Indian Chicken Wings

Indian Chicken Wings
Indian Chicken Wings

We had a handful of spices we really wanted to showcase, ones that are fruity and bold, kind of spicy, and complex. Although some of these spices aren’t terribly common in the American kitchen—YET, we say, because we believe in the power of good food—we love the flavors they impart and felt strongly about presenting them in a way that’s accessible, interesting, and delicious. So we got some chicken wings. Who doesn’t love chicken wings? Everyone loves chicken wings; they’re the ambassadors of the food world and make all seasonings approachable just by their presence.

Once we considered the types of spices we wanted to use in this recipe, we realized Indian-style food was the direction in which we should travel. Then we thought we could emulate the sorts of flavors we’d get if we could cook with a tandoor oven. These small clay pots allow a small amount of fuel fired up at the bottom of the pot to generate extreme temperatures, often able to reach upwards of 900°F. These covered pots keep the smoke and heat in, imparting the food with smoky flavor and crisped exteriors. Indian cooks recommend using liquid smoke or smoked spices to mimic the results of a tandoor oven; we opted to use a smoker to create an all-over, fully smoked and spicy-rich flavor.

The first spice we put in the mix were Byadgi Chiles, a skinny, Indian chile pepper that’s got a steady, high heat. We ground them and were pleasantly surprised by how much they smell like cloves. They gave a spicy backbone to both Amchur and Tamarind Powder. Amchur is green mango that’s been dried and ground into powder; it is tart and a little astringent, and gives a bracing, sour pop. Tamarind Powder is the leguminous fruit of the tamarind tree, and it’s got a berry-like sourness with earthy undertones that are almost reminiscent of lentils. Fenugreek gives a sweet, almost maple-like flavor, and Mace has a peppery, floral, nutmeg-like essence. Turmeric is earthy, Cardamom has a lithe, citrus-mint airiness, Kashmiri Chile Powder adds a solid, deep berry flavor with just a touch of heat; we tied this all together with the steady, piney burn of Black Pepper. We dried the chicken wings off as thoroughly as possible, to give the spice blend the best opportunity possible to adhere to the wings, and coated the wings in this beautiful mix. Then we let it sit in the refrigerator so the wings would be able to absorb every delicious nuance of the spices. You can leave them for up to two days; if you leave uncooked chicken in your refrigerator any longer than that, you’ll run the risk of it starting to go off.

Make sure you give yourself ample time to smoke the wings, since there’s no rushing that cooking process. While you smoke that you can mix up a nice cool sauce—a kind of raita, a traditional Indian yogurt-based sauce—to dip the wings in. Stir grated cucumbers into plain yogurt with lemon juice, honey, and a few spices in the wing mix. We used Turmeric, Kashmiri Chile Powder, and Black Pepper, but you should play around and decide what you like.

When the wings are fully smoked, let them rest while you build a hot charcoal fire for the final cooking stage. Once the charcoal is ready, put the wings on the grill and let them crisp up. We can’t stress enough that you need to turn the wings frequently in order to avoid burning, particularly around the skinny, bone-end parts. We flipped ours once every 30 seconds or so; you might not need to flip quite that frequently depending on the heat of your fire, but the point is that you should remain vigilant. Your wings should only take five minutes, or possibly less, to fully crisp up. Serve with your simple yogurt sauce on the side, and enjoy!

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Prep Time: 20 min.
Cooking Time: 240 min.
Cuisine: Indian

1. Thoroughly dry chicken wings with a lint-free kitchen towel.

2. Remove stems from the Byadgi Chiles and grind in a spice or coffee grinder. 

3. Combine the ground chiles with all of the other spices.

4. Fully coat wings in the spice rub, place on a rack, and refrigerate uncovered for at least 2 hours and up to 2 days. 

5. Preheat the smoker to 225°F.

6. Smoke wings at 225°F until their internal temperature is 165°F, this will take roughly 1 to 1.5 hours.

7. Allow the wings to rest while preparing a hot charcoal fire.

8. Grill the wings. Make sure to turn them frequently—every 30 seconds or so, depending on the heat of the fire—to prevent burning. The skin will crisp after a total of 3 to 4 minutes on the heat.