A few years ago I ran across a cookbook with recipes from all the popular Korean restaurants in Los Angeles. Of course, I don’t remember the title now, but the recipes were really interesting with intriguing ingredients I had never heard of. One of the things I really enjoy is finding new ingredients and then cooking with them. I have been known to drive 40 miles to acquire a little $1.50 jar or can of something I have never tasted but needed for a recipe. Ok, I’m weird. The Korean recipes had ingredients I had to hunt for. I was really excited!
Did I ever tell you the story about my first ingredient hunt? I was a 19-year old newlywed (I know, what was I thinking) in Minneapolis, Minnesota. My new sister-in-law was married to a Japanese guy and they volunteered to come over and cook sukiyaki for us. I had never tasted soy sauce, can you believe it? Plus the other Japanese ingredients in the dish like shirataki noodles, bamboo shoots and tofu were a total mystery. All things we take for granted now. I fell in love with sukiyaki and wanted to make it myself, but those illusive ingredients were not to be found at the local Piggly Wiggly.
In 1965 we didn’t have computers and the internet. It was the telephone book and that was it. So I located the only little Japanese market in downtown Minneapolis and called them up. They explained that their front door was in an alley and told me how to get there. The tall buildings in downtown Minneapolis are made from sandstone and granite blocks, so walking down that alley was like walking down a narrow granite canyon. I saw the door down a ways and as I approached, it opened about three inches. When I was closer, a little old Japanese lady gestured for me to hurry and as I reach the door, she hurriedly opened it and pulled me inside, quickly looked up and down the alley and shut the door.
Inside was a plain cinder block room about 10’x10’ with brick and board shelves in the center. They were full of cans, bottles and packages of Japanese food items. As I circumnavigated the shelves, I was like Christopher Columbus discovering the New World. I was fascinated. I wanted to buy one of everything and try it. I was so thrilled to have my hands on a can of shirataki noodles, I was almost jumping up and down. I think I may have been a clandestine operative or private detective in a past life.
Luckily for me these days, I have a huge Korean market five minutes from my house in Torrance called Market World. They have a large selection of Korean hot pepper paste called gochujang, which is used to make the Korean chicken wings in this recipe. It is made of dried hot red chili pepper powder, dried pepper powder, fermented glutinous rice, powdered fermented soybeans and concentrated garlic juice. It is one of those things that is amazing, but hard to describe. Sweet, spicy, a little hot and packed with umami. They have been making it in Korea since chili was introduced from Japan in 1592. If you cannot find it at a market near you, go to hmart.com.
I have a couple of other Korean recipes that use gochujang, so I was thrilled when I opened my Saveur magazine, issue No. 127, and found this one for the chicken wings. According to Saveur, Korean Fried Chicken was invented by Kwon Won Kang in Gumi, South Korea about 20 years ago. The fast-food business Kwon founded, called Kyochon, now has more than 1,000 outlets worldwide, but especially in Los Angeles, where there are six branches. The twice-fried, sweet-spicy chicken is first dipped in a thin flour, corn starch and water batter and fried in canola oil. It is then fried a second time producing a thin, very crisp crust, which is much less greasy then American fried chicken. The wings are then doused in a sauce to die for made with garlic, ginger, soy sauce, gochujang, rice vinegar, sesame oil and honey. You take your first bite and go Wow! The chili starts a long slow mild burn on your tongue and you can’t stop eating them. Until they’re all gone, that is. Happily, you can make more!
You may also enjoy:
Fried Tofu and Spicy Korean Red Pepper Sauce with Gochugaru, Ginger & Sesame
Korean Chicken Wings
Serves 2 – 4
Canola oil for frying, about 64-80 oz.
5 cloves garlic, rough chop
1 1½-inch piece peeled ginger, paper thin slices
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons Korean hot pepper paste (gochujang, gojujang)
1½ tablespoons rice vinegar (unseasoned)
1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
1 tablespoon honey
2/3 cup flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2/3 cup water
16 chicken wings (about 1 ¾ pound)
1. Cover a sheet pan with aluminum foil and line with paper towels.
2. Place garlic, ginger, soy sauce, gojujang, rice vinegar, sesame oil and honey in a mini food processor and puree until the ginger pieces disappear. Scrape sauce into a large bowl.
3. Heat canola oil, which should be about 2 inches deep, over medium-high heat in a large Dutch oven or 6-quart heavy bottomed pot to 350 degrees F. Use a candy thermometer for accuracy.
4. Place flour, corn starch and water in another large bowl and whisk until all lumps are gone.
5. Add chicken wings to flour mixture and toss to coat thoroughly. Using tongs, place 4 to 5 wings in hot oil and fry until golden, 8-9 minutes. Drain chicken on paper towel lined pan.
6. When all chicken is fried, return oil to 350 degrees F and refry wings for about 3 minutes until very crispy. Drain on paper towels again.
7. Put fried chicken wings in bowl with sauce, and stir and turn over until all are thoroughly coated.
8. Place chicken wings on serving platter and drizzle sauce remaining in bowl over all. Serve.
Note: May be served warm or at room temperature.