During our recent trip to Vietnam, we had fish sauce wings or cánh gà chiên nước mắm at roadside eateries in Vietnam and loved the sticky, shellac like layer of fish sauce studded with garlic on a crispy fried chicken wing. It’s the perfect balanced combination of sweet and salty that Vietnamese foods are known for, and in essence, a process of caramelization not unlike gà kho or thit kho that results in a perfect finger licking lacquer of fish sauce, sugar, and garlic.
Here in the United States, it’s unfortunate not that many Vietnamese restaurants serve it. Vietnamese fried chicken wings could prove to be just as popular as Korean fried chicken wings. However, chef Andy Ricker and cook Ich Truong of Pok Pok in Portland, have single-handedly made fish sauce wings into a huge cult hit.
Using Ich’s family recipe, the dish was named Food and Wine’s Top 10 restaurant dishes of 2007. We recently made it for the Super Bowl without changing much, except for increasing the amount of garlic – by a lot. Make sure you use high quality fish sauce for this recipe, such as Red Boat which does not have any additives. The fish sauce and sugar marinade can really handle a lot more than the recipe calls for so we recommend being aggressive on the garlic. Plus, you can always save any extra fried garlic for another dish or another batch of wings.
Fish Sauce or Pok Pok Wings
Based on the recipe from Food and Wine Magazine
1/2 cup Vietnamese fish sauce
1/2 cup superfine sugar (or just regular white sugar)
4 garlic cloves, 2 crushed and 2 minced (we used about 4 heads of garlic, divided)
3 pounds chicken wings split at the drumettes (We used drummets and wings and find they are easier to fry)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for frying
1 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped mint
In a bowl, whisk the fish sauce, sugar and crushed garlic. Add the wings and toss to coat. Refrigerate for three hours, tossing the wings occasionally.
Heat the 2 tablespoons of oil in a small skillet. Add the minced garlic; cook over moderate heat until golden, three minutes. Drain on paper towels.
In a large pot, heat 2 inches of oil to 350 degrees F. Pat the wings dry on paper towels; reserve the marinade. Put the cornstarch in a shallow bowl, add the wings and turn to coat lightly. Dust off any extra. Fry the wings in batches until golden and cooked through. Drain on cooling rack and transfer to a bowl.
In a small saucepan, simmer the marinade over moderately high heat until syrupy. Strain over the wings and toss. Top with the cilantro, mint and fried garlic and serve.
You can fry wings in advance and when ready to serve, caramelize the marinade in a large wok or frying pan and then reheat the wings by tossing it in the sauce when thickened.