Hawaiian pupu chicken wings
A recipe from Hawaii
This chicken was a family favorite when I was growing up in Hawaii. It was a special dish we made for parties. I was originally given the recipe by a wonderful woman named Helen Takano, who helped manage my family's store in the International Marketplace in Waikiki. Helen's husband was part of the 442nd Infantry regiment, the most decorated unit in U.S military history.
Helen used to bring me all kinds of delicious treats when we worked together. Eventually, I began asking her for my favorite recipes, including Pupu chicken. Sadly, Helen passed away several years ago. I credit Helen for starting my interest in Asian-influenced cooking.
So what is a pupu anyway?
In Hawaii, pupus mean appetizers, something you eat at a party that doesn't quite constitute a full meal. Pupus are usually enjoyed with a cold beer or glass of wine. Lucky you if you are invited to a party with "heavy pupus," as there will probably be enough that you will not have to eat dinner afterwards. The fact is most parties in Hawaii serve heavy pupus as people consider it impolite not to have enough food.
Japanese and Korean cousins
I did a little research on this recipe and found that Pupu chicken has both Japanese and Korean cousins, which is not surprising as both cultures have enormously influenced Hawaiian cuisine. The Japanese cousin is called Karaage, and involves marinating chicken pieces in a soy, sugar and rice vinegar sauce first, then coating the chicken in potato starch and deep frying it.
The Korean cousin is called Dakgangeong, and involves dusting the chicken in potato starch, frying it, letting it sit and then frying it again. Like pupu chicken, the fried chicken is eventually dipped in sauce before serving. Double frying results in extra crispy chicken, using the same technique the French use to get extra crispy French fries. While I think the double frying idea is brilliant, I only have so much patience for frying, so my recipe only fries the chicken once. But if you have time to spare and don't mind standing over a hot pan full of oil, I say go for it. And could you please invite me over to help you enjoy your double-fried chicken?
I am not going to bill this as my healthiest recipe, because it is not. Pupu chicken is a splurge, a lot like mac & cheese, eggs benedict, a banana split or maybe even a fried Snickers bar. Not a meal for every day, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy a little splurge once in a while. If you like teriyaki and you like fried chicken, there is a very good chance you are going to love these sticky, crunchy, garlicky, intensely flavored chicken wings.
I recently won a stainless steel Anolon wok at the Blogher Food conference in Miami. Thank you Anolon! Developing this recipe gave me an opportunity to test out another wok cooking method: deep frying. There are two things I like about deep frying in a wok: 1) You use less oil because of the shape of the wok, and 2) Deep-frying in a wok is so much cleaner than deep frying in other pans. The flared rim of the wok serves to catch a lot of the oil that normally winds up all over your stove.
Coconut oil and other high smoke point oils
I haven't fried food in a very long time, so I did a little research on the best type of oil to use before developing this recipe. I wound up choosing coconut oil because of its high smoke point as well as its better health profile. Other oils used for deep-frying include: peanut oil, rice bran oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, grapeseed oil and lard. The coconut oil worked out very well, without leaving a coconut flavor on the chicken, but the choice is yours.
What ever oil you choose, you will want to heat it up to about 350 degrees before you start frying each batch. The temperature will drop after you add the chicken and slowly get hotter.
If you are gluten-free and lamenting that you cannot eat fried chicken, this is your lucky day! Two small changes will make this a gluten-free recipe. Substitute potato starch for the flour and make sure you use gluten-free soy sauce. When I learned how to make Pupu chicken from Helen, she taught me to use all-purpose flour. Many Asian recipes, however, call for potato starch. Both work well. The potato starch does not get the same golden brown color as is achieved with flour, but after you dunk the chicken in the sauce, the difference is no longer noticeable as the chicken takes on the dark color of the soy sauce.
Tools and tips that will help you wok-fry safely and effectively
Deep frying thermometer - You need to heat your oil to about 350 degrees before you add the chicken. Getting the temperature right is important as too low a temperature results in soggy, greasy chicken and too high a temperature is dangerous. I check the temperature before I start cooking each batch.
12" or 16" tongs - I also like to use tongs to place the chicken in the hot oil and to flip the chicken. The tongs allow you to carefully place the chicken in the hot oil to minimize splash. Never drop chicken in to hot oil as a splash can be painful and disfiguring.
Finally, when you are deep-frying give the job your whole attention: no multi-tasking. A pan of hot oil is dangerous.
These wings can be made ahead and served at room temperature. Great for a picnic!
Garnish with more chopped green onions or green onion curls. Don't forget the cold beer!
Hawaiian pupu chicken wings
Yield 4 -8 servings
These sticky, crunchy, garlicky, intensely flavored chicken wings come from a recipe I learned to make in my childhood in Honolulu. I wok fry them in coconut oil and then dunk them in a garlicky soy sauce and rice vinegar dip.
- 3/4 cup soy sauce
- 1 T sesame seed oil
- 2 T unseasoned rice wine vinegar
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 T toasted sesame seeds
- 3 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 4 green onions, finely chopped, including white and green parts, plus more for garnish
- 1 t crushed red pepper flakes or more if you like heat
- 2 pounds mini chicken wings, tips removed (about 16 wings)
- 1 cup all-purpose flour or potato starch
- 2 - 3 cups coconut oil or other high smoke-point oil
- Make the sauce in a small sauce pan. Put first 9 ingredients in the pan, bring briefly to a boil to
- Pat chicken dry. Dip chicken in your choice of flour or potato starch, coating thoroughly. Shake off excess and set aside while you heat up the oil.
- In a wok or Dutch oven, heat 2 - 3 cups coconut oil until 350 degrees. One-by-one, gently lower 5 - 6 wings into the hot oil. Do not overcrowd. Don't drop from a distance as the splashing oil will cause burns. Lower chicken using tongs, a slotted spoon, a Chinese spider ladle or a very steady hand. The oil will bubble up around the chicken. Move the chicken periodically as it fries. When one side has browned carefully turn each piece over and continue cooking until both sides are brown and crispy. This should take about 15 minutes for each batch.
- Scoop the cooked wings out of the oil using tongs, a perforated wok ladle or a Chinese spider ladle and transfer to the sauce pan. Let the wings soak in the sauce while you work on the next batch.
- Using a perforated wok ladle or Chinese spider, scoop out any brown bits and put on a plate to cool before discarding. Check that your oil temperature is back to 350 degrees and add your next batch of wings.
- Remove the first batch of wings from the sauce and drain on plates lined with paper towels. Continue working in batches until all the chicken is fried and then soaked in the sauce for a few minutes before it is drained. Serve hot or at room temperature. Garnish with additional green onion slices or green onion curls if you desire.
THIS SERVES WELL WITH