THOMASTON, Maine — Football season is just underway, but don’t wait until the Super Bowl to bust out the good stuff. Impress your friends and neighbors this year with a gourmet game-day meal to match the Patriots’ winning record.
We asked Thomaston food blogger Malcolm Bedell, who knows a thing or two about killer wings, for help.
In February, he entered the “ Today” show’s chicken wing cook-off on NBC and took home the gold. His crispy, spicy and tangy Apricot-shellacked Ghost Chile Wings wowed a Food Network judge and were too fierce for host Matt Lauer to try.
His power play? Bhut Jolokia chile peppers.
“It was used by police in India for riot control and to keep stampeding elephants away from villages,” Bedell said in his country kitchen last week.
Using one of the hottest chiles in the world that has “no food use traditionally” intrigued the online marketing strategist, who cooks with his wife and fellow writer Jillian Bedell.
These food sleuths who have reviewed more than 150 Maine restaurants on their From Away blog and create tasty renditions of New England classics. The ghost chile has long held Malcolm’s interest.
“One of the things that we wanted to figure out is how to turn it into food. Putting it on chicken wings naturally seems like the right move. It does have some fruity notes once you get past the heat,” said Bedell.
Pairing the dangerous spice with apricot jam and kitchen staples, including ketchup, honey, garlic and butter, makes this game day snack an easy win. Bourbon and brown sugar smooth the edges. And no dipping sauce is required. Though Bedell admits he doesn’t watch much football, this meal is a touchdown no matter what’s on TV.
To attain the ultra-crispy quality that won Bedell bragging rights on the wing circuit, pat the chicken dry with a paper towel. Bedell does this several times while his sauces simmers.
“Have them as dry as you possibly can and drop ’em,” he said, slipping a few drumsticks into a bubbling pot of peanut oil.
And that’s the second tip.
“[Peanut oil achieves] a much higher temperature without burning, and that’s key to a crispy chicken wing,” Bedell said.
To replicate these glowing, honey-hued appetizers, don’t go into a poultry panic and hit the back roads for local birds. Bedell uses “big frozen, five-pound bags of party wings from the freezer section at the supermarket.”
“[They] have less meat on them, but I think that’s great. They have a better skin-to-meat ratio,” said Bedell, making them an ideal “vehicle for sauce.”
Despite besting two home chefs on national TV for his over-the-top recipe, Bedell says chicken wing mastery is not about lavish toppings.
“If you have a good chicken wing cooking technique, you don’t have to go for these crazy, spicy, fruity, exotic sauces,” he said. “You can work with any sauce you want if you get the wings right.”
Having said that, he knows the key ingredient to his telegenic treats will impress the manliest of men and extreme eaters alike.
“It’s something to boast about with your friends … ‘I’m cooking with what is essentially poison and I dare you to eat it,’” said Bedell. “I think when you try it, you’ll see we managed to make it edible.”
Indeed. After an hour laboring over the stove, dipping chicken wings into hot oil and coating the bird in sauce, Bedell’s wings are a sophisticated step up from pub fare.
He serves them with a glass of milk to soothe a guest’s throat, but it usually goes untouched. This is less five-alarm fire and more subtle savor of disparate flavors.
But eaters beware, Bedell’s wings are not one-and-done hors d’oeuvres.
“The first impression you get is sweetness and then this heat kind of creeps up from the back of your tongue,” said Bedell. “The only way to fix that is to take another bite and get sweet and then get back to hot and then sweet. There is this addictive quality that forces you to eat more and more and of them.”
One caveat when working with this chile powder (available online at sites like FireHousePantry.com) don’t put your face over the pot and inhale.
“Your eyes would tear up, your nervous system would shut down, your brain would explode,” Bedell said — only half-jokingly.
Such a reaction — similar to a rabid Pats fan during playoff season — has not happened to him.
“Even though these ghost chiles are insanely hot, they are not going to burn your mouth off and that is the trickiest part of this,” said Jillian Bedell. “Malcolm has found the right balance.”
Apricot-Shellacked Ghost Chile Chicken Wings
Makes approximately 3-4 dozen wings; Serves 4-6
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon honey
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 stick salted butter
½ cup ketchup
½ teaspoon ground Bhut Jolokia 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, 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.
Pat chicken wing sections until they are very dry. 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.
From the Bedells’ From Away blog.