Today I want to talk about what might be the THE quintessential food of my childhood. The one that reminds me of home more than any other. It was featured at more birthday dinners than anything else. (It was also featured at a very recent Christmas Eve.) Everyone loved it, even the picky ones. Behold Special Chicken. It’s really called that in the cookbook, we did not make it up.
Special Chicken is soy-marinated, batter-fried chicken wings. They are delicious, and fairly easy to make. The recipe came from this little flip top Chinese food cookbook my parents have, and this page is particularly well used.
As I have mentioned before, when we were very little, my mom did a lot of the cooking, but sometime during my ‘tween years (I think) the role shifted to my dad and stayed there. But not these. These are firmly entrenched in Mom’s camp, forever to remain. Many have tried to duplicate, none have succeeded. Truly. My attempt is close, and good enough for those who don’t know, but they are sub par by comparison. The littlest tried them for Christmas and says they were enjoyable, but not right. As far as I know, my mom has always followed the recipe exactly – she’s never told me otherwise – but maybe that’s her trick. If we can’t replicate, she can always lure us home with the original.
There are two things I have adjusted a little from the recipe. The first is the temperature. At 375 the oil is way too hot. The wings get too dark and the batter gets unpleasant. 325 is the way to go. (I am not sure what temp Mom uses, since she doesn’t use a deep fry thermometer. She just knows when it’s right.) The recipe also suggests marinating the chicken wings for an hour, but I recommend longer. All day, if you’ve got it. Marinate overnight! It makes this a delightful option for a weekday. These usually meant a special occasion for us, or at the very least a Sunday dinner, but they don’t have to be. Get wild! Make them on a Tuesday! I most recently made them on a Wednesday at the behest of a delightful house guest. (The word is spreading!) They involve deep frying, but don’t let that scare you. It doesn’t require much oil, especially if you have a wok. (Do you have a wok? They are great, get a wok.) Make sure you make extra, because the joy of eating them hot just ever so slightly trumps the joy of eating them out of a sandwich bag the next day – lunch or even breakfast. Doesn’t matter which.
And now, just because I feel like it, and it’s fun, a rundown of some of the best things I’ve eaten in Boston recently and some of my favorite Boston dishes, in general -
A cold corn and coconut milk soup from East By Northeast – revelatory
The whipped goat’s milk feta snack at Tavern Road is one of my favorite snacks OF ALL TIME. So simple and so so good. (They also make an amazing risotto over there. Every preparation has been great.)
The breakfast sandwich at Clover is way better than it has any right to be.
The corn dog at Trina’s Starlite Lounge is a delight.
The johnnycake at Neptune is just nonsense it’s so good. Seriously, mind-blowingly, crazy crazy good.
The classic Chinese BBQ pork sandwich from Bon Me is my favorite lunch.
The Baloney Pony sandwich at the Biggie Brunch at Alden & Harlow still haunts me, and alas, I am afraid I will never get to enjoy it again. I’ll have to settle for the chicken fried rabbit over there. Poor me.
The burger at JM Curley’s. Always and forever.
The corn at Toro, but everyone knows this.
The tuna crudo at Row 34.
There are others, so many others, but that is what I am thinking about right now.
Special Chicken (serves 4-6)
For the chicken:
2.5 – 3 lbs chicken wings, cut into drumettes and flats
oil for frying
For the marinade:
2 tbl soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 tbl sherry
1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 tsp hoisin sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp salt
For the batter:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
Mix all the marinade ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the chicken wing pieces, stir to coat, and marinate in the fridge for at least one hour or preferably overnight.
Heat the oil in a wok or another high sided pan or pot to 325 degrees.
Mix the batter ingredients together in a small bowl. It will form a thick sticky dough, and won’t come together cohesively, but that’s ok, just mix a bit until the ingredients are starting to combine. Add the batter to the bowl with the chicken and stir until the marinade and the batter come together to coat the chicken. This will be kind of a sticky mess, and will take some time to come together, but keep stirring until it does. The batter will thin when mixed with the marinade, and all the chicken pieces will be coated.
Deep fry the chicken in batches, without overcrowding, until the pieces are brown and crispy and cooked through, about 5-6 minutes. Remove the chicken to a plate lined with a paper towel and let cool slightly before serving. Let the oil come back to temperature between batches, and continue to fry until all the chicken is finished. Enjoy!!