Nagoya tebasaki, or deep-fried Japanese chicken wings

Food & drink
Japanese deep-fried chicken wings, tebasaki Nagoya

It’s often the odd cuts of meat  that offer the most interesting possibilities to the chin the kitchen, the parts of the animal that are sometimes viewed as little more that waste in waiting.

So it is with chicken wings, piled up high in the corner of a butcher’s shop, looking as if there’s no hope of anybody doing anything with those scrawny, skinny offcuts.

That’s a huge mistake – the wings of a chicken hold some of the tastiest, most succulent meat on the bird, wrapped in skin that crisps quickly and easily. Each wing may just be a couple of mouthfuls, but there’s an earthy messiness to eating them that makes the whole thing a pure joy.

The Japanese have a nice line in chicken wings, part of their tradition of karaage, or deep-fried chicken. Really, there’s nothing quite like the Japanese way of deep-frying a variety of things, from karaage through to tonkatsu to  tempura … they’ve got this down to a fine art.

Tebasaki is essentially deep-fried chicken wings tossed in a simple marinade immediately after cooking and sprinkled with sesame seeds. Prepared this way, chicken wings are astonishingly good.

Start by jointing about a kilo of chicken wings. Cut each wing into three parts … the wing tips, which is no good for eating, is perfect for making stock, so put them in a bag and freeze them until you want to make a batch of chicken stock. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper.

The marinade is easy to make, just a case of mixing a few ingredients together and cooking them through. The problem is that a few of these ingredients aren’t the sort of thing you’re going to find in your friendly neighbourhood Asda. You’re going to need a Chinese supermarket at the very least, or the Internet.

First up is a teaspoon of tobanjana fermented paste of broad beans and chilli. It’s fiery stuff, but quite delicious. Add to it two tablespoons of red miso, or sendai misoa salty, rice-based fermented paste, and 60ml of mirin, a sweet cooking liquid made from glutinous rice and heavy with that intangible unami taste so characteristic of eastern cuisine. 60ml of sake, two tablespoons of soy sauce, a couple of teaspoons of crushed garlic and two tablespoons of sugar finish off the marinade.

Heat the marinade over a low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves, and then transfer it to a large mixing bowl and set aside.

Now for the fun part.

Heat enough oil for deep-frying to a temperature of 180c. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it now – take particular care with hot oil … it’s best to use a thermostatically controlled fryer, otherwise watch the oil like a hawk and keep any kids far, far away.

The process is simple – the chicken wings are dusted in potato starch, or katakuriko, which has the same fine consistency as cornflour, and then dropped into the oil for about seven minutes, until they’re cooked right through. Fish the wings out of the oil, drain them thoroughly, and toss them straight into the waiting marinade, turning them over until they’re coated well.

Transfer the wings to a serving platter or plate and garnish liberally with sesame seeds.

These wings are excellent warm, but equally good cold. It’s unlikely that they’ll hang around long enough to actually get cold, though.

This recipe is from Japanese Soul Cooking: Ramen, Tonkatsu, Tempura and more from the Streets and Kitchens of Tokyo and beyondby Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat. It’s a great introduction to authentic, home-style Japanese food.

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