The best aspect of fusion cuisine is when you discover a combination of seemingly unrelated flavors or components that, once you’ve paired them, make you think they have always naturally belonged together.
For me, the surprising match was a meat-and-potatoes Northeastern bar food staple and an Asian comfort-food classic.
The popular Vietnamese dish pho, a giant soup bowl filled to the brim with meat and noodles, is traditionally served with a basket of fresh green vegetables and bean sprouts.. For seasoning, a dipping sauce is also provided.
As a matter of personal taste, I prefer the lighter pho ga, made with chicken, to its deeper flavored, beefy cousins. After years of eating pho ga I realized that part of my craving for the soup was because I loved the dipping sauce called nuoc cham gung.
In the sauce, finely minced ginger and garlic mingle with flecks of dried Sichuan peppers in a vinegary-salty-sweet sauce, accentuated with lime-citrus notes.
With one of those wonderful epiphanies that happen to people who think about food a bit too much, I realized that nuoc cham gung would make a good marinade and glaze for my favorite appetizer, Buffalo wings.
Chicken on the bone, cooked on the grill or in the oven, has a moist-sweetness that is accentuated perfectly by my modified version of nuoc cham gung.
Because of its deeply flavored saltiness, fish sauce, variously called nuoc mam in Vietnam or nam pla in Thailand, is an essential ingredient in the recipe. Easily found in Asian markets, the sauce is inexpensive and lasts for years in the refrigerator.
Vietnamese Buffalo Wings
Serves 4 as an entrée or 8 as an appetizer
- In a large non-reactive bowl, dissolve the white sugar in warm water. Add the other ingredients, stir to mix well and add the chicken wings. Transfer to a sealable plastic bag and refrigerate one hour or, preferably, overnight.
- Remove the wings and transfer the marinade to a small saucepan, adding the brown sugar. Stir to dissolve and reduce by a half or, if you want a thicker glaze, by two-thirds over a medium flame to create a glaze that should have a good balance of sweetness and heat. Taste and adjust for more sweetness if desired by adding another tablespoon of brown sugar.
- The wings can either be grilled on a barbecue or baked in a 350 F oven on a rack on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil for easy clean up. Turn every 10 minutes. Cook until tender, about 30 minutes.
- Place the wings on a large plate of Asian noodles, steamed rice, or shredded lettuce. Just before serving, pour the hot glaze over the top.
Zester Daily contributor David Latt is a television writer/producer with a passion for food. His new book, “10 Delicious Holiday Recipes” is available from Amazon. In addition to writing about food for his own site, Men Who Like to Cook, he has contributed to Mark Bittman’s New York Times food blog, Bitten, One for the Table and Traveling Mom. He continues to develop for television but recently has taken his passion for food on the road and is now a contributor to Peter Greenberg’s travel site and the New York Daily News online.
Photos, from top:
Vietnamese-inspired pho Buffalo chicken
Nuoc cham gung.
Credits: David Latt