Chicken Wings with Celery and Bottarga is not a traditional Sardinian delicacy. Bottarga and celery, yes; chicken wings, ah no. This dish is, in fact, the love child of two different desires, Jody’s yearning for wings and my own wish to do another Sardinian recipe before I throw in the towel, tuck my shorts away in my Camp Grenada footlocker. Sardinian wings were the result, and just in time. A couple of days of freezing rain have stripped more than a few trees in our neighborhood of their autumn raiment; limbs are skeletal,not festive and the uncleared sidewalks resemble the killing floor in a chlorophyll slaughterhouse. And it got cold, provoking someone in our house to violated the First Law of Yankee-dom: No one shall touch the thermostat until November 1st. The one good thing about cold weather is that it means a new harvest of bottarga will be soon at hand. And with this wings recipe in hand, when this season’s bottarga becomes available in mid-to-late November or early December, you’ll be primed. While everyone else is still fumbling with their laces you’ll be burning down the track, chicken wings and celery bundled under your arm. Nyah-nyah-nuh-nyah-yah. And how did we make this recipe if bottarga won’t be available for another month? Easy, we whittled down our own two-year-old chunk of umami ambergris that has been cooling its eggs in our fridge. No lie – I ordered it online at the end of 2012. When was the last time you consumed something from your fridge that was two years old? Still as potently delicious as the day we bought it. With chicken wings and celery it was a ménage à trois made in heaven. After Jody left at the conclusion of our cooking and shooting session, I was the only one home, not counting the Lagunitas IPA’s in the fridge. The next morning there were no wings to be found. Draw your own conclusions.
Quick review: bottarga is the dried roe of gray mullet, tuna or, sometimes, swordfish. In Sardinia it’s made from gray mullet roe; in Sicily and a few other places in southern Italy, from tuna, and in Greece, from flathead mullet. To make bottarga, roe sacks are salted and then allowed to dry as the salt draws out the moisture. The dried roe sac may be coated in beeswax or not, depending on whether the processor left the original casing intact or not. When finished, bottarga resembles a hard caramel-colored plaque. It may be shaved, sliced, or grated. Processors will typically suggest that it keeps for months, if refrigerated; I’m here to say that ours, at slightly less than two years, is still good, with no sign of decay, mold or decline. In fact, the only visible changes between its appearance now and when we bought it is that 1) It’s much smaller (haha); and 2) It’s a bit darker. It’s flavor is as potently briny and marine as the day it arrived. In fact, that’s why you buy bottarga – it tastes of the sea. Not in a salt-flats-at-low-tide kind of way, but in the bracing, exhilarating stand-on-top-of-dune-and-smell-the-cold-sea kind of way. In Sardinia and elsewhere in southern Italy, it’s a featured ingredient in a simple pasta dish, highlighted on bruschetta or part of an antipasti. In Sardinia it is often accompanied with thinly sliced celery. But saying bottarga is for these few dishes is like saying preserved lemons are wonderful in chicken tagine – technically true, but akin to identifying an iceberg as that glacial thing projecting above the water, without disclosing that the greater part of its being lurks below the surface. So with icebergs, so with bottarga. Think of it as the number one choice on just about anything that requires a savory hit of marine umami. Think where you use fish sauce, or garum (had I known about bottarga earlier this blog might well have been titled The Bottarga Factory). Pasta, eggs, polenta; atop shrimp, baked fish; and even, yes, over a soft-boiled egg atop steel-cut oats.
And, unlike preserved lemons, you don’t have to make it – you just have to buy it.
Bottarga’s cost is what stops many people cold. Wait, you want me to pay $60 for how many ounces – five!!?? Six??!! Yes, I do. Because you’re not going to rip through your supply like the bi-monthly jug of maple syrup. Bottarga lasts. Roughly figure that bottarga will cost you $8-10/ounce. Two-and-a-half ounces will generously suffice for pasta for 4. And ounce and half will make killer bruschetta for the same number of people if you shave it over 10 – 12 slices of toasted baguette, especially if the bruschetta slices includes other ingredients, like say a couple of slices of hard-boiled egg. Bottom line: of our original purchase, about a third remains. Until this post, we had almost half of our original supply. See the bottarga in the photo. That’s about an ounce and a half. We had a second piece, not seen in the photo, that was about one-third the size of the piece shown – that was the half-ounce grated over the wings.
When I first wrote about bottarga 6 months ago, I found a single American manufacturer, in Florida. A recent Google search turned up 3 – a second one in Florida, and one in New York that uses mullet roe from Florida. Bottarga has now been prominently featured in the food section of the New York Times, in Saveur, on the blog Food52 and a raft of other publications, both online and off. I have a feeling that all of us are going to hear a lot more about bottarga in the future. It may not be the next kale, but it’s the next something. With this post we intended to say goodbye to Sardinia, but I think Sardinia has followed us home. We still have an ounce-and-half of our original bottarga left, and only a month to finish it off before it will be time to re-up. I’m thinking baked potatoes, a little smoked salmon, some crème fraîche and a Sardinia-level grating of bottarga. We can eat whatever’s left on scrambled eggs the following morning. Enjoy. Ken
Note: We lost power 4 times last night. I was lucky to get through the post. Unfortunately, one of those electrical interregnums must have caught my instructions to PUBLISH. Better late than never.
Chicken Wings with Celery and Bottarga
- 3 pounds chicken wings, first and second joints only
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon garlic, grated on a microplane
- Zest and juice of 2 lemons
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
- 3 large radishes, thinly sliced
- ½ ounce Bottarga
- Season the chicken wings with salt and pepper.
- In a large bowl, mix the garlic, half the lemon juice and the vegetable oil. Add the wings and toss to coat. Let macerate 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 425 °. Lay the wings out on a rack on a sheet pan. Roast 20 minutes. Turn and roast an additional 10 minutes. Add a quarter inch of water to the bottom of the pan. It will make clean up easier and prevent any drippings from burning.
- While the wings are roasting, put the remaining lemon juice, the zest and honey in a clean large bowl and mix.
- When the wings are done, transfer to the bowl with the honey mixture and toss to coat.
- Put the wings back on the rack and roast 10 minutes.
- Turn the heat to broil and cook until the wings start to brown, about 2 minutes. Turn the wings and broil the second side another 2 minutes.
- Dump the wings back into the bowl with any remaining marinade and toss once more.
- Sprinkle half the celery and radishes onto a platter. Put the wings on top. Sprinkle the remaining vegetables over the wings and then grate the bottarga over everything.
I had a craving for chicken wings on my drive home from work Wednesday night, but it was late. Whole Foods was closed and there’s not much else on the drive from Cambridge to Brookline though Allston and Brighton. I had to make do with a cheese sandwich. The next morning, I saw that one of the top stories in the New York Times Wednesday food section was chicken wings. It must have been in the air.
Anyway, I wanted to do something with chicken wings. It is
foodball football season after all. (Oops! You see where my priorities are!) Ken wanted us to post about bottarga and celery, since we can’t seem to let let go of Sardinia. Then we got to riffing on variations. “Buffalo wings have celery, right?”
There are so many ways to make wings and I think most people prefer them grilled. You could surely grill these. But in the spirit of keeping things simple, I chose to roast them.