ROCKLAND, Maine — A Rockland food blogger achieved a spicy victory Friday morning in the “Today” show’s viewer chicken wing cook-off.
Malcolm Bedell, who writes From Away, about cooking and eating in Maine, with his wife Jillian, prepared his “Apricot-Shellacked Ghost Chili Wings” for the New York-based television show’s judges.
When they asked about his recipe, which features chiles from India that are eight times hotter than the habanero, he told them that he tried to balance all that heat with the sweetness of honey and brown sugar.
“This isn’t food. It’s a toxin,” he joked. “It’s not meant for people to eat.”
But Sunny Anderson, a chef and Food Network personality, decreed otherwise.
“I would eat the whole chicken farm of [Bedell’s] wings,” she said. “It’s finger-licking good.”
Bedell beat two others for the poultry prize.
“That was super fun,” he said Friday afternoon after returning to Maine.
He said the “Today” show put an on-air call out a couple weeks ago for viewers to submit their wings recipes.
“My wife said, ‘You love the “Today” show and you love wings. You should submit,’” Bedell said.
After winning the competition, he was given a “completely stunning” gold-plated chicken trophy. But the real prize was just being selected as one of the three competitors.
“They covered my airfare and accommodation. They made me feel like a star,” he said. “I had a really great time.”
According to the From Away blog, Bedell’s “first memories of cooking start in Maine at six years old, when I wore a yellow rainslicker to avoid getting spattered by the bacon I was frying in a skillet. My interest in both Mexican cooking and recreating classic New England dishes from scratch developed while living in Mexico, on a steady diet of pork and habanero peppers.”
Frank Isganitis, a Rockland innkeeper, city councilor and tireless cheerleader for the area, said Friday that he was excited by Bedell’s win and televised moment of fame.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “We continue to let the rest of the country and the world know how special the people are that live here.”
Bedell and the “Today” show released his wing recipe on the television program’s website with the following comments:
Apricot-Shellacked Ghost Chile Chicken Wings
Beware of the “Ghost Chile” in my wings. Until 2011, the Bhut Jolokia (or “Ghost Chile) was recognized by the Guinness World Records as the spiciest chile pepper in existence. It registers anywhere up to 1,041,427 Scoville units, making it more than 200 times hotter than the humble jalapeno.
The solution to the heat is to balance it with an equal amount of sweetness: in this case, a whole jar of apricot jam, brown sugar, and honey, with only a half teaspoon of the ground Bhut Jolokia. The first taste that your brain registers is fruity sweetness; it’s only after you chew and swallow (and repeat) that the heat clings to the back of your throat and wraps itself around your tongue.
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon honey
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 stick salted butter
½ cup ketchup
½ teaspoon ground Bhut Jolokia (or “Ghost”) chile
1 cup apricot preserves
Pinch of salt
¼ cup bourbon
5 pounds chicken wing sections, room temperature and patted dry
Peanut oil, for frying chicken
In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine brown sugar, honey, garlic, butter, ketchup, ground Ghost chile, apricot preserves, and salt. Bring to a boil, stirring almost constantly. Reduce heat to a simmer, add bourbon, and stir. Simmer until sauce reaches desired consistency, up to one hour.
In a large saucepan over medium heat, bring peanut oil to 350 degrees. Working in batches, pat chicken wing sections until they are very dry, and add to hot oil. Fry wings, turning occasionally, until golden brown, about ten minutes per batch. Transfer to paper towels to drain.
When all wings are cooked, toss a few at a time in a bowl of the apricot Ghost chile sauce to coat evenly. Serve (with a glass of milk, just in case).
Makes 4-6 servings