Kinkis: The Wings Beneath My Belt

A late-night stop in Atlantic City pays off in peerless chicken wings.

Wings at Izakaya in Atlantic City.
Photo by Erik Rank.

I knew I wanted to try Michael Schulson’s Kinki chicken wings as soon as he told me how he had come across them.

That was over the winter. I was on the phone with Schulson (right), interviewing him about his year cooking and living in Tokyo—the experience that provided much of the inspiration for Izakaya, his new restaurant in the Borgata in Atlantic City. Now my wife and I were driving from North Jersey down to Cape May on a rainy Friday night in April. It was already late, but since Izakaya stays open until 2 am weekends, we knew we could make the Borgata in plenty of time to order a plate of wings and a few other goodies before continuing on our way. Provided you don’t overeat, extremism in the pursuit of good food is no vice.

Izakayas are the pubs of Japan. During his year there, Schulson had told me, he fell in love with their atmosphere, their vast sake selection, and their gustatory specialties. In the Kinki region of southern Japan, near Osaka, he and his wife found an izakaya that made what he called “unbelievable chicken wings, the best I ever had. We went there three times to try to figure out the [cooking] process, with my broken Japanese.” 

Now, at a shade before 11 pm, the waitress brought to our table at Izakaya a black iron pan with a pail handle. Inside were about a dozen Kinki chicken wings, segmented and stacked as neatly as firewood. They looked different from other wings—not battered like fried chicken, not slathered with sticky sauce like buffalo wings, but plump, with crisp skin under a golden sauce so neat it appeared to be lacquered on.

As thin as the sauce was, it was full of spicy flavor (from ginger, garlic, and chili roasted together and mixed with honey, scallions, and sweet mirin wine, Schulson told me later). Beneath the piquant coat, the chicken itself was flavorful and juicy, not at all greasy. The wings cost $14. We splurged on half a dozen jewel-like Kumomoto oysters ($18) and velvety Kobe beef carpaccio ($14). With a generous bowl of crab, shiso, and edamame fried rice ($16), we had ourselves a satisfying meal.

The key to the Kinkis is patient labor. Schulson’s recipe first cures the wings for about three hours in water seasoned with salt, sugar, and Chinese five-spice powder. Rinsed, the wings are then simmered in duck fat, turning them into confit. Then they’re drained and cooled for twelve hours, during which quiet time the skin nicely tightens so that, when finally deep-fried, the wings need no batter. At the end, the chili sauce is brushed on, and the rest is paw, gnaw, and awe.

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