Along with the drought in California, we’ve had a mini heat wave this week. I live by the ocean and haven’t suffered as much as others who reside inland. Given that, it hasn’t been a time for cooking indoors. I was driving home from a day of business meetings and was in need of a simple dinner. There was traffic and my mind wandered to Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby’s new book, The Big-Flavor Grill: No-Marinade, No-Hassle Recipes. I received a copy not long ago when the temps were on the chilly side and had paged through the book, fantasizing about grilling season.
Chris and John are grilling masters and have collaborated on nine cookbooks. The subtitle of their book seemed to scream at me while I was driving (now you know the function of a subtitle!). I wanted unfussy food that was also fun and indulgent too. This is my husband’s last week of lecturing and yesterday was his last session with an oddly apathetic group of students. He needed a mini party.
I decided on chicken wings, in particular, grilled ones that Schlesinger and Willoughby promised would have yowza flavor. There’s been discussion on Serious Eats about making non-fried chicken wings that taste kind of fried. I was game but for a simpler approach. I figured that I’d initially cook the wings over direct heat then turn off one of burners to settle into indirect heat grilling, which allows the fat to render a bit and crisp up the skin a bit.
At Whole Foods, you can buy “party wings” which are just the meatier two joints of the wing. The name of the cut was apropos for my husband’s end-of-the-semester situation. I halved the recipe since it was just the two of us.
The Big-Flavor Grill is organized as chapters focused on one single protein that cooks can then vary with a bunch of different seasonings, sauces, or garnishes. If you master grilling one thing, you can dress it up many different ways. This may seem like freshman level cooking but I found the approach to be a relief.
Each recipe is designed like a flowchart, perhaps to appeal to macho cooks who love to man the grill. For me, the design reminded me of the flowcharts I used to draw in 1980s high school computer class. (I was a geek.) It took a little getting used to but made sense, given the book's approach. Otherwise, you'd read the same instructions over and over.
The basic idea behind Schlesinger and Willoughby’s grilled wings: Salt and pepper the wings, heat the grill (I use a gas grill) and meanwhile, measure out the seasonings. After the wings are cooked, throw them in a bowl and one by one add the seasonings. It’s a nifty trick to layer on flavors.
The authors gave several options for finishing the wings, but I chose one of the Asian ones with the least number of ingredients to chop. My lazy day approach paid off. At first the flavors were shocking on my palate. But after I let the wings sit for 5 to 10 minutes, the seasonings mellowed and were agreeable. We ate them for dinner with a salad and drank a cold dark beer. It was an easy and tasty midweek celebration.
Hoisin-Glazed Grilled Chicken Wings
Yield: 2 main course, 4 snack size portions
- 1 1/2 pounds (675 g) chicken party wings
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) hoisin sauce
- 2 tablespoons regular or gluten-free soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
- 2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onion, white and green parts
- 1 1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns, pounded to a coarse texture
- Wash and pat the chicken dry. Lightly salt and pepper the wings and set aside. Heat a gas grill to medium-high or light a charcoal fire, leaving one side free of coals. The grill is ready when you can hold your hand 6 inches (15 cm) over the grill for 4 to 5 seconds.
- As the grill heats up, assemble the seasonings in small containers. Arrange them so you remember what order to add them later on.
- Grill the wings for about 15 minutes, initially over direct heat until they start to sizzle and brown. At that point, turn off or lower the heat of one burner to low and cook the wings over the cooler spot; on a charcoal grill, move them to the cooler side. Turn frequently and move the wings around to avoid flare ups. Check for doneness by nicking with the tip of a knife.
- Put the hot wings into a bowl. One by one add each seasoning, tossing with tongs as you work. Save a bit of the green onion to garnish on top. Eat hot, warm, or room temperature.
Adapted from The Big-Flavor Grill by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby