Fish Sauce Wings and the Pinnacle of Pok Pok

Ike's Famous Fish Sauce Wings

Ike’s Famous Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings

Given the numerous Pok Pok posts on this blog, it’s clear I’m a girl with a serious hang up. Maybe it’s because I eat there often enough to know how good the food is, giving me extra motivation to replicate the dishes at home using the cookbook. Or because I know Chef Ricker’s recipes are spot-on and precise, which makes going through the effort all the more rewarding.

But, besides delights like yam khai doa and phat si ew, if you also own this cookbook, it’s possible you bought it just for one recipe: Ike’s Fish Sauce Wings. It’s okay — no judgment here! Ike’s wings are killer. The most perfect bar snack since beer nuts, they are at once salty, sticky and sweet. Every bite is full of umami bliss.

I can say with certainty I have never been to Pok Pok without ordering these wings. (Wait! The very first time I was there the wings hadn’t even been put on the menu yet!)

However, since I don’t do much deep frying at home, and rarely stray from my favorite, super easy and very delicious chicken wing recipe, it’s taken me seven months to get around to trying these at home.

After having eaten them, I can say those seven months were totally wasted. I should have been eating wings, wings and more wings.

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Triple Threat Wings are Violently Delicious

Triple Threat Chicken Wings

Triple Threat Chicken Wings

Chicken wings, cooked the way my grandma always makes them, are a nostalgic food for me. The recipe she uses has been in the family for years and with one bite, they instantly transport me back to my childhood. Cooked low and slow, the wings end up as glossy little things, coated in a sticky mixture of soy sauce, brown sugar and wine. I love them so much it’s hard for me to even contemplating trying out a different wing recipe.

However, fellow Portland dweller Cam (who makes “violently delicious food for a modern life”) just posted a recipe for Triple Threat Chicken Wings on her blog Gekiuma. Her photos of the lacquered wings dripping with garlic, ginger and chilies were enticing enough to make me reconsider. And it seemed too much of a coincidence, serendipitous in fact, that I happened to have a package of chicken wings in the fridge.

So within 24 hours of her post, I broke tradition and gave her Triple Threat Wings a shot.

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Teriyaki Chicken Wings and Asian-Style Succotash

I had big plans last Friday. I had a hankering for grilled steak with fresh corn, green beans and some perfectly ripe cherry tomatoes. In fact, I even bought all of my ingredients while I was at work (yay for being a meat distributor — a good steak is easy to find!) and biked them all the way home. The bike ride was not fun, and might be why you do not see a picture of a fat grilled steak at the top of this post.

See, when you bike a backpack brimming with goodies uphill 8 miles on a sunny Friday afternoon it does something to your motivation level — like kill it completely.

As I was unpacking all the groceries, I spied a bag of chicken wings in the fridge and suddenly the thought of starting up a grill seemed like too much effort. And the thought of chicken wings sounded like the most brilliant idea ever.

I have talked before about my serious love for my grandmother’s chicken wings. They are Heaven on Earth. They are the reason I keep five-pound bags of frozen wings on hand at all times — because it just doesn’t make sense to make any less than that. I can eat about a third of a batch in a single sitting. It’s not pretty, but it’s true.

So…my grilled steak turned into this:

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My Swedish grandmother’s amazing recipe for teriyaki wings

Chicken Wings 3

My grandma (also known to me as Mormor, the Swedish word for maternal grandmother) is responsible for bestowing upon my family our time-honored recipe for teriyaki-style chicken wings. Sure, her pickled herring, headcheese and potato sausage are revered as well (some more than others) but it’s her chicken wings that I remember most fondly from childhood. The pickled herring I only ate once on a dare. It was as awful as it sounds.

Anyways I’m not sure how the chicken wing recipe first came to be a family favorite. The vague explanation is that it was passed to her from my mother’s best friend’s mom more than fifty years ago. Where she found it, I have no idea and why she gave it to my grandma is another mystery — though a fortuitous one for sure.

Normally I would never do this, but it's just too fitting to this story

Normally I would never subject you to a plate of eaten food. But here’s a picture I recently sent my cousin (now in Texas) after I polished off a bunch of wings — I admit I wanted to torture him a bit.

It’s one of the dishes that my grandma makes every time I go to visit her and my grandfather (along with her Swedish hotcakes which she makes every Saturday morning without fail). As a kid, when we would visit them on vacations, she used to make the wings for my brother, my older cousin and me. My brother has always enjoyed them, but my cousin and I were obsessed. We would race to eat as many as we could — counting up the bones when we were done to see who was victorious. I think most of the time we actually tied — which looking back was quite a feat. It should be noted that my cousin is now taller than me by more than a foot and is a boy to boot and I can still eat as many wings as he can.

My mom also made them for our family. They were what I requested for every birthday or “special occasion” dinner. They were what I craved on my winter breaks during college. They were the first recipe my mom wrote down for me and the only reason I own an electric frying pan. It’s impossible to make them as good without one.

Three generations later and these wings are still one of the dishes I make, along with my mom’s chicken casserole, when I’m feeling a bit nostalgic. Which is fairly often.

Over the years, I have been spreading the chicken wing love. My best friend Nikki Sea had me email her the recipe a while back and I have now gotten my husband hooked on them as well. In fact I usually make about three times what the recipe calls for because I tend to hoard the leftovers so I can enjoy them in secret or sneak them to work for my lunch.

However these wings are so sticky and messy, they are difficult to eat covertly. My grandma always says we should serve them with finger bowls, though instead we just plunk down a huge pile of napkins in the center of the table. Last year for my birthday party, I set out a huge platter of them. We went through a lot of napkins that night and the wings were all but gone. Luckily there were a few left over for me to snack on the next afternoon while I cleaned. Though you better believe I had some tucked away in the back of the fridge, just in case…

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