Chef Andy Ricker of Portland’s Pok Pok is a James Beard award winning chef and culinary icon known for bringing some of the most authentic northern Thai dishes to diners here in the states. I am lucky enough to live within a day trip of the restaurant and a few months back, my folks and I endured the incredibly long lines to sample some of his exotic fair. Thankfully all of the dishes were fantastic. The menu is complex and a bit unusual, filled with flavors and ingredients that I have never tasted in my life.
To put it simply, it was an eye opening and addicting experience. Some background on the legend himself is due. Andy Ricker visited Thailand the first time as a backpacker in 1987. He has spent several months each year since his second visit in 1993 traveling, eating, cooking and studying food culture in Thailand and neighboring countries. By sourcing ingredients himself during his yearly Thailand trips, he has been able to stick close to the authentic dishes that seem lost in most if not all Thai restaurants here in America. American palates seem to have a preference for sweet over sour and hot. The dishes at Pok Pok couldn’t be more different. In fact he is so enamored with the Thai cuisine that he has tried to force restaurant goers to step outside of their normal comfort zones and try things they wouldn’t normally try.
Case in point: Pok Pok doesn’t serve Pad Thai…thats right, the iconic Thai staple here in america, and he refused to put it on his menu.
This guy is my hero.
I went a little crazy with the ordering during our visit (which my gf and family can attest too) and as usual, I can never settle on just one item…I wanted to try everything!
It’s in another state and who knows when my next opportunity to try it again may be right?! You gotta go all out and stuff your face with as many different items as you can…okay well, maybe that’s just my thing, but my point is that his menu is akin to taking a trip into another country all together and I wanted to soak it all up. My families first mistake was handing me the ordering keys How crazy did I go?…Here are some of the items I ordered for us.
Muu Paa Kham Waan-Boar collar meat rubbed with garlic, coriander root and black pepper; glazed with soy and sugar, grilled over charcoal and served with chilled mustard greens and spicy chili/lime/garlic sauce (Northern Thai drinking food): Check.
Papaya Pok Pok- Spicy green papaya salad with tomatoes, long beans, Thai chili, lime juice, tamarind fish sauce, garlic, palm sugar, dried shrimp and peanuts made to order in the pok pok (mortar and pestle). Their namesake: Check.
Kung Op Wun Sen- Wild caught gulf prawns baked in a clay pot over charcoal with pork belly, lao jiin, soy, ginger, cilantro root, black pepper, Chinese celery and bean thread noodles. (The Chinese influence on Thai food in full evidence): Check.
Laap Pet Isaan- Spicy Northeastern Thai chopped duck salad with duck liver and skin. Lemongrass, herbs, toasted rice powder, dried chilies, lime juice and fish sauce. (delicious variation on Laap Isaan): Check.
Hoi Thawt- Crispy broken crepe with steamed fresh mussels, eggs, garlic, chives and bean sprouts, served with Shark Sriracha Sauce. (Thai street vendor’s specialty, popular in night markets): Check.
Sticky rice, roasted lime peanuts and delicious Vietnamese coffee would accompany these plates as well. They were all delicious and certainly unique.
That all seems like a ton of food, and it was, but the portions were small enough that everyone could try each dish without inducing a food coma. There were about 15 dishes I put on my to do list that didn’t make the cut sadly.
Of course you came to this post because of the one dish not included in that list. You know, the one that truly put Pok Pok on the map. I am speaking of course, of the insanely addictive, sweet, salty, sticky she devil known as Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce wings! Who would have thought, that at a restaurant renowned for its authentic northern Thai cuisine, that the most famous item on the menu would be a Vietnamese dish! ( The dish is based off of a family recipe from one of Pok Pok’s daytime cooks, Ike, from his home in Vietnam).
We had our wings before the rest of dinner, across the street at Andy’s Whiskey Soda Lounge (http://www.whiskeysodalounge.com/) as we waited for our table. I had long heard of these wonderful wings from every foodie blog and chef known to man. Did they manage to live up to my lofty expecations? Damn right they did! I am going to go out on a limb here, but these are the best wings I have ever eaten. Ever. These are the definition of “Meat Candy”.
Everything I read about them was true, and these simple wings have haunted my dreams ever since that fateful trip…so much so that I had been day dreaming about how soon I could make a return visit.
Portland is only a short 3 hour drive from Seattle, but I am not about to hop in my rig and head down I-5 every time I get a hankering. I knew what must be done. I had to learn to make them myself.
Thankfully, Andy made the recipe available via Food and Wine Magazine in advance of his still unfinished cookbook. I used this recipe along with a helpful video review of his technique during his appearance on the sometimes (okay mostly) annoying Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive Ins and Dives.
