Thursday, September 12, 2013

Sous Vide Chicken Wings

Sous Vide Buffalo Wings
I'm not typically a huge chicken wings guy. I'll occasionally order them from a local place, but mainly because they offer tofu tenders for Anna when she's in one of her junk food moods... not because they are renowned for their wings. While I enjoy them, wings are messy and kind of a pain to eat, so more often than not I just don't bother. Certainly I had never thought to make them at home. But with all that said, the start of football season was upon us and I decided to go ahead and give them a try... if having a food blog is good for anything it's getting you out of your comfort zone and cooking things you otherwise wouldn't.

As is often the case here, my jumping off point was a recipe from The Food Lab wherein he advocates a low and slow fry (essentially confit the wings) followed by the traditional 400 °F deep fry. The idea being that the low temperature cooking will convert some of the collagen in the skin to gelatin without really cooking the meat very much (if at all). In the article Kenji makes a throwaway comment about maybe doing some wings sous vide in duck fat instead of this low temperature fry, but doesn't supply any time or temperature information. I was intrigued by this idea (as were many of his commenters) so I did a little research on my own.

Turns out that Modernist Cuisine at Home has a recipe for sous vide chicken wings. They call for cooking the the wings sous vide at 148 °F for 1 hour followed by a 390 °F fry for 3 minutes. A quick Google suggests that a number of people trying this recipe were disappointed about the crispiness of the end product, which makes sense given Kenji's technique since 148 °F is at the very low end of collagen breakdown. Collagen breaks down at temperatures greater than 140 °F but it happens very slowly until you get up into the 160-170 °F range, so 1 hour at 148 °F probably has no noticeable effect on the skin.
Wings after Frying

Despite the fact that the end product might not be the crispest wing EVAR, I decided to go with the Modernist Cuisine recipe anyway. At some point in the future I might decide to extend the sous vide cooking time more into the 6-8 hour range to see if that helps with crispier wings, but you need a baseline for comparison purposes so I just did their recipe verbatim. One tip I saw was to make sure the wings are extra dry before you fry them, so I made two batches... one with about a 3 hour air dry on a rack on the counter and the other with overnight air dry in the fridge. The second batch was noticeably crisper, so it's worth doing if you have time.

Sous Vide Chipotle Wings with Avocado Crema

Otherwise I did your standard Buffalo sauce for my first batch (1 cup of Frank's + 1 stick of butter) and then made the second batch using a recipe from Saveur for Chipotle Wings and Avocado Crema. Both were good and the sous vide aspect guaranteed perfectly tender wings, but I still can't help feeling like Kenji is right and that they could be even crispier. Not perfect, but still a good use of a sous vide setup... one nice aspect is that you can freeze the wings after the sous vide step and just pull them out of the freezer for a quick fry whenever you want some wings.