I don’t know if this has ever happened to you, but I have a cupboard that can’t be opened. Well, it can be opened but opening it usually results in a big mess and a potential concussion. This offending cupboard is packed to the gills with all manner of spices, nuts, and most pressingly, countless bags of dried hot peppers – this is what happens when you shack up with a heat fiend. The recipe for these Chile de Arbol Hot Wings came out of an initiative to take this cupboard back. A big part of that initiative was making a dent in a giant bag of dried chiles de arbol. They wound up turning into wings because of their proximity to the Super Bowl.
Every year, starting at the end of January, I am reminded of football’s existence because my social media feeds explode with potato skins, nachos and every chicken wing recipe known to man. I don’t know the first thing about football. I completely forgot to watch the Super Bowl last year. And the year before? Well, the only thing I remember about Super Bowl XLIX is the Left Shark and Missy Elliot. So yeah, I really have no business talking about the Super Bowl, I can, however, talk about these Chile de Arbol Hot Wings that I made in the “spirit” of the Super Bowl. In my incredibly biased opinion, these wings are the best thing about this year’s Super Bowl. Well, these wings and the tight pants, but I digress.
To me, the most compelling aspect of football is the tailgating tradition. There’s something about eating not-so-healthy food while watching others exercise that really appeals to me. I love that game day food is allowed to be indulgent to the point of negligence. That for one day only, people can channel their favorite pub or greasy spoon and come up with a menu that would make anyone weak in the knees. And this total lack of culinary propriety could not be more appropriately timed. It’s the dead of winter! We all need to be reminded why it’s cool to be alive, and tasty snacks, like these Chile de Arbol Hot Wings, are VERY good reasons.
This recipe is fairly straight ahead and dead simple to make. It does require a trip to the liquor store if you don’t have tequila on hand (you should remedy that situation anyway), but if you pick up extra limes, you can have a margarita for your trouble. First off, the wings get an hour long bath in a lime, tequila and olive oil solution. Think of this as a quick and dirty brine. If you’re making these babies ahead of time, like one of those “together” people, leave the chicken to soak longer. The lime juice and tequila will tenderize the meat as well as flavor it. Don’t skip this step! It is very important to the overall texture and flavor of the finished wing.
For the sauce, I looked to Pozole Rojo for inspiration. The hominy stew is flavored with a chile paste made from onions, garlic, and dried hot peppers. Mimicking this paste using chile de arbol seemed like the ideal place to start. To the puree, I added butter, salt and a hint of apple cider vinegar. I also threw in a touch of sugar because I worship anything salty-sweet.
I made the decision not to fry the wings. I’m still not sure I made the right decision. Part of the reason hot wings are so blissfully evil is because they’re deep fried. Don’t get me wrong, the baked version is utterly delicious, but I can’t help but think of what could’ve been. On the other hand, I’m really glad my pants still fit. Since I decided not to fry them, I paid extra attention to the wings’ dredge. I knew it had to crisp up exceptionally well to compensate for the lack of deep fried chicken skin. I decided on a mixture of cornstarch and masa harina for the dredge and baked the wings at a high temperature on an oiled cooling rack, so air could circulate around the entire wing. It worked as well as could be expected.
Although these Chile de Arbol Hot Wings were designed to be eaten with the Super Bowl, it’s not mandatory. You could eat them while you’re doing something crazy, like talking to people. You could indulge when you’re sitting on your kitchen counter like the rebel you really are. You could stress eat these babies while you’re pushing a deadline. There is never a bad time for wings – unless you’re folding laundry.
So, in the words of the revered Spice Girls, “Spice up your life!” with these Chile de Arbol Hot Wings.
- 1 1/2 lb (1 kg) split chicken wings
- 2 oz tequila
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 teaspoons ground cumin, divided
- Juice of 2 limes
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons masa harina
- 2 teaspoons salt, divided
- 1/2 white onion, cut into chunks
- 5 cloves garlic, peeled
- 4-6 dried chile de arbol
- 1/2 cup water
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon demerara sugar
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
- 1 ataulfo mango, diced
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the tequila, olive oil, lime juice and 2 teaspoons of the ground cumin. Add the chicken and toss to coat. Let the chicken sit for 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 425F.
- In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the cornstarch, masa harina and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Pour the mixture into a large ziplock bag. Drain the chicken and add it to the bag. Toss to coat.
- Place the wings on a well-oiled cooling rack. Put a cookie sheet lined with tin foil underneath the cooling rack to catch any drips. Bake the wings for 30 minutes, turning once.
- While the wings are cooking, place the onion, garlic, chiles and water in a food processor. Blitz until a loose paste forms. Pour the paste into a small saucepan.
- Place the saucepan over medium heat. Add the butter, sugar, remaining salt and the remaining cumin. Stir until the butter melts. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Let the sauce simmer for 10 minutes.
- Take the sauce off the heat and stir in the apple cider vinegar. Pour the finished sauce into a large bowl and add the wings. Toss to coat.
- Pour the wings into a bowl and garnish with cilantro, mango and additional diced white onion. Serve with greek yogurt or sour cream if desired.