I like nibbling at cold chicken. Especially when there’s bone and skin and a deeply absorbed marinade in the meat. This dish was inspired by stealing bites of leftover chicken from the fridge. A little bit sweet, a little bit nutty, and very savory, here’s a wing to bring to barbecues this holiday weekend that you don’t even have to heat up.
That nuttiness comes from toasted sesame seeds. When pressed, these extract a golden oil that’s unmistakably aromatic, and intensely flavorful. Sesame oil is less a cooking oil than a flavoring agent — for dressings or marinades. Growing up, my mom always made a big bowl of cold sesame noodles for summer cookouts and barbecues, and its powerful fragrance perfumed one’s entire plate. And you can smell it on these wings, since it’s been soaked in them overnight.
Of course, cold sesame wings (or noodles) wouldn’t be complete without a sprinkle of the seeds to finish. Cold wings don’t have a crunch to their skin, but, fat rendered, they provide a satisfying chew. I like the elasticity of the skin coupled with the pops of sesame seeds on the surface. But, since they’re cold, you really have to let the wings sit in that marinade so that the flavor is strong enough.
Get started on your Labor Day prep a day early — or even two days ahead (meaning, now). Your friends will be thankful for the side dish, and you won’t have to sweat over the grill the day of. I actually made these wings a couple weeks ago for a picnic at a park, thinking that I’d had enough potato salads or noodle salads for the summer by now. It was a great complement, because everyone else had brought convenient cold veggie salads and slaws and fruit and dips like hummus. You all just arrive and uncover your container, and everyone digs in.
I’ve added a hint of chili spice to these wings which is optional; one ingredient that is certainly not optional would be the garlic. These along with scallion chunks can be stripped away from the wings easily before cooking them, so that they’re not burnt, bitter pieces clinging onto the finished wings like dead moths around a flame. But they — like the sesame oil — really get inside the chicken after a day or so while it marinates. Also, try to use dark soy sauce, the thicker, more intense version of light (or “regular”) soy sauce if you can. This will stain the chicken a more attractive, deep red without as much liquid in the way. But if you can’t find it, just go one a half times on the light soy.
Cold Sesame Wings
(makes about 4-6 appetizer-sized servings)
2 lbs chicken wings
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce (or substitute 1/4 cup light soy sauce)
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1-2 teaspoons chili sauce (such as sambal olek), optional
1-2 scallions, chopped coarsely
3-4 garlic cloves, chopped coarsely
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper (or substitute black pepper)
1 tablespoons or so toasted sesame seeds
fresh cilantro or scallions, chopped, for garnish (optional)
Cut the wings into two sections, creating drummettes and wing bones. You can leave on the wingtips to the wing bones if you like, or cut them off and discard (or save to make chicken stock with later).
Combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, vinegar, optional chili sauce, scallions, garlic, salt and pepper in a bowl and toss thoroughly with the wings. Marinate for at least 6-8 hours or up to 48 hours, preferably tossing once to make sure the pieces are thoroughly coated.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Scrape off the garlic and scallion chunks from the wings and arrange them separated on a sheet tray. Roast for 30 minutes, then flip them over and continue to roast another 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer to another plate or cooling rack to rest and cool. Sprinkle evenly with the toasted sesame seeds. Serve immediately or after chilling completely with the optional fresh herb garnish.
(for 4-6 small servings)
2 lbs chicken wings: $6.00
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce: $0.25
2 tablespoons sesame oil: $0.30
1 tablespoon brown sugar: $0.20
1 tablespoon rice vinegar: $0.20
1-2 teaspoons optional chili sauce: $0.20
1-2 scallions: $0.50
3-4 garlic cloves: $0.25
salt, pepper, sesame seeds, optional fresh herbs: $0.50
Seven brownie points: It’s just wings, and these are parts of the chicken that have a high ratio of skin to meat, meaning more fat. But if you eat them as a side attraction to a well-rounded meal, they make for savory nibbles to counter with your refreshing veggies and light side dishes. At least we’re not frying the wings in more fat, as they’re so commonly prepared.
Four maple leaves: You can get your chicken wings from a local, free-range and naturally-fed source, supporting your small local farmers while you indulge in a luscious classic treat like wings. Why not? It’s up to you, but this cut is often not very expensive compared to chicken breasts, especially the boneless kind. As for the Asian seasonings, well, these are pantry staples in my kitchen, but you can at least find organic soy sauce and rice vinegar, as well as garlic and scallions pretty easily.