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Finger-lickin’ good

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I’ve heard some people say they adore lobster, but they’ve never actually eaten one—not really. These people have been served a lobster tail in a restaurant, sometimes alongside a hunk of steak. This is referred to as “surf-and-turf.” The surf is eaten with a knife and fork under a cloak of melted butter and perhaps a squirt of lemon juice. When I, however, partake in lobster, it is preferably in the privacy of my home, and the lobster weighs a pound and a quarter at minimum. All that is left when I am done are the two long, slim antennae that protrude from the head. I have scooped clean the head, body and shell; sucked the 10 little legs for tasty morsels; luxuriated in the sweet meat of the claws, knuckles and tail; and even eaten any ruddy-roe found at its core (if it is a female) and the strange greenish creamy substance called tomalley, which consists of the liver and pancreas. This is messy eating, but worth it. 
Some folks abhor getting down and dirty when it comes to food, meaning they fear anything that must be eaten with their hands. Sticky barbeque, fragrant Chinese pork ribs, chicken wings prepared in any guise and tiny game birds, such and squab and quail, are all verboten. The venerable James Beard, in his memoir “Delights and Prejudices,” wrote of eating squab in San Francisco: 
“Often they are just flattened and broiled a la crapaudine, and sometimes they were stuffed with a savory mixture, roasted and basted with white wine and butter—delicious food to be eaten with the fingers, else one would miss some of its goodness. How many times have I watched diners in restaurants too proud to lift bones to mouth. How they massacred the tiny bird! And what miserable return they got. I have never seen anyone who truly enjoys food who didn’t use his fingers when necessary.”
I once served some dinner guests what I call my “finger-lickin’ chicken wings.” They are marinated in hoisin and soy sauce, honey, garlic, ginger, Dijon mustard, Asian sesame oil and a squirt of fruity hot sauce before being baked until cooked through. Then they’re broiled a couple of minutes until the marinade has become deeply glazed and the skin charred and crisp. A sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds adds visual appeal, flavor and texture. Everyone dug in, picking up the wings by hand, except for one friend who attempted to use knife and fork on the fowl. Naturally, much of the meat clung to the bones, which is where the best meat on any animal resides, and I would bet my guest left the table hungry. 
The thing about eating with your hands, particularly when the food is glazed with a sticky sauce or is slick with grease, is that we are wont to lick our fingers, sometimes unconsciously, but often joyfully and with gusto. This, I think, is the foremost aversion for those who avoid finger food. I wonder if these same folks, as children, did not play in the mud or make sand castles at the beach for fear of mussing themselves up. It is their loss. Now, pass the wings, please.


Finger-Lickin’ Chicken Wings

Serves four as an appetizer

These oven-baked wings are a snap to make. They are great party fare, but equally ideal for a picnic or casual dinner.

  • 2 pounds (about 8 large) chicken wings, wing-tip removed and discarded, then halved at the joint
  • 1 garlic clove
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 1 ½ tablespoons honey
  • 1 ½ tablespoons whole-grain Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
  • ½ teaspoon hot sauce
  • 1 heaping teaspoon toasted sesame seeds (optional)

Mince the garlic, add salt and mash into a paste using the flat of a large, heavy knife. Scrape into a small bowl and add the soy and hoisin sauce, honey, mustard, sesame oil and hot sauce. In a large bowl, combine the wings with the sauce. Toss to coat completely.

Let marinate, refrigerated, for one to three hours. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a large jellyroll or shallow baking dish with foil and coat lightly with vegetable or olive oil. Cook the wings, turning once, for 25 to 30 minutes. Place under the broiler for two to three minutes, turning once, to crisp skin. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and serve hot or at room temperature.

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