Wild Thistle Kitchen: Sticky Southeast Asian Chicken Wings


I love the flavors that can be found in many Southeast Asian recipes. These sticky Southeast Asian chicken wings borrow from those beloved flavors and totally satisfy my cravings for that beautiful cuisine.

If you’ve been following along here, I’m sure you’re aware that my father was my biggest culinary influence. But what you might not know is that he cooked a lot of Asian-inspired food when I was a kid. I remember a well-thumbed cookbook he had with a blue cover that was full of stir-fry recipes and other Asian delicacies. It’s interesting, but Asian flavors are really comfort food to me. These sticky Southeast Asian chicken wings are a recipe I make to satisfy my cravings and give myself comfort. They hit all the right notes: sweet, salty, savory, spicy — and they are just so fun and so easy to prepare and eat.

I’m always craving these sticky wings! In fact, I think my most craved cuisine is Asian, whether Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese or Japanese (sushi!). I just love the flavors so much. I don’t think any other culture or cuisine has such a complexity or balance of flavors. It is such an art.

As I mentioned, my dad made lots of Asian-inspired dishes, and they were all delicious. His fried rice was and still is one of my all-time favorite things to eat and cook. I loved watching him prepare it. He’d give me little tasks like peeling and chopping the onions and garlic, thinly shredding the cabbage and cracking and whisking the eggs. We’d get all of the ingredients ready, then, in a flash, he’d cook them all in rapid succession. Just like that, a pan of delicious fried rice was ready to be devoured.

Because of my dad’s influence, I always have ginger, garlic, onions or scallions and a multitude of sauces hanging out in my pantry or fridge: soy, hoisin, oyster sauce, gochujang, fish sauce, Thai curry pastes. I always have a few varieties of rice and noodles, too. So when the whim strikes, I can whip up something to satisfy my cravings pretty quickly.

These wings were the result of one such craving. I had lemongrass that I bought thinking I would make a Thai-style coconut soup, but this is how it met its fate. These Asian chicken wings are beautiful and almost too easy to believe, but, most important, they are delicious little flavor bombs — sticky and succulent.

A few tips on preparing these Asian-inspired chicken wings …

  • You can mix this all up in the baking dish. Just dump it all in and give it a good mix and massage with your hands. Try to make sure the ingredients are submerged in the liquid so that all their flavors get a chance to infuse as they bake.
  • Giving these a few turns as they bake really makes a difference. When you feel they are almost done, make sure the skin side is facing up, so it gets a chance to char just a bit. Once the liquid is almost all reduced and the chicken gets a nice burnished look, they are done! If you want to speed up the browning, you can broil them at the very end of cooking.
  • Make sure, even if you have to use two baking dishes, that they are in a single layer.
  • Don’t stress if you don’t have all of the ingredients. Lemongrass is not essential. If you have five-spice powder, but don’t have star anise and cinnamon sticks, don’t worry! To me, the main flavors that come through are the fish sauce and the five-spice.

A note on fish sauce: I promise you these wings don’t taste fishy. They taste rich, salty and so savory. They truly would not be the same without the fish sauce. I urge you to try it, even if you think you won’t like it (unless you’re allergic, of course).

Make them. They’ll disappear. And please let me know if you do by leaving a comment. It means so much and makes me do a little happy dance every time!

xo — Anita

Sticky Southeast Asian Chicken Wings

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 60 minutes

Photo by Anita Parris Soule. Courtesy Wild Thistle Kitchen.

Ingredients

2 to 3 pounds chicken wings, tips removed and wings cut into 2 pieces

1-inch chunk of fresh ginger, roughly sliced

4 garlic cloves, peeled and gently cracked

½ of a fresno chili pepper or other hot chili, sliced, seeds removed if desired

1 or 2 stalks of fresh lemongrass, sliced in half lengthwise

1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder

3 or 4 whole star anise pods

2 whole cinnamon sticks

¼ cup soy sauce

¼ cup Asian fish sauce

2 tablespoons brown sugar or honey

2 tablespoons dry sherry or other dry white wine

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

For serving:

1 handful fresh cilantro

Other 1/2 of the chili pepper, finely diced

2 or 3 green onions, thinly sliced

Lime wedges

Photo by Anita Parris Soule. Courtesy Wild Thistle Kitchen.

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375. Place all ingredients in a baking dish so that wings lay in a single layer. Toss to evenly coat and distribute ingredients.

Place in preheated oven and bake for 1 hour, flipping about every 15 minutes. When most of the liquid has evaporated and begins to look thick and syrupy, turn broiler on to crisp the tops. Keep an eye on them — the sugar and soy can burn very quickly. This should only take about 2 minutes max. Remove wings when they look glossy and have gotten brown and crispy in spots.

Transfer wings to serving platter. Strain and pour any juices left in baking dish over them. Generously sprinkle with green onions, cilantro and fresh chili pepper, and serve with lime wedges.

Notes

  • If you want to leave out the alcohol, sub in some mild vinegar or apple juice (or a combo). Even just some water will work fine. There is so much flavor in these wings!
  • This recipe can easily be scaled up or down. Just make sure you use a baking dish that allows the wings to lay in a single layer.
  • If you don’t have all of these ingredients, you can still make the recipe. Lemongrass can be hard to find and I have made the recipe without it with great results. The liquid ingredients are the most important, and the five-spice powder and fish sauce really add the key flavors, in my opinion. Don’t stress if you don’t have star anise pods, whole cinnamon sticks or lemongrass.
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