Saigon Wings

The best window onto a nation's cuisine is its food markets. The moment Steven Raichlen arrived in Saigon, he rushed to the colossal Ben Thàn Market, where you can buy just about anything: eel, snake, all manner of innards, even grasshoppers. When you tire of shopping, an army of food vendors stands ready to ply you with Vietnamese soups, stews and barbecue.

Coconut shell charcoal is the preferred cooking fuel (probably because it's so cheap) and grilled fare ranges from commonplace beef and chicken to whole eggs and dried bananas. This is one vendor's version of chicken wings; it's as easy to make as it is flavorful. To increase the exposed surface area of meat, the wings are spread open and skewered.

To be authentic, you'll need lemongrass and fish sauce for the marinade, both of which are available at Asian markets and specialty shops. In a pinch, substitute 4 strips of lemon zest for the lemongrass and soy sauce for the fish sauce.

Slideshow: Amazing Chicken Recipes

  • Servings: 4 first-course servings

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  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 medium shallots, chopped
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, tender white inner bubls only, chopped
  • One 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/3 cup Asian fish sauce
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus more for basting
  • 12 whole chicken wings (2 1/2 to 3 pounds)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped unsalted dry-roasted peanuts

How to make this recipe

  1. In a mortar, pound the garlic, shallots, lemongrass, ginger and sugar to a paste. Stir in the fish sauce, lemon juice and the 1 tablespoon of oil. Alternatively, puree the ingredients in a mini-processor. Transfer to a large bowl.

  2. Make 3 deep slashes in the meat part of each chicken wing. Add the wings to the bowl, stir to coat and marinate for 4 hours at room temperature, or preferably overnight in the refrigerator.

  3. Light a grill. Thread the chicken wings on bamboo skewers, splaying each wing as widely as possible; reserve the marinade. Brush the wings with vegetable oil and grill over a medium-hot fire for 6 to 8 minutes per side, basting them once or twice with the reserved marinade, until crusty. Do not baste during the last 5 minutes. Transfer the chicken wings to a platter and sprinkle with the peanuts. Serve at once.

Suggested Pairing

The floral, heavy-hop bouquet and moderate maltiness of a dry American pale ale will enhance the wings' sweet-salty, aromatic flavors. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, from California, is the best choice.

Contributed By Published September 1997

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