Mina's Green Harissa Chicken Wings with Preserved Lemon Dip

Friday, December 12, 2014

Disclaimer: I received a product sample and compensation for this post. The opinions and text are all mine.

Now that all the traditional Thanksgiving cooking is behind us, I'm ready to get back in the kitchen for the fun stuff. With both the holiday season and football season in full swing, this is an excellent time to add some new dishes to serve at your next party. Few things please a crowd better than chicken wings, but when you add a spicy Moroccan kick to those wings, you've really got yourself a winner. I was thrilled when Mina Harissa asked me to put my own spin on a recipe for chicken wings using her green harissa sauce. You might remember it's the same sauce I used in my zucchini fritters awhile back. By now you may be familiar with the fiery red harissa sauces becoming popular in mainstream cuisine, but this green harissa is also something worth trying. It's got a warm, slightly spicy green chile and green pepper flavor with garlic and cumin in the background. It makes a wonderful dipping sauce on its own, but I was curious to find out how it would work on the wings.

In my first take, I roasted the chicken wings and tossed them in a sauce made with the green harissa, butter, parsley and cilantro. Yummy and reminiscent of the way I've done a lot of other roasted wings. Not so photogenic though, I will admit, and I knew I could come up with something a little more creative. I eyed the tub of Greek yogurt sitting in the fridge and had an idea to use the harissa as a marinade for my wings instead of as the sauce. Moroccan flavors and yogurt work beautifully together, so the combo seemed a natural fit. I've also had great success grilling yogurt marinated chicken breast in the past, so I figured why not try wings. I whisked together some yogurt with the harissa to make a thick marinade and tossed a small batch of wings in it, reserving half of the same mixture to make a dipping sauce. A few hours later I was ready to cook. Or so I thought. As my son walked by and saw the yogurt coated wings he said, "That looks like buttermilk. Are you frying those?" And I paused for a moment, realizing he was right, and wondered why in the world I didn't think of it myself. I eyed a jug of peanut oil I had in the pantry and knew my soul wouldn't rest until I at least tried it. The rest is history, because fried wings always win.

I decided to take the dipping sauce in slightly different direction for my final recipe trial as well. I've had this huge jar of preserved Meyer lemons sitting in my fridge for a couple months. Preserved lemons are fresh lemons that have been cured in a salty brine. You can actually eat the rind once preserved, so I like to use Meyer lemons which are even softer and sweeter. They're really easy to make, the only hard part is waiting three weeks. I followed this recipe from The Kitchn. I've chopped them up for salads and stews, but other than that haven't really figured out how to best use them. It's one of those cooking projects everybody tells you to do, and then once it's done you're like - ok, now what? So the sauce ended up being a cool experiment using those lemons, which are often used in Moroccan recipes. You can buy preserved lemons in many upscale grocery stores, but I really suggest going ahead and trying your hand at making a batch while Meyer lemons come into season this month and through the winter!

Mina's Green Harissa Chicken Wings
with Preserved Lemon Dip

4 lbs fresh chicken wings, separated at the joint and wing tips discarded
2 qts peanut or grape seed oil, for frying
2 cups AP flour (preferably White Lily)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp Ras el Hanout spice blend*
2 tsp black pepper

For the marinade: 
3/4 c. full fat Greek yogurt
1/3 c. Mina Green Harissa
2 tsp Ras el Hanout spice blend*
2 tsp kosher saltmon
Zest of 1 Meyer lemon and 2 tsp lemon juice

For the dipping sauce:
1 preserved Meyer lemon (or the equivalent wedges)
1/2 c. full fat Greek yogurt
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp honey
2 tbsp chopped cilantro
Cracked black pepper, to taste

*Ras el Hanout is a Moroccan seasoning. It can be bought in your grocery store's spice section, or made at home. The blend will vary widely depending on the recipe, but that's okay so long as you're getting the Moroccan flavor profile here.

