Chicken Wing Tacos with Salsa Macha
Empellón Cocina, Empellón Taqueria, and Empellón Al Pastor, NYC
Adapted from Tacos: Recipes and Provocations by Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman (Clarkson Potter, 2015)
As Alex Stupak tells it: "I was in the eastern Mexican state of Veracruz when I first encountered this strange and magnificent infused-oil salsa. It tastes like the offspring of Sichuan chile oil and Frank’s RedHot, which is to say it is delicious to the point of being narcotic. It works well on just about anything and it lasts for a long time in your refrigerator, thanks to the vinegar content. Like so many Mexican recipes, there are countless versions of this salsa, fortified with different nuts and seeds and spiked with various chiles. I love the way the tiny, hot árbols complement the natural richness of the peanuts and sesame seeds, but work with what you’ve got in your pantry—piquín chiles and almonds make a great macha, too.
The first time I tasted vinegary, wicked-hot salsa macha, it made me think instantly of Frank’s RedHot sauce and, by extension, of buffalo wings. This taco brings that affinity full circle, with confit chicken wings and a garnish of crunchy celery and blue cheese. If I were the sort of man who didn’t vehemently hate football, I’d probably eat a tray of these tacos with a bowl of chicharrones while watching the game with my bros. This taco is delicious anytime, though. Even if you’re not a bro."
12 árbol chiles
1⁄2 cup vegetable oil
1⁄2 cup raw, shelled, unsalted peanuts
2 tablespoons hulled sesame seeds
3 peeled garlic cloves
1 canned chipotle chile
1 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon honey
For the filling:
24 chicken wings (about 4 1⁄2 pounds)
Kosher salt, as needed
12 peeled garlic cloves
6 cups lard, melted
1 celery heart, split in half lengthwise
1 cup roasted and salted peanuts, roughly chopped
6 ounces (about 3⁄4 cup) crumbled blue cheese, such as Cabrales or Gorgonzola dolce
2 limes, each cut into 6 wedges
12 corn or flour tortillas
Make the salsa: remove the stems from the árbol chiles and gently roll the chiles between your fingers to remove the seeds. Discard the seeds. Set a 2-quart nonreactive saucepan over medium heat and add the vegetable oil, peanuts, sesame seeds, and garlic cloves. Cook, stirring, until the peanuts and sesame seeds are golden and the garlic cloves begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Add the árbol and chipotle chiles to the saucepan and set aside to steep for 10 minutes.
Place the mixture in a blender along with the vinegar, salt, and honey and purée on high speed until completely smooth. Set up a medium-mesh sieve over a bowl and pass the purée through the strainer. Let cool to room temperature. Transfer to a container and refrigerate until ready to use. Makes about 1 1/2 cups. The salsa will keep for up to 1 month.
Make the filling: preheat the oven to 350°F. Remove the tips and drumsticks from the chicken wings and reserve them for another use. Season the remaining chicken wings liberally with salt and nestle them in a 5 1/2-quart Dutch oven with the garlic cloves. Pour the melted lard over the wings until covered and top with a lid. Place in the oven and cook for 90 minutes, or until fork-tender.
Remove the Dutch oven from the oven and let rest covered and undisturbed for 1 hour at room temperature. With a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken wings to a baking sheet and gently remove the bones, keeping the wing pieces as intact as possible. Arrange the wings skin side up and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or overnight.
Preheat the broiler. Brush the chicken wings with some of the Salsa Macha and place under the broiler until they sizzle and the salsa bakes into them, about 3 minutes. Set aside in a warm place.
Assemble the tacos: warm your tortillas, then lay them out on serving plates. Place 2 chicken wings on each tortilla and drizzle with some of the remaining Salsa Macha. Top with the celery, peanuts, and blue cheese. Squeeze a couple of the lime wedges over the tacos and serve the rest on the side.
Makes 12 tacos