Hot Joy! Crab-Fat Caramel Wings


I recently admitted publicly (via social channels) that the one thing I like about football season is guilt-free chicken-wing consumption. It's all in the name of research, see? It's the one time of year I feel truly competitive - something I'm not normally which is why I was always the last one picked on any team. Scouring chicken wing recipes, I wonder if it's possible to out-do the chicken wings I just had?

Several weeks ago I was fortunate enough to enjoy Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings at Pok Pok in Portland, and I wanted more of those fiery, funky wings. I have easy access to them - Andy Ricker's "Pok Pok" cookbook has been making numerous appearances in my kitchen lately, but I was intrigued by a recipe Bon Appétit recently included in their September Top Ten issue (if you missed that issue, stop what you're doing and hunt it down - it's a diners utopia of the best restaurants of 2014 plus recipes of their signature dishes).

Hot Joy caters to what I commonly crave: "funky, spicy, and radically flavored" ethnic mashups. Thai Dirty Rice with the deep, offaly-goodness of chicken liver, Tater-Tot Chaat (paneer, miso gravy, tamarind and chaat toppings) and the menu item that stole my heart: Crab-fat Caramel Wings.

Wait, what? Crab fat? How can that be good?

Don't question it. Just go. Get in a car and go to Hot Joy if you're anywhere near San Antonio. And even if you're not - go anyway. I hear the vibe there (along with the food) kicks ass.

But if you just can't make it this weekend, or anytime soon, head over to the nearest Asian grocer (or fire up lap-top and break out your credit card) and pick up a jar of crab paste with bean oil. Better yet, pick up a couple jars. You're going to want to make these often. If you can't find crab paste, go for shrimp paste which will work, too. But don't be a pussy and not look seriously hard for the crab paste. If you've made Andy Ricker's Vietnamese fish sauce wings, these are similar - this recipe uses fish sauce as well. Where it gets nutballs is creating a gooey caramel sauce with that fish-sauce, then stirring in a bit of crab paste at the end.

These wings are seriously sick and extremely addictive. Bathing them briefly in a wet batter of flour, corn-starch and vodka makes these wings super crispy. My advice? Try them first with the wet batter just because, and next time, if it's too much work for you, just dredge them in equal parts flour and cornstarch. I found the caramel sauce to be so thick that I kind of had trouble tossing the wings in it  so I've adjusted the amount of water added to the caramel at the end. If you find the recipe online at Bon Appétityou'll notice that difference.

An additional note, while I love sweet, funky wings, I also like my wings with a bit of heat, so I added some chile paste in my caramel at sauce as well. To each his own.

Fine, bring on the big dudes bashing each other about over some pigskin, just pass me some freakin' wings. And a beer. Or two.

Hot Joy's s Crab-Fat Caramel Wings

Serves: 4
Time: 1 hour
Difficulty: moderate

From Bon Appétit's 2014 Top Ten Restaurants Coverage - Hot Joy, San Antonio, TX


  • ½cupfish sauce
  • 1½cupssugar
  • ¼cupThai crab or shrimp paste with bean oil
  • Peanut or vegetable oil (for frying; about 10 cups)
  • 1cupall-purpose flour
  • 1teaspoonbaking powder
  • 1½cupscornstarch, divided
  • ½cupvodka
  • 2poundschicken wings, tips removed, flats and drumettes separated
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼cupchopped salted, roasted peanuts
  • Fresh cilantro leaves with tender stems (for serving)


  1. Bring fish sauce to a boil in a medium saucepan and cook until reduced almost by half (it will darken and become pungent), about 5 minutes. Stir in sugar and fit saucepan with thermometer. Cook until thermometer registers 230° (mixture will become thick and dark). Whisk in crab paste and 2-3 Tbsp. water until smooth. Reduce heat to low; keep warm until ready to dip wings. If you like spice, toss in a bit of your favorite heat agent here.
  2. Fit a large pot with clean thermometer and pour in oil to measure 2”. Heat over medium-high heat until thermometer registers 350°.
  3. Meanwhile, whisk flour, baking powder, and 1 cup cornstarch in a medium bowl. Whisking constantly, gradually add vodka and 1¾ cups water, adding more water if batter is too thick (it should be slightly thinner than cream but thicker than milk).
  4. Place remaining ½ cup cornstarch in a shallow dish. Season chicken with salt and pepper and dredge in cornstarch, shaking off excess.
  5. Working in 3 batches and returning oil to 350° between batches, coat chicken in batter, letting excess drip back into bowl, and fry until skin is golden and chicken is crisp and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack set inside a baking sheet to drain. Using tongs, add hot wings to warm caramel, turn to coat, then transfer wings to a platter. Serve wings topped with peanuts and cilantro.
  6. DO AHEAD: Caramel sauce can be made 3 days ahead. Keep airtight at room temperature. Reheat before using.