Last year I was lucky enough to spend a couple of weekends in Portland, Oregon, where I developed a bit of a city crush. With a great food scene, an even better coffee scene, and an offbeat, artsy vibe, it reminded me a lot of Burlington, Vermont, only super-sized.
I’ve enthusiastically enjoyed every dining experience I’ve had in Portland, but by far the most memorable dish I enjoyed was Ike’s Wings at Pok Pok. Sticky, salty, and sweet, they were unlike any wing I’d had before (loaded with flavor instead of the typical blow-the-roof-of-your-mouth- off heat). And I’m not the only one who became enchanted by Ike’s Wings; Food and Wine named the dish one of the Best Restaurant Dishes of 2007.
So what’s the secret of Ike’s Wings? For the last year I’ve been playing around with ingredients in an attempt to recreate this dish, and then a couple of weeks ago Food & Wine published the actual recipe. Mystery solved.
Luckily, all of my experiments were not a total waste of time. Through a bit of trial and error I think I’ve developed a successful riff off of Pok Pok’s version, with added components of citrus and a nice fiery element.
My twist on Ike’s wings adds an element of heat, nowhere near “lava” or “5-alarm” but a bit more subtle. Instead of a traditional wing sauce I used Sambal Oelek, an Asian chili paste that marries well with the other ingredients (I picked this up at the grocery store in the Asian foods section, so I think it is widely available). It’s enough heat to lift up your palate a bit, but it won’t send smoke out of your ears.
For the sweet element I substituted maple syrup for the sugar/palm sugar. I’ve found the maple syrup adds a nice depth of flavor and is a nice way to integrate a local/Vermont product. I have also tried agave syrup, but I wasn’t as struck with the outcome. A batch made with molasses is next at bat.
I used my handy fryer appliance to get these wings nice and crispy, but baking or grilling would also be options. For an easy baked wing recipe, try this technique from Martha Stewart and simply substitute in the baking step for the frying step below.
For a garnish I like to use a bright herb like cilantro (toasted sesame seeds would also be a nice touch). I’ve also had great success adding a bit of gomasio, or a toasted, salted sesame seed.
Serve these wings with plenty of napkins or wipes-they can get a little messy!