In Scout’s How to Cook Vancouver series, we will be striving to combine our addiction to dining out with our passion for cooking by challenging ourselves to make Vancouver’s best restaurant dishes in our own homes.
I generally experience pretty positive feelings about eating the world’s best chicken wings under fluorescent lighting while an increasingly larger crowd amasses by the door, eyeing every bite I take and silently willing me to eat faster so that they can take my place and experience their own version of gastronomic paradise. The rest of Vancouver must feel that way as well or we wouldn’t all be causing a dinner line-up at Phnom Penh, Chinatown’s Southeast-Asian mecca, by 4:30 pm (making you realize when you arrive at 6 pm that you definitely should have gotten your act together sooner and left that slow friend behind to deal with their own goddamn dinner). There are times though, when the prospect of sitting down to gnaw a pile of bones clean in front of a group of strangers feels overly personal or when acquiring a pair of pants seems too great an ask. For those times, there are these: a version of the iconic Phnom Penh wings that you can make in your own home and eat like an animal in the privacy of your own four walls and choice of lighting options.
This home-cooked version of these wings is truly, if I can be so immodest, an excellent rendition of the original that will absolutely sate your craving for those times when you know that standing in a line-up is just not in the cards. And while they are baked not fried – a phrase that generally elicits an eye-roll of anticipated mediocrity from me – the combination of an overnight fridge chill plus the secret ingredient of baking soda makes them so crispy you will probably fool your diners into believing that you are the sort of person to willingly dunk 3 pounds of chicken into hot oil on a regular dinner night (just kidding, no one is coming over; you’re eating these all by yourself like a champion). Just make sure you have 1 very large or 2 fairly large baking sheets handy, plus plenty of fridge space. The recipe also allows for the addition of a fried garlic garnish, which is absolutely optional, but of course, very encouraged. Just omit the garlic and canola oil from the ‘Toppings and Assembly’ portion of the recipe if skipping.
Source Note: This recipe comes inspired by the wing-cooking tips of the brilliant Claire Saffitz (of Bon Appetit) and the wing-marinating tips of the equally talented Andy Ricker (of Portland’s Pok Pok). Although the below recipe deviates almost in its entirety from either of the sources of its inspiration, I could never pretend to dream up some of the genius tips supplied by both Claire and Andy in the creation of this recipe.
Phnom Penh(ish) Wings
Makes ~ 30 wings, give or take
3 lb chicken wings (mix of drumettes and flats)
6 tbsp fish sauce
4 cloves of garlic, minced
Juice of 1 large lime (buy 2 in case they’re drier than expected)
½ tsp baking soda
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp white sugar
Toppings and Assembly:
Juice of 3 large limes
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 cloves of garlic, minced (optional)
¾ cup canola oil (only if using garlic)
Chopped green onions, to garnish
Cilantro leaves, to garnish
The night before you want to cook the wings, place them in a large bowl along with the fish sauce, minced garlic, and lime juice. Toss to coat evenly, cover, and refrigerate for 1 hour. Mix together the baking soda, garlic powder and salt in a small bowl and prepare 1 very large (or 2 smaller) baking sheet(s) by lining with parchment paper. You can use tinfoil if it’s all you have, but make sure you oil it a bit and be warned that the wings may still stick a bit once cooked. When the wings have finished marinating, shake off any excess liquid and place them on the prepared baking sheet(s). Rub the baking soda mix all over the wings along with the olive oil until very evenly coated. Arrange the wings in a single layer, skin side-up (this matters more for the flats than the drumettes), and preferably not touching each other. Place in the fridge overnight, uncovered (you can leave them for up to 24 hours).
The next day, take the wings out of the fridge ~30-60 minutes before cooking. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F and place the oven racks in the centre and top positions. Cook the wings on the centre rack for 30 minutes (if using two racks, place one on the top rack and the other on the centre rack then switch halfway through). While the wings cook, make the dipping sauce by mixing together the juice from the 3 limes with a generous grind of black pepper. The dip will look unappealingly grayish-brown, which means it’s perfect. If opting for the fried garlic garnish, pour the canola oil into a small frying pan or saucepan. Heat over medium-high until a piece of garlic sizzles hard immediately upon being dropped in (at least 5 minutes). Fish out the “tester” garlic once it’s done its job. Have a slotted spoon at the ready along with a paper towel-lined plate. Carefully place the minced garlic in the hot oil and stir around constantly until the garlic turns a light golden brown. This should not take long at all, probably a minute or maybe even less. Spoon out the garlic and drain on the prepared plate. Let cool.
Once the wings have cooked for 30 minutes, flip to skin side-down and cook for another 10 minutes. Flip to skin side-up once again, place on the top rack, and broil for just 1-2 minutes to get the skin very golden and crispy (broil in batches if using 2 pans, unless you can fit both on the same rack). The skin should already have been quite brown prior to broiling so if this was not the case, cook them for another 5-10 minutes skin side-up, or until you can see that they are almost brown enough and you just need that last little blast of crispiness that the broiler delivers. It cannot be overstated how quickly these wings will go from beautifully bronzed to blackened, so please please please keep SUCH a close eye on them during broiling, but even just in the last minutes of roasting. Once the chicken wings are crispy, remove from the oven and immediately sprinkle evenly with sugar. Toss to coat, then transfer to a serving platter. Scatter green onions and cilantro overtop, plus fried garlic if using. Serve alongside lime-pepper dip. Dig in with hedonistic abandon.