I have a tumultuous history with these wings. Years ago, I tried to go to their namesake restaurant in Portland (well, actually to the restaurant’s offshoot bar, where you can get their famous wings without having to wait in a 3-hour lineup), only to be sent back to my across-town hotel for not having my passport as ID. The hanger took me over before I could make it all the way back, so I never even got to eat the damn things (although I did eat a crispy pig ear salad at Aviary that was truly transformative). I wound up returning to Vancouver and finding a replica recipe for the Pok Pok wings that convinced me that I probably never needed to try the real thing if the at-home version could be so spectacular. Since then, an official Pok Pok cookbook has been released, containing the exact instructions for recreating the coveted wings recipe. I have made this recipe numerous times and am never once left with my mind unblown. They are….so good. Like, just so so good.
Now that I’ve roped you in a bit, I can admit that although they are amazing, these wings are also a bit “fiddly”, as my grandmother would have said. You should absolutely start them the night before for best results and you will likely need to go on a bit of a trek for some of the ingredients (or just live across from Famous Foods because that place is a goddamn GOLDMINE). You’ll also need to be a bit quick on your toes once the actual frying begins, because some of the steps progress rather quickly and simultaneously. Nothing has ever been more worth it, though, okay? Just trust me. TRUST ME.
Pok Pok Wings w/ Sizzled Garlic + Scallions
Adapted oh-so-slightly from Andy Ricker (Pok Pok: The Drinking Food of Thailand)
Serves 4-6 as an appy
8 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp kosher salt
½ cup fish sauce
½ cup white sugar
2 lb chicken wings
Vegetable oil, for frying
1 cup white rice flour
¼ cup tempura batter mix (I used a gluten-free version and it worked great)
2 tsp roasted chile paste (naam phrik phao)
Thinly sliced scallions + cilantro leaves + lime wedges, to garnish
Place the chopped garlic on a small cutting board and sprinkle with 1 tsp kosher salt. Chop the garlic up with the salt until it is finely minced. Scrape the salty garlic into a small bowl and cover with ¼ cup warm water. Let sit for 10 minutes. Set a small fine-mesh strainer over a medium bowl or measuring cup and pour the garlicky water through, using the back of a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible from the garlic. Scoop out the garlic into a small dish, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use tomorrow. Pour the fish sauce and sugar into the garlicky water and stir for at least 1 minute, so that as much sugar dissolves as possible. You should have about 1 cup of liquid; top up with warm water if this is not the case. Set aside.
Split the wings into drumettes and “flats” if they are not already prepared as such. To do this, simply use kitchen scissors to snip through the flap of skin between where the drumette and flat meet. Bend one side back so that the joint pops out, then cut through the 2 parts cleanly. Use the scissors to tidy up any errant bits of skin or bone, then snip off the pointed tips from the flats. Place the chicken wings in a shallow baking dish and pour half the fish sauce mixture overtop, reserving the remaining liquid in the fridge for tomorrow. Toss the chicken wings, then cover and refrigerate overnight, flipping occasionally to marinate both sides.
The next day, transfer the wings to a colander and let drain for 15 minutes. Place a double layer of paper towels on a large plate and set the drained wings on top. Pour the vegetable oil into a large heavy pot or Dutch oven to a 2-inch depth. Fit the pot with a candy/deep-fry thermometer and heat over medium-high to a temperature of 350 degrees F. This will easily take at least 10-15 minutes if you have an electric stove. Prepare a baking sheet by setting a wire rack inside it and covering the rack with a double layer of paper towels. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the rice flour and tempura mix. Working in 2 batches, toss the wings in the flour-tempura mixture, shaking well to remove any excess. Fry 1 batch of wings in the hot oil, prodding and turning them every so often to ensure even browning. Adjust the heat as needed to maintain a steady oil temperature. Once the wings are golden-brown (~6-8 minutes), remove from the oil and set on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining batch until all of the wings are fried.
While the second batch of wings are frying, pour enough oil into a very small pan to reach ~¾-inch depth. Set the pan over high heat until the oil is shimmering. Take out that saved minced garlic from the fridge and drop a fleck of it in the hot oil. If it immediately bubbles, add the rest, stirring to evenly distribute it. Immediately lower the heat to medium-low and cook the garlic until golden-brown (but not at all burnt!), stirring occasionally. Drain the garlic on a paper towel-lined plate and set aside until ready to serve.
Add 1/3 cup water to the remaining fish sauce mixture from yesterday. Stir in the chile paste, then pour the mixture into a very large skillet or wok and place over high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce by about half. I think it’s better to stop reducing earlier than later, as I'd rather have overly sticky wings versus not-sticky-enough wings. Tumble the wings into the reduced sauce and keep tossing and cooking until the wings are thoroughly coated and the sauce resembles dark caramel (~1 minute).
To serve, scrape the saucy wings onto a large platter or serving board. Sprinkle the wings with the fried garlic and garnish with excessive amounts of scallions and cilantro leaves. Squeeze a lime wedge or 2 over the whole mess and leave some extra wedges for serving. Oh shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit.