We live on an island in the Mediterranean called Crete. It is a marvelous place, with delicious fresh vegetables, healthy spices and olive oil. A lot of villagers live much longer than 100 years. Well, at least, if you believe the information provided by the pension funds, which obviously need to keep track of who is still alive in order to know who to pay. In Greece, it often happens that when someone dies, relatives “forget” to inform the pension fund of this little fact. Since the pension is paid into a shared bank account, children and grandchildren can be excused for this lapse in memory. A few years ago, our social funds were pressured into cleaning up their pension book. They required the old people to make an annual pilgrimage to wherever they were receiving their payout to give “proof of life”. Of course you can imagine what happened – Giagia was too weak to come this month. After all, how can you expect a 125 year old to walk from her mountain village to the bank where her pension is being paid out? Thus I would warn anyone from emulating the “Cretan Diet” too closely. In our experience, the locals are not the most clued up when it comes to nutrition. Same goes for exercise. Even though I am 43 and weigh 112 kilograms, I am probably fitter than most of the kids in my son’s grade 10 class. To get a more accurate picture, walk around a Cretan cemetery and you will see that the ages on the tombstones tell a vastly different story to the myth of the eternal diet.
Food is quite expensive on Crete. Local vegetables are more expensive than imported, but Cretans still prefer buying local produce. It must be better. After all, we live to 125. But there are some things that Cretans generally do not eat. For example, chicken wings. In South Africa, where I grew up, we used to love eating buffalo wings. They were considered a specialty and were not that cheap either. Here, on the other hand, they were basically thrown away. Sometimes when we go to the butchery at the supermarket, we would ask for offcuts for our dogs. I remember getting about 30 chicken wings that had been thrown out. Our dogs had a feast. Since hardly anybody buys chicken wings, we can get them for a very good price.
Usually when I buy them, I go big. I don’t just waste my time with a kilo of chicken wings. I purchase at least 5 kilos and it is not unusual for me to come home with ten kilograms of wings. After all, they are cheap and fresh, so why not? So how do I turn them into something that is so delicious that you will want to eat your fingers?
There are several tricks that I use. Before I start, I must warn you that most of my cooking is not very efficient. I want to make awesome food, rather than quickly prepared food. My chicken wings are completely amazing, but they do require a fair amount of preparation.
The first step is to cut off the tips and cut through the joint to get two nice pieces. The one looks a bit like a drumstick and the other is a flatter piece, with two thin bones inside. The next step is to cut off the skin and all the fat. This is really important and a reason why other chicken wings are not as good as mine. You can probably imagine that this will take a while to do. You are right. You need a sharp knife. Lay the piece down on a cutting board and pull the skin tight. Now cut the skin carefully whilst turning the piece around to take all the skin off. If you have pets, they will love the skin and the tips of the wings. You will lose about 20% of the weight of your wings with this, but you shouldn’t eat the skin anyway and the tip hardly has any meat.
So why do I remove the skin? There are very good reasons besides health. You see, the wings contain their own fat and even if you cut the skin off, there is still enough left behind to make the wing delicious. Also, when you marinade wings that have skin on them, the marinade does not really penetrate the skin. It gets repelled by the fattiness. Thus you cannot get the meat to taste awesome if you leave the skin on. Skin is not your friend. Get rid of it and your wings will be more delicious and you’ll be able to eat more of them too.
Cutting off the skin from 10 kilograms of wings will take you about two hours. I usually set up my iPad with a nice movie and watch that whilst trimming. That way I don’t get too bored. As I said, this is a lot of effort, but is worth it.
Next we get to the marinade. For this, I squeeze lots of fresh lemons. You want the wings to be completely covered by lemon juice. Put the skinned wing pieces into tupperware containers and fill those up with the freshly squeezed lemons. Yes, it needs to be fresh. Again, it will take some time doing this, but it’s worth it. Once the wings are covered, I add Cretan Sea Salt (if it’s not Cretan, it won’t taste nice ;-)) and some pure virgin Cretan Olive Oil from the Akrotiri in Chania (yeah, needs to be from here). The wings stay in this marinade for at least an hour, but you can also leave them in the fridge overnight. Just make sure that you store them in the lowest shelf to keep them the coldest possible. The juice needs to completely surround the wings, so mix things up a bit.
Next comes the cooking. I have used various approaches. I have cooked them in the oven, on a gas barbecue and on wood coals. Nothing beats the coals. I would thus strongly recommend that you go to the effort of firing up your coal braai (barbecue) for this occasion. Wood would of course also work and would have the benefit of additional taste from the smokiness. But wood coal is definitely better than oven or gas.
You cannot turn 10 kilograms of chicken wings with barbecue tongs. In fact, you don’t want to turn even 1 kilogram of chicken wings. First off, it is a lot of work. Secondly, you will not get the wings to be stuck close together, something which is rather important. To get the good results, you thus need to use a barbecue grid that you can close and where you can put the wing pieces in between. Stack them very closely together. The thin pieces you would pack tightly next to each other with the thin edge on the bottom, thus making them approximately the same thickness as the thicker pieces.
Before you put them on the braai, make sure that the coals are very hot. Now put them on and leave them for about 5 minutes. Then turn them over. You don’t want them to burn, but you want them to end up brown eventually. I find that it is important to turn them wings quite often. Once the wings have browned a bit, take the marinade in which they were and pour it onto the wings. This is one of the reasons why we want the wings to be very compactly arranged on the grid that you can flip over without flipping each wing piece individually. Pour the marinade immediately after flipping and then leave it for 5 minutes before flipping it again. The salt, olive oil and lemon juice in the marinade will make it completely delicious. I usually braai the wings until the wings are completely cooked through. If you take out a sample and test it, we call this “braaier’s privilege”, there should not be any blood near the bones.
The wings will be really nice, even without any additional sauce. Of course you could make peri-peri spices or sweet and sour sauces to dip your wings in.
The work is worth it – enjoy!