Adapted from Hot Joy’s Crab Fat-Caramel Wings as given in Bon Apetit
Serves 4-6 (they’re addictive, so you might end up eating more than the expected portion)
My fiancé and I stumbled across this gem of a recipe while looking up creative ways to use up the crab paste we have in our refrigerator, and I loved it so much that I immediately made it again after we’d eaten the first batch, honing the recipe as I went along. I don’t think I’ve ever had wings that were so juicy on the inside, crispy on the outside, and coated in a more succulent glaze. They’re addictive, like a candy you can’t stop eating. The crab-caramel glaze is sweet, salty, and just a tiny bit funky thanks to the fish sauce—an amazing, fresh new take on your classic wings. I like to serve them with light and refreshing Pai Huang Gua (Chinese Smashed Cucumbers with Sesame oil).
½ cup fish sauce
3/4 cup sugar
¼ cup crab paste with bean oil (shrimp paste works fine too—get it at your local Asian market)
Neutral oil (such as peanut or vegetable) for frying (enough to fill a large cast-iron skillet 2/3s of the way full)
2 lbs chicken wings, each divided into two parts (the drumettes, and the flats and tips)
Salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 cups cornstarch, divided
½ cup sake
¼ cup salted, roasted peanuts, chopped finely, for garnish
Fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems, chopped, for garnish
Bring the fish sauce to a boil in a medium saucepan, then lower to a simmer and cook until slightly reduced and darkened, around 2-3 minutes. Stir in the sugar and cook until the mixture begins to froth and bubble, stirring constantly to ensure that the sugar doesn’t burn. Whisk in the crab paste and stir until smooth, then reduce the heat to low (stir once in a while) to keep it warm until you’re ready to coat the wings.
Fill a large cast-iron skillet two-thirds of the way full with the oil and heat over medium-high; you’ve reached your desired heat once you can insert the tip of a plain wooden chopstick into the oil and bubbles stream off of the tip.
While the oil is heating, sprinkle the wings with salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and 1 ½ cup of cornstarch in a medium bowl. Continuously whisking, gradually add the sake and 1 ¾ cups of water (or enough so that the batter isn’t too thick—you want it to be about the same thickness as half-and-half).
Put the last ½ cup cornstarch and a healthy dose of freshly ground black pepper in a shallow bowl. Dredge all of the chicken pieces in the dry mixture and arrange on a cutting board for easy access.
One at a time, coat each chicken piece in the wet mixture and carefully place into the skillet to fry. You’ll need to work in batches—three to be precise—so as not to crowd the pan, and in between batches you’ll need to get the oil back up to the desired heat. Fry the chicken until golden, about 5 or 6 minutes, flipping each batch once halfway through the cook time, then transfer the pieces to a wire rack to drain.
Once all three batches of wings are done, use tongs to deep each piece into the crab-caramel sauce to evenly coat and replace on the rack to allow the excess to drain. Serve topped with the chopped peanuts and cilantro.