2/01/2013 02:44:00 PM

Chef Secrets: Hugh Acheson & Andy Ricker Talk Super Bowl Wings

Andy Ricker's wings, photo: roboppy via Flickr
Chefs Hugh Acheson and Andy Ricker may come from totally different culinary corners, both ideologically and geographically, but they are two of the most creative chefs we know when it comes to chicken. Acheson, who won the James Beard award for Best Chef: Southeast in 2012, might be most well known for his acidic judging style on Season 10 of Top Chef – not to mention his trademark “Hughnibrow.” The Ottawa native and his Georgia restaurants 5&10 and Empire State South have become critical and popular darlings thanks to Acheson’s playful, ingredients-driven take on New Southern cookery.

Ricker, who was the recipient of the Beard award for Best Chef: Northwest in 2011, is chef-owner of Thai street-food dynamo Pok Pok Ny, which took NYC by storm last year, seven years after its buzzy start in Portland, Oregon. Ricker’s Thai riffs on hot wings have developed nothing short of a cult following.

Two chefs, two paths to delicious. Acheson shortcuts you to the classic spicy-rich version, whereas Ricker makes a savory-sweet, Vietnamese fish-sauced variety.

Ask Hugh Acheson what the secret is to amazing wings and you’re likely to hear about simplicity and good ingredients, which makes sense for a guy who likes his wings “full and spicy but not burn-a-hole-in-your-belly spicy.”

“My favorite is pretty classic,” he explains. “Fry the wings and then toss them with hot sauce that has been mounted with butter.”

“The key is good chicken, good oil, a good fire extinguisher, and neighbors who won't complain about the smoke or the smells. Easy, right?”

Oh, yeah. That’s another thing about frying wings – it generates a lot of smoke. In order to dispense with the smoke-filled-living-room, grossed-out-guests scenario, some opt to oven-bake their wings. But Acheson doesn’t recommend it. “The baked ones just don't do it for me. I make chicken wings about twice a year so it's go fried or go home.”

“Except,” as he reminds us, “I am at home.”

And that’s just it. How do you pull off fried deliciousness in your cramped downtown apartment? It’s a toughie, but if you, like Hugh, want to go fried, he has a tip for getting around the smokefest. “Blanch [the wings] in 275-degree oil until almost cooked through and then remove and cool. Once you have them to that stage then you can just spot-fry them at 360 degrees until crisp and done. That way, you are not tied to the stove all party long.”

Park these bad boys in front of your hungry friends – and don’t forget the honey, hot sauce, or whatever – and you’re home free.

Andy Ricker wants to be sure New Yorkers make no mistake about it: the smoke situation can get pretty nasty. You may not want to attempt wings in the first place “unless you like your whole apartment smelling like fryer oil.”

Still, if you are in dire need of wings and your resolve to cook is steadfast, then sure: square your shoulders, channel your inner ninja, and get to it – Ricker’s not going to stop you. But if you’re going to go for it, he warns, you have to go big: “buy good quality wings” (“natural, fresh”), “find a good recipe,” and maybe even “get a covered countertop electric fryer.”

Ricker and Acheson are in agreement on one point, and that’s the futility of baking your wings. “Nah. Fry 'em,” Ricker counsels.

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