I recently asked Andy Ricker, a chef from Portland, Ore., who has become famous as a master of authentic Thai cooking, for his iconic Pok Pok wings recipe, but he wouldn't reveal his secret. This year, Ricker opened Pok Pok NY (a casual eatery in Brooklyn) and Pok Pok Phat Thai (a noodle take-out joint on Manhattan's Lower East Side).
The sweet/salty/spicy taste of those wings has lingered with me, prompting me to create my own decadent version. Use meaty wings. And if you don't have rice flour, use half flour and half cornstarch. Sambal oelek is an Asian chili sauce available at Asian grocery stores and some supermarkets. If you prefer non-spicy wings, omit it.
Ready time: Up to 1 hour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1⁄3 cup fish sauce
1 tablespoon sambal oelek
2 pounds chicken wings
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic
1/2 cup rice flour
Vegetable oil for deep frying
Add sugar and ½ cup water to a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Heat until it begins to caramelize (about 8 to 10 minutes). When caramel is a medium-brown, carefully stir in another 1/4 cup water, garlic, fish sauce and sambal oelek. The mixture may seize, but keep on stirring and it comes back together again. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes longer or until sauce is thickened. Reserve.
Mix 2 tablespoons of caramel sauce with 1/4 cup warm water. Toss with chicken wings. Marinate for 2 to 3 hours.
Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil over medium heat in a skillet. Add coarsely chopped garlic and cook, stirring continuously until golden brown (about 3 minutes). Reserve.
Heat 2 inches of oil in a high-sided skillet or wok to high temperature (about 350 F or until a cube of bread turns brown in 15 seconds). Remove wings from marinade and discard marinade. Toss wings with rice flour.
Add wings to pan in batches and fry for 5 to 7 minutes or until golden and cooked through. Adjust the heat during frying to make sure the wings do not burn before they are cooked.
Place on rack and continue frying the remainder. Reheat caramel sauce and toss with wings. Scatter over fried garlic.
Garnish with coriander and sliced cucumbers.