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Chicken wings are generally an easy food to cook, and they are pretty hard to screw up. But if you want great wings, then using sous vide can definitely help. If I want some bite, then I'll do 140°F (60°C) and for fall-apart wings 165°F (73.9°C), either for at least 1 to 2 hours.
Sous vide chicken wings with a great honey-chipotle BBQ sauce or a bacon bourbon jam are one of my favorite foods to snack on while I'm watching sports. Using sous vide to tenderize them before frying results in moist, amazing wings.
It also gives you precision control over the wings and then you just need a quick fry afterwards, so the skin never gets overcooked.
Buying wings for the first time can be confusing. What are normally sold on menus as "chicken wings" are actually the drumette and the flat from whole wings. And in grocery stores you will often see "chicken wings" which are the whole wing.
It's easiest if you can find them already broken down, but otherwise it's relatively easy to do it yourself by running a sharp paring knife around the joints.
Once the wings are broken down into drumettes and flats, season them with salt. Place them in a sous vide bag in a single layer and seal.
Because wings are so versatile you have a lot of time and temperature options you can explore. They all turn out great, but most people end up with a favorite they go back to time and time again.
A lot comes down to how tender you want your wings. At the lower end, you can cook them at 140°F (60°C) for a few hours. This will cook them through and lightly tenderize them, but the resulting wings will still have a lot of bite to them.
For more fall apart wings, you can increase the temperature to 156°F (68.9°C). This will start to break down the collagen and connective tissue more.
If you really want them to be super-tender, just sous vide them at 176°F (80°C) for several hours and they will fall right off the bones. I also really enjoy 165°F (73.9°C) for an in-between texture.
The cook time is usually 1 to 2 hours, but the longer you cook them, the more they will tenderize and break down. So you can play around with longer times if you are looking for a specific result.
Regardless of the method you use to finish your wings, you first need to make sure the wings are really dry. This is best done by blotting them dry with paper towels and then placing them in the refrigerator over night on a wire rack to fully dry out.
At this point, you can actually use the principles of the sous vide cook, chill, and reheat method and freeze the wings. You can then resume the following steps to finish them whenever you want.
Once the wings are dry, you have several options to finish them. While wings do have some nuances that I discuss below, you can learn some more about the best ways to sear sous vide foods.
The fastest way to crisp up the skin, and the one that results in the best texture and more crispness is to deep fry the wings. It also involves a lot of really hot oil, so please be VERY careful.
Heat up some oil to around 375°F to 400°F (190°C to 204°C). It's best with a large pot of oil, but I have also successfully shallow fried them in 2" to 3" of oil in a deep saute pan. If you have a dedicated deep fryer this is much easier.
Carefully place the already sous vided wings in the oil. Because they are already fully cooked through you just need to cook them long enough to crisp up the skin and reheat throughout. This ideally takes 1 to 2 minutes, though sometimes it may take longer if the oil dropped in temperature or the wings were frozen.
Once the skin is crisped up, carefully remove them from the oil. Season them and they are ready to eat!
While I love a perfectly cooked deep-fried chicken wing, I don't always feel like dealing with a lot of hot oil. When that is the case I turn to my second favorite method, which is grilling.
When grilling sous vide chicken wings, the skin won't get nearly as crisp, but the added flavor from the grill (especially if you toss on some wood to add smoke) is worth it to me. Plus I love being outside and it's just a tad healthier than frying the wings :).
To grill the wings, heat your grill to high heat. Add the wings and cook for about 1 to 2 minutes per side. They should be good to go at that point!
To smoke your wings, you will usually need to trade off the amount of smoke you add with the crispness of the skin. The hotter the grill, the crisper the skin but the less time you will have for them to be in the smoke.
I can't always get outside and so I'll often turn to the broiler in my kitchen. It gets up to 550°F (290°C), which is pretty good for searing. The broiler also works great if I'm applying a BBQ sauce that I want to caramelize.
To broiler your sous vide wings, just turn it up to high. Place the wings in a single layer on a sheet pan, ideally on a wire rack, and place as close to the broiler as you can get while still heating them evenly.
You want to keep the broil time as short as possible, ideally 1 to 2 minutes per side.
I personally haven't air fried my wings before since I don't have one, but many people swear by it. As with all finishing methods, you want to use the highest heat you can for the shortest amount of time.
Searing chicken skin with torches is often hit or miss for me. Sometimes it works great, other times it just renders the skin completely, and it'll fall apart. If you want to give it a shot, there's a good chance it will work pretty decently.
If you do use a torch to sear your sous vide chicken wings, you'll want to make sure you re-heat the wings first. The torch doesn't transfer enough energy to raise the temperature very much.
Using sous vide to make your wings does a great job of replacing the traditional "bake in the oven" or "fry once" wings. The sous vide pre-cook breaks down the collagen in the wings without over cooking them at all. Then the final frying stage simply crisps up the skin.
This is similar to the traditional double fry method (which sous vide delivers very similar results to). Similar to that method, you first cook the chicken wings at a relatively lower temperature to break down and tenderize the meat. Then you cook them at a higher temperature to crisp up the outside.
Traditionally, the double fry method uses oil in both steps, which was always too much of a hassle for me since I've never had a dedicated fryer. Being able to offload that initial cook to the sous vide machine greatly simplifies the entire process for me. It does take longer though, so if you have a dedicated fryer, you may be better off cooking them in there the whole time.
The key to getting your wings crispy without overcooking them is to make sure they are completely dry. This can be accomplished in a few ways.
The first is after you sous vide them, remove them from the pouch and pat them dry with paper towels or a dish cloth. Then put then on a cookie sheet, plate, or wire rack and place them in the refrigerator for several hours, or even overnight.
The fridge is a perfect environment to remove the moisture from them. In addition, if the wings are cold when you go to crisp up the skin you have much more leeway.
Some people also recommend just frying them after you dry them off, but I've found that it definitely overcooks them. The wings still turn out great, but because they have been perfectly cooked already, and are hot, it is hard to get a crispy skin in a short enough time to prevent the temperature from raising.
You can easily sous vide frozen chicken wings. Just add 30 to 60 minutes to your original cook time and they will be just fine. It makes it really convenient since you can store them in the freezer and pull them out when you want.
The directions in this article are optimized for drumettes and flats but they will work with most types of wings, or "wing-like" preparations.
I have successfully made sous vided and deep fried chicken thighs and legs by increasing the cooking time to 2 to 3 hours. This would also work well for turkey legs.
Duck legs could also be cooked in this manner, though they may need some extra tenderization time.
This recipe is for dead-simple sous vide wings that you can finish in hot oil or on the grill. You can also freeze the wings after sous viding them so you can easily eat them later.
Preheat the water bath to 156°F (68.9°C) or your desired temperature.
If using whole wings, cut them into drumettes and wing flats, discarding the tips. Salt the wings and place in sous vide bags in a single layer. Seal the bags and place in the water bath. Cook the wings for 1 to 2 hours, or longer if you prefer them more tenderized.
Take the sous vide bag out of the water and remove the cooked chicken wings. Dry the wings thoroughly using paper towels or a dish cloth. If desired, place on a wire rack and set in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight, until dry. They can also be frozen at this point.
Heat some oil to 375°F to 400°F (190°C to 204°C). Carefully place the wings in the oil, working in batches if needed. Cook until the skin has crisped up and the wings are heated through, 1 to 4 minutes. Carefully remove from the oil. Toss with any sauce you prefer, then serve.
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