In 2005, inside a jury-rigged takeout shack on SE Division Street, chef Andy Ricker struggled in vain to reproduce a roadside Vietnamese fish-sauce chicken wing. This was before the James Beard awards, the three New York spinoffs, and the relentless national media attention. It was just Ricker and Ich “Ike” Truong, his first and only employee (Ricker’s Pok Pok empire now employs 170), trying to crack the code of one of Southeast Asia’s most addictive drinking snacks.
Truong now works as an engineer for Pok Pok, but back then, the Vietnam native helped Ricker perfect a formula for the chicken wings—sealed in a sticky-sweet glaze stippled with bites of caramelized garlic—that would catapult the humble food shanty into the national spotlight. In 2013, the secret recipe was finally declassified with the release of the Pok Pok cookbook, along with nearly 100 obsessively perfected recipes and techniques for cooking Thai food in America. Be warned: there are no shortcuts—but the intricacies are what make Pok Pok exceptional. And this particular adaptation is a tribute to one of the cult-forming dishes that put Portland on the culinary map, and to the man who made it possible. Raise a wing to Ike.
Ike’s Fish-Sauce Wings
8 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup warm water
1/2 cup Vietnamese fish sauce (Ricker recommends Phu Quoc or Three Crabs brand)
1/2 cup superfine sugar
2 lbs medium-size chicken wings (about 12), split at the joint
Vegetable oil (for frying)
1 cup rice flour
1/4 cup tempura batter mix (Ricker recommends Gogi brand)
1/4 cup water
Optional: 1–2 tsp naam phrik khao soi (roasted chile paste, for “spicy wings”)
(1) CHOP garlic finely, sprinkle salt, and chop together for about 15 more seconds.
(2) SCRAPE into a small bowl, add warm water, and let sit for a few minutes.
(3) POUR through a fine sieve set over a bowl, and use the back of a spoon to stir and smoosh garlic against the sieve, reserving leftover garlic.
(4) ADD fish sauce and sugar to bowl and stir until dissolved.
(5) PLACE chicken wings in a separate large bowl, add 1/2 cup of fish sauce mixture (reserve the rest in the refrigerator), and toss well.
(6) COVER and refrigerate wings for at least four hours, or overnight, tossing every hour or so.
(1) HEAT 3/4-inch of vegetable oil in a small pan over high heat and add reserved garlic.
(2) REDUCE heat to medium-low, fry until garlic is lightly golden brown, about 5 minutes, and transfer to paper towels to drain (set aside until final cooking stage).
(3) TRANSFER wings from refrigerator to a colander in the sink and let drain for 15 minutes.
(4) STIR together rice flour and tempura mix in a large bowl and toss wings until coated well.
(5) POUR enough oil into a wok or dutch oven to completely submerge the wings, about 2 inches, and bring oil to 325 degrees (measure with a candy thermometer).
(6) FRY wings in two batches, gently knocking them against the bowl before adding to the oil.
(7) COOK each batch until evenly golden brown, about 10–12 minutes, prodding every few minutes.
(8) TRANSFER wings to paper towels to drain.
(1) ADD 1/4 cup water to the reserved fish sauce mixture.
(2) COMBINE 1/4 cup of the water–fish sauce mixture and half the chile paste (if you are using it), bring to a full boil in a nonstick wok, and reduce for about 45 seconds.
(3) ADD half the wings and toss every 15 seconds, until a caramelized glaze coats the wings, about 1 minute.
(4) ADD 1 tbsp of the fried garlic, toss well, and cook about 30 seconds longer.
(5) RINSE and wipe out wok, and repeat with the next batch of wings.
(6) SERVE wings with pickled vegetables, cucumber spears, and herb sprigs.