With chicken, I covet the wings. With duck, not really; they tend to be sinewy and dry, without chicken’s succulence — or so I thought.
Then I ordered the duck wings at Upland in the Kips Bay neighborhood of Manhattan and instantly became a duck wing disciple.
The fried wings from that first encounter a little over two years ago, made by the chef Justin Smillie, combined crisp skin, rich meat and gamy flavor emboldened by Asian seasonings.
Since then, I’ve seen duck wings on menus in New York, Chicago and Florida. Guenter Seeger has served them at his namesake restaurant in the West Village; Gary King, the new chef at NoMo Kitchen in SoHo, offers them, too. King’s version follows Smillie’s recipe; he was the former chef de cuisine at Upland.
At the Spaniard, a new bar in the West Village, the wings swagger Buffalo-style, slathered with barbecue sauce and given a blue cheese dip. Toro in the meatpacking district uses only the first joint, the drumette, which is smoked and glazed with za’atar and honey.
All of this makes for satisfying eating, especially as a bar snack with a cocktail or a first course. But what about preparing them at home?
“They’re fun things, a quick nosh and great for parties,” Smillie said.
I can buy all the chicken wings I want. Duck wings are a different story; even Chinatown butcher shops, where duck is easy to find, tend not to have them readily available. They are sold online, though, and at $3 to $4 a pound (around three wings, depending on the size), they will not break the bank.
(A few purveyors: tastyduck.com, 30 fresh wings, 18 pounds, $52.50; farmfreshduck.com, 30 fresh wings, 18 pounds, $60.61; wings from D’Artagnan, 30 drumettes, 10 pounds frozen, $39.90, 800-327-8246.)
So I asked Smillie to share his technique. It’s a three-step project, mostly unattended.
First, you cure the wings (having defrosted them if they were frozen) with a generous rub of salt, some sugar and spices. Smillie uses coriander, Aleppo pepper, fennel seeds and granulated garlic; I opted for Chinese five-spice with salt and sugar.
Leave them in the refrigerator for 24 to 36 hours. Then rinse and dry them and give them the confit treatment. Smillie poaches them in duck fat for three hours. I accomplished much the same by arranging them in a single layer in a large roasting pan, covering the pan with foil, and letting them bake at 225 degrees for three hours.
I then removed them from the pan and refrigerated them, first draining all excess fat back into the pan. I strained the fat and refrigerated it for future use, like frying potatoes. While the wings were still warm, I peeled off and discarded the skin, which can be rubbery when you fry or grill them at home.
At this point, they are ready for the final treatment. Or, as Smillie suggested, they can be set aside in the refrigerator or freezer to finish cooking and serve later.
“They hold up to various cooking techniques,” he said. “I fry them, but I’ve also done them on the grill and hot-roasted them.”
I tried frying and, now on the cusp of the outdoor season, grilling. For effective frying, you really need a professional flash fryer. When I fried them in an inch of hot duck fat, the wings were not as crisp as in restaurants.
Without a doubt, the home cook’s route to success is swabbing them with a tangy barbecue marinade and searing them on the grill.