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Hot wing rambles

"One cannot fix one's eyes on the commonest natural production without finding food for a rambling fancy." Jane Austen


I do have the quote above on my Quotes page, but really it should be right on the Home page in big letters as it really encapsulates what I do on this blog. Today's edition being a perfect example. At this point I have a few rambles to cover, but who knows what else will turn up as I ramble.


Anyway today I began with this - Spicy sweet potatoes with spring onion and pumpkin seed salsa from Ottolenghi of course. It's very eye-catching isn't it? And one day I shall have a go. The next family barbecue perhaps.


It came to my notice because I have recently subscribed to the Ottolenghi newsletter and this week's edition had four extremely gorgeous looking dishes in it, so I was going to dedicate this post to the newsletter and its recipes I began by looking at the individual recipes, and for some reason the one above was my starting point. Which eventually led to a few other digressions and questions. So don't expect anything more on the other recipes in the newsletter. My original idea is now dust - maybe I should say ash - as you will see.


In his introduction to the recipe Ottolenghi - or his ghost writer - said:


"Shatta is a Levantine chilli sauce made from fermented chillies. We use it in this recipe to replicate the flavours of a hot wing, without the wing."


First question - what is Shatta? and a random thought - how many sauces are there on this planet? What is going to be the next big one? That's just a thought. And a quite unanswerable one.


Shatta sauce is quickly disposed of. Fundamentally it's a fermented chilli sauce and Ottolenghi himself has a Quick Shatta sauce recipe online, which is very simple, being merely crushed fresh chillies, combined with tomatoes, olive oil, salt and cider vinegar. Or you can try a green version on the Cookie and Kate website, where Kate sums up the situation:


"After some googling, it seems that shatta recipes aren’t very consistent. In fact, most recipes that I’ve seen online are red, but Yummy’s Choice uses jalapeños so that’s what I’m using. The common ingredients are spicy peppers, fresh herbs, garlic, cumin, and spicy peppers." Cookie and Kate



Or you can buy a green version from the Ottolenghi Pantry for a mere £6.90 - AU$13.21 + postage!!! Perhaps here I will insert another ramble which I was going to save for later, but it's apposite here. When I looked at the actual recipe for my starting point dish I found that it had two ingredients - Chilli sauce and Sweet and smokey blend that were from the range of Ottolenghi Pantry products. (That's not how you spell smokey is it?) Obviously I am not going to buy them - such an explotative idea and anyway far too difficult from here in Australia. However, does this mean that I won't be able to reproduce the recipe? I guess one could substitute one's own favourite chilli sauce but 'Sweet and smokey blend' - what on earth is in that?


Prompted by this particular diversion I have now checked out the other three recipes in that newsletter and found that they all include at least one ingredient from the Ottolenghi pantry range. Which means that the recipes are not reproducable, by me anyway, without knowing what is in the various blends. So do I disconnect from the newsletter, which is obviously a commercial marketing exercise, (I sort of knew that) or do I try and think of potential substitutes if I decide to try the recipes one day? I confess it's put me off a bit, but then I guess if you are a success as Ottolenghi most certainly is, then you do your best to extract as much as you can from your fame. Fame doesn't always last. Besides those recipes are so delicious and surely one can improvise. And I just checked - there are other versions of 'sweet and smoky', for example, online which could get you started.


Back to that introductory sentence in the recipe which ends with "the flavours of a hot wing, without the wing." 'A hot wing.' Excuse me for this because I now feel a bit stupid, but I stared at those words for some time wondering what on earth was a 'hot wing'. I have just finished cruising the net looking for pictorial inspiration and have settled on the Phoenix which of course is reborn in fire, but there were also pictures of 'hot' males and females with wings as well. A fun short cruise around Google images. Human imagination is a wonderful thing, even if it does stray into some dodgy, even dark places sometimes.


Perhaps I didn't see the obvious - a chicken wing - because the recipe had been for sweet potatoes and so I just didn't connect to chicken, which it turns out, it is, because eventually I searched for 'hot wings' and found a plethora of recipes, ads and information about 'hot wings' and 'buffalo wings'. Which raised yet another question - what is the difference between 'hot' and 'buffalo' wings and what are they anyway?


