Mission Chinese Food Chef Danny Bowien was born in Korea and adopted by parents in Oklahoma. From pop-ups to being named Rising Star Chef by the James Beard Foundation, he’s been praised for reinventing what he calls “Americanized Oriental Food” at his restaurants in San Francisco and New York. His new book, The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook, was co-authored with Lucky Peach magazine editor-in-chief, Chris Ying. Featuring some of his most popular recipes, it’s full of the riveting self-expression that has given rise to Danny’s career.
La zi ji is one of the dishes most commonly associated with the Sichuan city of Chongqing, where it’s composed of 95% dried chiles and 5% chicken. At his popular Mission Chinese Food restaurants in San Francisco and New York, Chef Danny Bowien uses a combination of fried chicken wings and tripe for a mix of proteins and a layering of different textures.
Danny’s trick to preparing the perfect chicken wing is to—as he says—”treat it like a French fry: par-cook it, freeze it and fry it.” Freezing the chicken wing causes the liquid in the skin to expand and burst its cell walls, resulting in a perfectly thin, crackly, crispy skin—no breading necessary!
Mission Chinese Food: Chongqing Chicken Wings (La Zi Ji)
Yield: Serves 4 as part of a larger meal
You need to parcook the wings a day ahead, so don’t start this recipe on Sunday morning thinking you’ll have wings in time for football.
3 lbs chicken wings (either mid-joints or whole wings)
½ lbs honeycomb tripe
¼ cup kosher salt, plus more as needed
½ cup vegetable or peanut oil, plus 8–10 cups for deep-frying
½ cup cornstarch, for dredging
4 cups dried Tianjin chiles or other medium-hot red chiles, like chiles Japones
About ¾ cup Chongqing Wing Spice Mix (recipe follows below)
Prepare ahead: Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, toss the wings with salt and ½ cup of oil. Spread the wings out on a wire rack set over a baking sheet. Bake the wings for 15 minutes, or just until the skin appears cooked but not browned. Let the parbaked wings cool to room temperature, then lay them in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze, uncovered, overnight.
Next day: Clean the tripe thoroughly under cold running water, scrubbing vigorously to remove any grit. Place in a pot, cover with cold salty water by 2 inches, and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil for 10 minutes, partially covered, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 2 to 3 hours, until the tripe is very tender. Drain in a colander, rinse under cold water, and cool completely.
Meanwhile, retrieve the wings from the freezer and allow them to thaw at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours.
Slice the cooked tripe into strips about ½ inch wide and 2 inches long. Set aside. In a deep pot or a wok (or use a deep-fryer), heat about 4 inches of oil to 350°F. Pat the tripe strips dry with paper towels, then dredge them in the cornstarch, shaking off any excess. Working in batches, if necessary, deep-fry the wings and tripe for 4 to 6 minutes, or until golden and crispy. They should cook in about the same amount of time.
Meanwhile, toast the Tianjin chiles in a hot, dry wok or skillet for about a minute over high heat, stirring continuously so the chiles cook evenly. Transfer to a plate.
Drain the fried wings and tripe, shaking off as much oil as you can (or let them briefly drain on paper towels). Then transfer to a large bowl and dust them generously with the spice mix, tossing to coat. Add the toasted chiles and toss well. The chiles will perfume the dish, but they aren’t meant to be eaten.
To serve: Transfer everything—aromatic chiles and all—to a serving platter and present to your awestruck and possibly terrified guests.
Chongqing Wing Spice Mix
Yield: Makes about 1 cup
Spice Mix Ingredients
2 tbsp whole Sichuan peppercorns
2 tbsp cumin seeds
2 tsp fennel seeds
2 star anise
2 black cardamom pods
1½ tsp whole cloves
2 tbsp cayenne pepper
2 tbsp + 2 tsp Mushroom Powder (recipe follows below)
2 tbsp + 2 tsp sugar
1 tbsp kosher salt
Toast the Sichuan peppercorns, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, star anise, cardamom and cloves in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring continuously until fragrant. In a small bowl, combine the toasted spices with the cayenne pepper, Mushroom Powder, sugar and salt.
In a spice or coffee grinder, grind the spice mix to a powder, working in batches if necessary. The spice mix will keep in an airtight container for about a week before losing much of its potency.
Yield: Makes about ½ cup
This is the gentleman’s MSG. It’s umami incarnate, in powdered form. It makes dishes more savory, but since it’s made primarily of powdered dried mushrooms, it lacks the stigma—unwarranted or not—of MSG. You can find mushroom powder at Asian markets or online, usually from Taiwanese producers. But a slightly less potent, and less mysterious version is easily made at home. I wouldn’t recommend making this in a large batch, as the flavor dissipates over time.
1 (1-inch) square of kombu (for dashi)
½ oz dried shiitake mushrooms, stems removed
Use a pair of kitchen shears to snip the kombu into 4 or 5 smaller pieces, then grind it to a fine powder in a spice or a coffee grinder or blender. Transfer to a bowl.
Grind the mushrooms to a powder and combine with the kombu. Store in an airtight container at room temperature. Like ground spices, this begins to lose its potency immediately.