken

Ginseng Steamed Chicken

Gānpēng jīchì 乾烹雞翅 _

Dry-Fried Chicken Wings

Sichuan • Serves about 4

Most fried chicken has a thick coating, but these wings, simply dusted with cornstarch, offer a nice, light crunch. When making the sauce, be sure to car­amelize the sugar properly: as soon as the vinegar has boiled down and large bubbles start to form, watch the sauce carefully and swirl it around so that it heats evenly. The sugar can burn easily, so this part of the process requires close attention. Once the sauce is done, it should be sticky and syrupy. 

Middle sections from 12 chicken wings (see Tips), or 6 whole chicken wings

¼ cup cornstarch

2 cups (or so) peanut or vegetable oil for frying

6 cloves garlic, finely chopped

½ inch fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped

2 green onions, trimmed and finely chopped

10 dried Thai chilies, or to taste, broken in half and seeds discarded, and/or smoked paprika

¾ cup pale rice vinegar

6 tablespoons sugar, or to taste

1 teaspoon toasted Sichuan peppercorn salt, or to taste

2 teaspoons regular soy sauce 

1. Start this recipe at least 6 hours before you want to serve it. If you are using whole wings, cut off the tips and use them for stock, and then cut the wings between the first and second joints so that you have 12 pieces. Place the wing pieces in a work bowl and sprinkle the cornstarch over them. Toss the wings in the bowl until each piece is thoroughly coated.  

2. Place a cake rack on a large plate or small baking sheet, then arrange the wings, not touching, on the pan. Refrigerate uncovered so the cool air slightly dries out the wings. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours and up to 1 day. 

3. Pour the oil into a wok and heat over high heat until a wooden chopstick inserted in the oil is imme­diately covered with bubbles. Hold a spatter screen in one hand while using the other hand to carefully add half of the wing pieces to the hot oil. Cover with the screen to reduce the possibility of burns and mess. As soon as the wings are golden on one side, turn them over, adjusting the heat as necessary. Remove the wings to a large work bowl once they are nicely browned and cooked through (see Tips). Repeat with the other half of the wings.  

4. Drain off all but 1 tablespoon of oil from the wok (or put 1 tablespoon of the oil in a saucepan), place it over medium-high heat, and add the garlic, ginger, onions, and chilies. (Smoked paprika can be used instead of, or in addition to, the chilies.) Toss them in the hot oil to release their fragrance, and then add the rest of the ingredients. Turn the heat to high and quickly boil down the sauce. Just before it turns syrupy and starts to caramelize, taste and adjust the seasoning. Once it is the consistency of maple syrup, remove from the heat. Toss the wings in the sauce to coat them com­pletely. Arrange the wings on a serving platter and eat while hot.  

My preference here is for the middle section of the wings, which offers a nice ratio of crispy skin to juicy chicken.  

Chicken wings will generally take 10 to 15 minutes to cook through. The wings will be done when they are a lovely golden brown all over. Blood will seep out of the core if they are not completely cooked, so check them in the work bowl before you toss them with the sauce.  

Thank you Mission Street Food for this dandy way to coat wings.

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