Seasonal salad with crispy chicken wings

From 1981 onwards my menus have always included a salad as a starter, but previously this was something of an innovation as salads were regarded as something to eat with or after the main course. True, there were the French salades composées as exemplified by Salade Niçoise, and their salades chaudes, which weren’t really salads at all but smaller versions of main courses. Then there were our American cousins who were, and still are, addicted to a green salad to start a meal.

Apart from these, the idea of a daily varying salad with seasonal leaves and interesting additions such as croûtons, bacon, avocado, shredded smoked fish or sliced meats hadn’t caught on at all, except at Joe Allen’s in Covent Garden. About 1980, interesting salad leaves began to appear on the British market, liberating the chef from the tedium of iceberg, cos, round or, on a good day, Little Gem lettuces. Nick Lander, the man behind the revitalisation of L’Escargot, wanted me to put a two-price salad on the menu which could be a starter or a main; he also wanted it to be vegetarian if possible. I came up with two: the vegetarian had croûtons and avocado (a version of one of the salads from Joe Allen’s, but hold the raw sliced mushrooms), and the meaty version had these Cantonese-inspired chicken wings. Using the term ‘seasonal salad’ as a title for a dish was initiated by me on one of my brief forays from Soho when I helped open 192 in Kensington. It has now passed into common menu-speak.

Having been rude about old-fashioned salad leaves above, I must confess that the mixed salad leaves packaged so enthusiastically by the supermarkets are beginning to bore me to the point where I long for a simple salad with one sort of leaf. However, this dish requires a selection of about three types: these can be varied according to season, but should include a conventional lettuce (perhaps cos), a bitter lettuce (curly endive) and a red lettuce (oakleaf).

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Ingredients

  • 24 chicken wings
  • Soy Master Stock
  • 2 tbsp sunflower oil
  • enough mixed seasonal salad leaves for 4 people
  • 8 spring onions

Vinaigrette (makes more than you need here)

  • 1 tbsp wine vinegar, colour doesn’t matter
  • 1 tbsp sherry vinegar
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 5 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 5 tbsp olive oil

Method

Trimming the Wings

The wings will be sold intact, in three discernible sections: the tip, the middle and the mini version of a drumstick where they were attached to the breast. Using poultry shears, cut the tip off at the joint. Repeat with the other joint. It is important that the cuts are made between the bones at the joint, separating cartilage and not splintering the bones. Only the middle joint is served in this recipe (use the mini drumsticks in another recipe. Add the wing tips to the soy master stock.

Cooking the Wings

Add the middle joint of the wings to the simmering stock, and simmer gently for half an hour. Pour through a colander, catching the liquid in a bowl below. Return the stock to its pan and continue simmering. Allow everything else to cool sufficiently so it can be comfortably handled. Separate out the wing tips, the garlic, chilli, star anise, ginger and tangerine peel, and return all of these to the simmering stock.

Slide the bones out of the wings while they are still warm. This is not as hard to do as it sounds because the tips of the bones will be protruding if you have trimmed the wings as instructed above. They will simply slide out. Do not let the wings cool completely as the meat will re-attach itself to the bones. Lay the boned wings on a tray and chill until needed.

Return the bones to the stock and simmer for a further hour then pass the stock through a fine sieve and return to a clean pan. Bring the sieved stock to a boil. As it approaches boiling point, a considerable scum of chicken debris and fat will collect on top. Remove this with a ladle. Allow the stock to cool and refrigerate or freeze until needed for another dish.

Making the Vinaigrette

Combine the two vinegars, mustard, salt and pepper in a bowl and whisk until amalgamated. Still whisking, add the oils in a steady stream. Transfer through a funnel to a bottle. Those fancy beer bottles with a clip-fastening stopper are perfect for this purpose and should always be washed out and saved. This is a good all-round salad dressing, usually referred to in my restaurants as house dressing.

Assembling and Serving

Heat a large non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Add the sunflower oil and carefully place in the wings skin side down in a single layer and sauté for 5 minutes, then turn and cook on the other face for a further 3 minutes. The wings should be crisp and may splutter a bit when any residual stock in them combines with the oil.

While the wings are crisping, wash all the salads, dry in a salad spinner and tip into a serving bowl. Trim and cut the spring onions into fine shreds (julienne), and set these aside until the wings are ready. Add 4 tbsp of the vinaigrette to the salad bowl and toss. Place the cooked wings on top and scatter with the spring onions.

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