Servings: 4
Prep Time: 15 min active; at least 2 hours marinating time
Cook Time: 30 min
Equipment Suggested: 8 cup capacity deep fryer or large cast iron skillet or Dutch oven pot; blender or food processor, candy/deep frying thermometer 

To prepare the marinade, mix the yogurt, green harissa, lemon zest and juice, salt, and Ras el Hanout together until well blended. I specify Meyer lemons throughout this recipe but regular lemons are fine if that's what you can get. Try to use organic lemons when you'll be using a lot of the peel in your recipes.

Toss the wings and marinade together. This is easiest in a plastic bag. Make sure the wings are well coated in yogurt. Zip up the bag and refrigerate to marinate at least 2 hours and up to 8 hours.

The sauce can be made ahead of time; in fact the flavors will intensify a bit if you give it time to chill out in the fridge while the chicken marinates. To prepare your preserved lemons, rinse them off really well in warm water to remove excess salt, and pull off the flesh. The rinds are what you want here. 

Combine the yogurt, lemons, oil, minced garlic, honey and pepper in the blender. Even though it will all be pureed, it's better to finely chop the garlic or put it through a garlic press so that you don't end up with a chunk of raw garlic that escaped the blender blades! Blend until the mixture is smooth and creamy, then taste to adjust seasoning if needed. Depending on how salty your lemons were, you may find that an extra dollop of yogurt or touch more honey is needed for balance. The preserved lemons will provide plenty of salt to this dip, so don't be tempted to add any extra until you taste that it's truly needed. 

By the way, if you're itching to try this recipe and don't have preserved lemons yet, you could get a similar effect using a ton of fresh Meyer lemon zest and a good pinch of salt. Not quite 'authentic' but it'll still be a yummy flavor.

Finally, stir in the chopped cilantro. I like to do this part separately so that the whole sauce doesn't turn green in the blender. If you're not a big cilantro fan, parsley or mint would work too. Chill the sauce until needed. 

Last thing to do before you're ready to fry is get the flour seasoned to dredge the chicken. At this time I also preheat my oil in the Dutch oven (or deep fryer if you're using that...I miss mine!)

In keeping with the "plastic bags are easier" theme, I just mixed up the flour, baking powder, salt, pepper and Ras El Hanout in a clean bag.

Toss the marinated chicken in the flour and shake up the bag so everything gets coated evenly. It's easier to do this in a couple batches to give the chicken enough room.

Lay out the dredged chicken on a baking sheet or rack in an even layer. It should sit for a few minutes while your oil is heating; this helps to make for a good batter. 

You want the oil to reach a temperature of 375°F before you drop in the wings. Use a candy thermometer that you can clip to the side of your pot, or a probe thermometer like the one I have below. That way you can monitor the oil temperature continuously while you fry and adjust the heat if necessary. 

Of course, if you have a deep fryer your life is infinitely easier.  I had to give mine up in the move and miss it dearly. Follow the manufacturer's directions for frying chicken. 

When you're using an open pot or skillet to fry, a splatter screen is a great inexpensive investment as well. Besides preventing a mess on your stovetop, some are also made to absorb odors.

Chicken wings don't take long at all to fry when fully submerged in oil, 5 to 7 minutes depending on their size.  Color is the best indicator, so look for the wings to turn a deep golden brown. If they are browning too fast the oil is probably too hot, and the meat might not cook all the way through on the inside. (If that ever happens, you can still save your wings - just finish baking them in the oven!)

Because cookware and ingredients vary so widely it's hard to provide an exact formula here. Frying is still a little bit intuitive no matter how good the recipe is. Just remember that you can always fry one chicken wing to test if you're unsure, and you'll become more comfortable with the process the more you do it. Just don't drop too many wings in the pot at once or it will bring the temperature of the oil down too much. Frying in oil that isn't hot enough is what results in greasy chicken because the breading absorbs too much oil instead of instantly creating a crispy seal around the meat. In between batches, let the oil come back up to temperature before adding more chicken.

When you remove the fried chicken, transfer to a paper towel lined baking sheet and hit it with a very light pinch of salt.

Serve the fried chicken with that lemony yogurt dip you made, and plenty of green harissa on the side for some extra heat!

Thanks again to Mina for allowing me to feature her harissa in another recipe. It is always fun to challenge yourself to use a familiar ingredient in a brand new way!

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