Just a few blocks down from our apartment in the Inner Sunset is an eatery known as San Tung Chinese Restaurant. At most times of the day and on most days of the week, there is a sizable line of people outside of the restaurant waiting to order one thing: the original dry-fried chicken wings, a dozen battered wings coated in a sweet & spicy sauce that is admittedly very addictive.
The name San Tung is a butchered spelling of Shandong, a coastal province to the southeast of Beijing famed for its bold, flavorful cuisine that constitutes one of the oldest and most influential styles of cooking in China. The actual technique of making Shangdong-style fried chicken is to boil the chicken, hang it up to air-dry, and then deep fry for a crispy finish reminiscent of Peking duck. This recipe is much less labor-intensive (and incidentally, healthier) in that the wings are coated in baking powder, air-dried, and cooked in the oven, a fool-proof method first published in Cook’s Illustrated for crispy wings that do not require batter or oil. After baking, the wings are tossed in a sauce consisting of garlic and dried chiles simmered in a solution of water, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and honey. The final product is not quite as crunchy or mouthwateringly savory as their deep-fried San Tung counterparts, but it comes remarkably close for a baked wing.
oven-fried shandong style chicken wings
- 4 lbs chicken wings
- 3 tbsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 2-3 scallions, chopped
- 1-2 sprigs of cilantro, coarsely chopped
- 2 cups water
- 4 tbsp soy sauce
- 4 tbsp brown sugar
- 2 tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1 tsp white pepper
- 2 tsp salt
- 6 dried chile pods
- 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
Remove the chicken wings from the packaging, lay them on a baking sheet lined up parchment paper or aluminum foil, and pat dry with paper towels. If desired, slice off the wing tips and separate the wings from the drumettes.
Working in batches, toss 4 lbs of chicken wings with 3 tbsp of baking powder and 1 tsp of salt in a large mixing bowl. Return the wings to the baking sheet, skin side up, and refrigerate uncovered for 30 minutes – 24 hours. The longer the chicken has to dry, the crispier it will become after baking.
When ready to cook, transfer the baking sheet to an oven preheated to 450F and bake for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, add all of the sauce ingredients except for the cornstarch to a small pot or saucepan and stir until mixed. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then lower the heat to medium and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
Near the end of the cooking, dissolve 1 tbsp of cornstarch in cool water. Bring the sauce to a boil again, stir in the cornstarch slurry, and cook for 1-2 minutes over high heat. Lower the heat and continue cooking until the sauce has thickened to a syrupy-like consistency, adding more cornstarch slurry if needed.
When the chicken is crisp and golden, remove them from the oven and toss them in the sauce. Garnish with chopped scallions and cilantro and serve immediately.
The listed seasoning quantities are rough guidelines – adjust the white pepper, brown sugar, honey, and chile pods to the desired level of sweetness and spiciness.