These were for a Superbowl party, and yes, they were a hit! I decided to ditch the cornstarch dredge midway through my batch and went straight naked wings instead. The results were more to my liking both in a textural and visual sense. Without the superfine flour that Andy uses in his own restaurant, corn starch was listed as the closest approximation. Feel free to try both styles yourself, you may in fact love them the way they are in his original recipe. (Full Disclosure: I likely over dredged the first few making the coating burn and not crisp up as they should. My lack of home frying experience at its finest!)
For those of you who are adverse to fish sauce do to its smell or taste by itself, please I beg you, soften your stance. Much like anchovies in Mediterranean cuisine, fish sauce it the salty life blood of SE Asian cuisine. It is in almost every dish and I have grown to adore its savory punch.
These wings are not at all fishy, so please give them a chance, I promise these will convert you.
I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!
Andy Ricker, I’m in love with your wings. Happy V-Day Everyone! (especially to my sweetness Katie!)
Adapted from Andy Ricker’s recipe for Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings, Food & Wine Magazine
WARNING: THESE ARE FAR FROM HEALTHY…JUST AS THEY SHOULD BE
When frying anything in batches, it’s important to allow the heat of the oil to rebound to its original temperature for consistent and efficient cooking. While these wings taste great as is, the addition of crispy fried garlic at the end add another dimension of flavor. Simply fry another two cloves of minced garlic in a couple of tablespoons of oil until golden and drain on paper towels before adding during the final toss with the caramel.
- 1/2 cup Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce (I prefer Khai Hoan fish sauce from Phu Quoc)
- 1/2 cup superfine sugar
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- 3 pounds chicken wings, split at the joint
- Vegetable oil for frying
- 1 cup rice flour or corn starch (optional, I chose to redact this from my recipe)
- 1-2 tablespoons chili garlic sauce (such as Huy Fong brand)
- 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro and mint for garnish
- In a small bowl, add 2 cloves of the minced garlic and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Massage the salt into the garlic to begin to extract its oils. Dilute with 1/4 cup of water and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Strain the garlic mixture through cheesecloth into a clean bowl, squeezing to extract as much flavor as possible.
- In another bowl, prepare the marinade by whisking together the liquid garlic extract, fish sauce and superfine sugar. Add the chicken and the marinade to a resealable zip-top bag and place in the refrigerator overnight. Make sure to toss the wings occasionally to evenly distribute the marinade.
- Preheat the oven to 200°. In a large heavy bottomed pot and using a deep-fry thermometer, heat 2 inches of oil to 350°. Remove the wings from their marinade and pat dry on paper towels; reserve the marinade.
- For the cornstarch option: In a medium bowl, lightly dredge each wing in a coating of the rice flour or corn starch, making sure to pat off any excess. Fry the wings in batches until golden and cooked through, about 7-10 minutes. With frying subsequent batches, remove the wings to a baking sheet lined with a wire rack and place in the oven to stay warm. I made half of the wings with the dredge and half without. I preferred the dredge-less wings myself, as I simply prefer my wings to be unadorned by the coating. I want that skin crispy and sticky. (Also, I learned that its vital to really shake off any residual cornstarch off the wings, only leaving the lightest coating. Otherwise you will have not-so-tasty burnt flour crust! mmm…moving on)
- Meanwhile, make the wing caramel by adding the reserved marinade to a medium skillet over medium-high heat. (I decided to make a fresh batch of marinade rather than using the leftover marinade) When mixture begin to bubble, add chili garlic paste (optional) to the pan and continue to cook until reduced to a syrupy consistency. Add the fried wings to the caramel and toss to coat. Glaze the wings by adding a small splash of water to the pan to collect the caramelized bits.
- Remove to a platter and garnish with chopped cilantro and mint (this was an awesome combo/pairing with the wings, do not skip it).
Hey …you still here? Good because I have another confession. While making my way through my local Vietnamese grocery store, I happened upon some Duck Wings. Traditionally these may be used to flavor soups and make broths due to the lack of meat and abundance of flavorful skin, collagen and bone. Well, at less than $2 a package, I couldn’t help but be curious how they would translate in this fried preparation.
Turns out…not so well. Sure, they looked the part, and the duck flavor shined through and paired really well with the sticky fish sauce syrup I had been reducing. That was expected. What I should have also expected, but through hope and blinding ignorance did not, was that they would be tough as leather! Now that I can say I have tried them fried, I think I can move on. Live and learn right?
Thanks for stopping by!