Well, to answer the first question there, it turns out, not a lot of difference:


"The key difference between buffalo wings and hot wings is often the spiciness factor: buffalo wings pack a zesty punch, but hot wings are the ones that will really set your mouth on fire. ... Traditionally deep-fried but not breaded, buffalo wings are then tossed in sauce and usually served with celery and blue cheese dressing as dip" Greatist


Buffalo wings were invented - yes in Buffalo New York - in 1964 by Teressi Bellissimo in her Atlantic Bar. There is no connection to the buffalo - the animal. Well they don't have wings do they? Although I bet that somewhere somebody has made a picture of buffaloes with wings.


The difference between Buffalo wings and traditional deep-fried chicken wings is that there is no skin and no breadcrumbs. This is Martha Stewart's classic recipe - I turned to Martha Stewart because, probably in complete ignorance she is the most well-known American domestic cook - well not domestic, because obviously she's a professional - but the domestic cook is her core audience. Traditionally also the wings are served with that blue cheese dip and celery - to cool the mouth between dips. As somebody said in my ramblings - the celery is non-negotiable.


Recently however, there has been a change to baking the wings rather than frying them, and in a rather particular way - well two ways actually. Initially baking was not a good thing because they were never as crisp as desired. However, Cook's Illustrated solved the problem with a recipe on the America's Test Kitchen website, which I think is the same organisation. The chef was Steve Dunn. I mention this recipe here because various other cooks reference Cook's Illustrated, but this particular recipe is not the same as the one that is referenced in most places, as this one achieves the crispiness by weighting the wings down with another tray which seems pretty complicated, and maybe even ineffective to me, not to mention the extra washing up. So I'm really not sure that this is the miracle that Cook's Illustrated is credited with achieving. They must have another recipe somewhere.


My starting point for the roasting miracle chasing was this recipe from Nagi Maehashi and here - and subsequently elsewhere - I find the miracle is to rub salt and baking powder into the chicken before baking, first on low heat and then high. Nagi's Recipe Tin Eats recipe includes a very short and explanatory little video on how to do it, complete with soundtrack.


Why baking powder?


"Baking powder, it turns out, is good for quite a lot more than baking. The slightly alkaline mixture raises the skin's pH levels, which allows proteins to break down more efficiently, giving you crisper, more evenly browned results. Simultaneously, it combines with the bird's natural juices, forming carbon dioxide gas that leaves you with a layer of tiny bubbles. It's these bubbles that increase the skin's surface area, allowing it to develop a crunchy texture once cooked." Niki Achitoff-Gray/Serious Eats


The same lady tells us that baking soda - bicarbonate of soda - is not the same and willl not do and gives the chicken a metallic taste. The Serious Eats recipe/technique is for a whole bird which it tells you to rest when cooked:


"this is key—let it rest, uncovered, in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours. This resting period doesn't just give the baking powder time to form all those little bubbles; it also lets the salt do its thing, dry-brining the meat for more intensely flavored, better-seasoned results."  Niki Achitoff-Gray/Serious Eats


12-24 hours in the fridge? I can only assume you are meant to eat this chicken cold because there are no instructions about reheating it. No 'hot' wings here, but a useful technique for making birds - and pork - crispy.


So 'hot wings' - my almost starting point are a slightly different and hotter thing, and, I suspect, more variable in what it is served with and of what the sauce is composed. Certainly there are more recipes for Buffalo wings than hot ones.


"the buffalo chicken flavor has taken on a life of its own: buffalo flavored chips, buffalo chicken-topped pizza, and buffalo chicken flavored dip have become available options. But nobody’s ever ordered a hot wing chicken pizza" Greatist


"By my rambling digressions I perceive myself to be growing old." says Benjamin Franklin, but surely the young ramble, digress and waffle too? I certainly don't think it's something that is new to me in my old age. One thing leads to another doesn't it and there is always one more question to ask and to try and answer.


In no way do I consider my ramblings as being literarily worthwhile, but on a much more modest scale I do concur with Tim Winton:



In spite of the 'hot' wings - not 'hot and guilty and scared' - just 'rambling and wistful' that I can't write like Tim Winton.

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