Way back in the early 1980s, I came up with a chicken wing recipe. It started as a refrigerator-clearing exercise, using a little of this and that from jars. The first batch was terrific, and because I had, literally, taken a little of this and a little of that, I was unable to replicate what I had done.
It took some experimenting to cobble together another batch as delicious as the first; after sampling several dozen wings, who could remember? From that day forward, I had my wing recipe.
The Wing Years, as I like to call them, followed - when I arrived at every party with a foil-covered baking sheet and a zip-top bag of wings in my secret spicy marinade. I popped them in the oven and stood by with tongs, ready to flip them over on their way to a sticky, sweet, irresistible snack food. The wings had devoted fans. I joked that I had to hold back one piece in the kitchen or they would all be devoured by the time I removed my oven mitts and put down the tongs.
When I set out to re-create the recipe for readers, I stumbled. It turns out the denizens of my refrigerator door have changed. Where Chinese chili sauce with garlic was a standard in my '80s kitchen, today it is Korean gochujang. Soy sauce has stepped aside for tamari. I had only Tabasco and Frank's Hot Sauce then, but now there are a dozen bottles of hot sauce, some vegetal, some incendiary. The world had changed, but my wing recipe hadn't, until now. The updated recipe is complex, sweet, spicy, tingly and dead simple.
Americans do love their wings. To that end, the parts have been broiled, baked, battered, dunked in sauce, dry-rubbed and Korean-spiced. Grocery stores have taken to offering wing bars, where a selection bathed in various sauces and styles may be purchased by the pound. I say: Resist these offerings as overcooked and underwhelming and make this recipe instead. Pour all the ingredients in a bag, add the chicken, marinate, roast. If you want to eyeball the amounts instead of measuring, I won't tell.
The stickiest question remains: drumettes or flats? Each wing has three parts: The vestigial, inedible tip, the drumette, so named for its resemblance to the drumstick, and the flat, the two-boned center section. One friend's daughter went through a "wing phase" and shamelessly asked servers for drumettes only. They complied. Other wing eaters, according to a Reddit thread about which is better, prefer the flat for it's easy eating. (It's possible to pull the meat from the bones with one swift, toothy motion.) Serve all drumettes or give equal time to drumettes and flats. It doesn't matter; every piece will be devoured.
The last important bits of advice I have are: Line the baking sheet with a double layer of foil, because roasting these wings makes one caramelized, crazy sticky mess. Don't use disposable baking pans, because they aren't sturdy enough to carry the weight of all these wings. And while we could debate the merits of fried wings over oven-roasted ones, which would you rather clean up after?
Double or triple the recipe to serve a crowd. And prepare to bring these wings to every future get-together.
Barrow is a Washington cookbook author.
This recipe began as an experiment, emptying the last bits from jars and bottles languishing in the refrigerator, and ended a family favorite. Marinating these wings plumps the meat and cloaks every nook and cranny with a rich, indulgent, complex, sweet and spicy glaze.
Choose all drumettes, the part of the chicken wing that resembles the drumstick, or a combination of flats and drumettes.
It is possible to double or triple the recipe, but take care not to crowd the baking sheet when roasting. Lining the baking sheet with foil is no joke. The mess is real.
MAKE AHEAD: The wings need to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, and up to 8 hours. If the timing is inconvenient, remove the chicken from the marinade ahead and place the wings directly on the baking sheet; refrigerate until ready to roast.
Black bean chili sauce is available at some Whole Foods Markets and Safeway stores, as well as at Asian markets.
From columnist and cookbook author Cathy Barrow.
1/3 cup ketchup
1/3 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup low-sodium tamari or soy sauce
1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons gochujang (Korean pepper paste)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons black bean chili sauce (see headnote)
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sorghum or molasses
3 pounds chicken wings (all drumettes or a combination of drumettes and flats)
Combine the ketchup, hoisin, tamari or soy sauce, brown sugar, gochujang, mustard, black bean chili sauce, sesame oil, vinegar and sorghum or molasses in a 1-gallon zip-top bag. Add the chicken and seal, pressing out as much air as possible. Massage to distribute the marinade ingredients and coat the wings (through the bag). Refrigerate for at least 4 hours and at most 8 hours.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with two layers of aluminum foil.
Arrange the wings in a single layer on the baking sheet; discard any leftover marinade. Roast for 20 minutes, then use tongs to turn the wings over; roast for another 20 minutes. They will be sticky and caramelized and irresistible.