Monday, August 14, 2006

Eating. chicken wings.

At present my library is rapidly dwindling as I pack away all my books in preparation for moving across town. For a while my writing will be more and more about food and memory, until I can open these carefully taped boxes and dive back into literature again.

Chicken wings are a childhood food. I don't remember when they became a vital part of our diet; I suspect it was during the time my two cousins lived with us. One girl (me) was manageable; add two growing boys to the mix and suddenly we were like a ravenous pack of wolverines. Gallons of milk vanished every week. Piles of frozen pizza were microwaved and devoured. Endless bowls of udon noodles were consumed in that twilight hour between coming home from school and dinnertime. Chicken wings came from Costco, in a giant plastic-wrapped styrofoam tray. They would be marinated in a mix of soy sauce, wine, garlic, and scallions, perhaps a little swish of sugar, and broiled until they were shiny, the skins burnished like polished mahagony. The boys could eat twenty or more of them at one sitting. Each.

One of my earliest kitchen tasks was marinating the wings. There's no recipe for it. I take several stalks of scallions, slice them into two-inch lengths, at an angle. Smash a handful of cloves of garlic with the flat side of a cleaver or chef's knife. Throw everything together in a gallon-size zip-top bag. (You can buy the middle wing segments, or buy whole wings and cut through the joints yourself). Splash in some soy sauce, a healthy amount of white wine or Chinese cooking wine. You could even use beer. Or apple juice. Sugar will make the skin caramelize even more, make the wings more teriyaki-ish, but you could leave it out. Leave the bag in the fridge for a couple of hours, a day, maybe a few days. Anything goes. They're always good.

In my last years of high school, my older cousin was away at college. Every now and then he would send me an email, and the food he seemed to miss most was the chicken wings. Later I joined him at the same university, and for the one year we were both there he would call me every ten days (it was always ten days, not a week, or two weeks, I don't know why) to make sure that I was still alive and to take me shopping. (I don't know why he was worried about me; it was more like me worrying about him). Show me how to make those chicken wings, he said. By then he knew how to cook eggs scrambled with tomatoes, fried potatoes, beef with onions. But it was the chicken wings he longed for, and which I made for him in his dim little kitchen decorated with empty Heineken bottles. (I had lined my dorm suite hallway with green bottles, too, but mine were Perrier, bought at the corner store with my dining flex-account).

When I am alone it seems sad just to have chicken wings for one. It needs abundance, a whole pile of wings just burned around the edges, the skin crisp from the high heat, the meat still moist and juicy. So when my family is here we always have them at least once, like tonight. I come home and my mom has marinated the wings, chopped long beans and dried tofu for me to stir-fry while the chicken is broiling. It is like falling into the past. Stripping the meat away from the bone with my teeth, biting through the cartilage at the joints. I love the middle section of the wing best, two bones joined at the ends, just the right proportion of meat to skin. I fail to pick the bones clean enough to satisfy my mother, and she chastises me as though I were eight years old again.

Last year, or perhaps it was the year before, my cousin came to visit for a short while. His first request was for chicken wings. Are they as good as you remember? Yes.

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