Gary's Teriyaki Chicken Wings (Recipe) - And a Nod to Andy Ricker

I told him it would be our little secret. I'd keep it to myself, if he'd just show me how he made those fantastic wings I'd be satisfied. No one else ever needed to know ... well, I doubt he believed my solemn promising and head nodding any more than I believed he really wanted or expected me to keep this recipe a secret. If I'm wrong, the worst thing that could happen is I'll lose my job. Finger's crossed!

To make sure we're all on the same page, the man I'm referring to so cryptically is my boss, Gary Yamamoto. I feel like I talk about him all the time in reference to how instrumental he has been in developing my interest in cooking and eating good food, but as I glanced through my cooking blog, I realized I'd never featured him here directly. This surprised me. I thought for sure I had mentioned him!

And then I realized, I've been talking a lot about him, sure, but in reference to his and my "day job", which is manufacturing soft-plastic fishing lures for bass fishing. I've posted food adventures with Gary on my Facebook page, on our company Facebook page, on his website featuring his ranch, the Inn at BK Ranch, and all sorts of places that are Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits company-related. But never on my food blog. Duh!

I've worked for Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits for 17 years. Gary started his tackle company long before that, but as I was making my debut at his main office in Page, AZ, he was headed east for Texas. After dabbling for several years in professional fishing circuits out west, Gary set his sights on serious tournament fishing which still has its roots deep in the south. The BASSMASTER and FLW Tournament Circuits both claim southeastern states as their home base and most events take place east of the New Mexico border. Additionally, Texas appealed to Gary because it's a great place to raise cattle, specifically Wagyu (which literally means "Japanese cow"), a breed made famous in Japan for producing that melt-in-your-mouth Kobe beef. These cattle are genetically predisposed to intense marbling. If you've never had it, I don't recommend it ... it's addicting.

Gary still owns and operates his ranch and you'll find a nice head of Wagyu cattle grazing there, but the man just couldn't stay off the water long enough to seriously pursue selling his cattle to supermarkets and restaurants. Instead he raises his cows for genetics purposes and he seems pretty satisfied with that.

It was Gary who introduced me to not only the best beef I'd ever tasted, but traditional Japanese food and cooking techniques. The more I traveled with him covering tournaments (I edit our online fishing magazine), the more refined my palate became and the broader my curiosity of food culture reached. In addition to his ranch in Texas, Gary spends his "free-time" (when he's not fishing professionally) down on the Gulf of Louisiana, doing some in-shore/off-shore salt-water fishing. Following the BASSMASTER Classic in Shreveport, LA last year, I pointed the car south and spent a week with him at his home near Grand Isle, LA. For the first time I experienced just how much my boss cares about where his food came from, how he prepared it, and what he did with the "stuff" that was left over.

We caught our own bait fish at the docks behind his house for off-shore saltwater fishing and no part of the fish was thrown out: Gary ground up the skin, bones and guts and put them in his crab-pots to lure in tasty crabs and shrimp. Now that's eating ocean to table!

This past February I had the chance to stop by and visit Gary again, but this time at his ranch in Texas. The folks I was traveling with spent their days out fishing on his eight well-stocked ponds, but I chose to spend my time puttering around the kitchen with Gary. Did I mention he has a commercial-sized kitchen? There's not a pot, pan or cooking utensil he doesn't have handy and he quickly dragged me over to show off his two new industrial-sized deep fryers. Our little party of ten had breakfast, lunch and dinner cooked and served to us every day by Gary himself. He just enjoys sharing his love of food and cooking with others.

Occasionally I had to slip away and get some actual work done (shooting some pics of the ranch for their website and capturing memories of big-fish caught on the ponds) but I got lucky enough to receive detailed instructions on Gary's much-coveted Teriyaki Wings. He made me promise not to tell anyone, which is typical of a fisherman, but I don't think he'd mind if I shared it with my good friends here on my cooking blog. My version varies just slightly from Gary's - he uses regular flour to bread his wings before deep-frying, but I like to use rice flour which is a lot lighter and produces the thinnest, crispiest coating. Additionally, I like to brine my wings using Andy Ricker's (Pok Pok) Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce  brine recipe. It really infuses the meat with even more flavor. I've included Gary's easy and exact recipe for making Teriyaki sauce and I have repeated his instructions on frying and coating the wings just as he gave them to me. I just tweaked some things up a bit!

Gary's more than just my boss - he's a fellow foodie who sincerely cares about food and how it brings people together. I feel special every time he shares a "secret" recipe with me. Duomo arigatou gozaimasu, Mr. Yamamoto.

Gary's Teriyaki Wings (with Andy Ricker's Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wing Brine)

Ingredients

3 pounds chicken wings split at the drummettes

Rice Flour to dust wings

Oil for frying (I like peanut oil, but vegetable oil is fine, too)

2 scallions, chopped finely

Sesame seeds

Marinade Ingredients

1/2 cup fish sauce

1/2 cup superfine sugar

2 garlic cloves, crushed

Teriyaki Ingredients

1 cup Sake

1 cup soy sauce

1 cup superfine sugar

To make the marinade, in a bowl, whisk the fish sauce, sugar and crushed garlic. Add the wings and toss to coat. Refrigerate at least four hours, tossing occasionally. Drain the marinade and discard (if you go with Andy's original recipe, which you can find at foodandwine.com, he boils and thickens the marinade and then tosses the wings in it to coat, after frying. I've done that and it's awesome, but I also really love Gary's wings and this recipe is about him, so we're moving on the Teriyaki coating this time.)

To make the Teriyaki Sauce, in a small saucepan, simmer the sake, soy sauce and sugar until sugar is dissolved and sauce thickens slightly. Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl. Sauce can be stored in the refrigerator for a week or two.

Heat the oil (at least 2 inches of oil) in a large pot or deep fryer to 350-degrees. Dredge the chicken wings in the rice flour and shake off the excess. Fry your wings in batches until golden and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Drain on paper towels and transfer to a bowl.

To coat the wings, place about 1/2 a cup of Teriyaki sauce in a saucepan and heat over medium-high heat until the sauce begins to bubble. Drop one or two wings into the sauce and turn with chopsticks to coat, then remove to a bowl or pan. Repeat with remaining chicken wings, adding Teriyaki Sauce to the saucepan when it becomes too thin, until all your wings are coated.

Finish wings by sprinkling with scallions and sesame seeds - to make them pretty and presentable, which Gary would just hate.