Oven-fried chicken wings are right up there with deep fried in the flavor category–these are so good, you’ll want a double or triple batch to keep your crew happy! The za’atar, a Lebanese spice blend of wild thyme, sumac, and sesame, is lightly dusted on the wings after baking for an extra dimension of deliciousness.
Even shoe leather would taste good if you put butter on it.
That’s what my grandfather used to say, and his children love to remember it. I hope it doesn’t mean that his Lebanese immigrant family, in those early early years on the frozen tundra of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, had to eat anything akin to shoe leather. Let’s say not.
Like his kids, I do love to remember his words, too. This grandpa-saying floats through my mind every time I make chicken wings, which has become startlingly often. I’m talking once a week. This is one of the few times I’m actually looking forward to the Superbowl (commercials and half-time only get me so far into it), because I can make the wings again. Plus, they’ve become holiday fare: I showed up at the massive Shaheen family Lebanese Christmas dinner with an equally massive platter of wings, half spicy, half not. You’d have thought they were the kibbeh, or the grapeleaves. As Aunt Hilda would have said: Honey, they raved about them.
They wanted to know how, and what’s in. It was one of those moments where I was wishing I had some really surprising secret to reveal about how I made them taste so good. What I’ve discovered in my wing-devotion is that those babies taste good no matter what you put on them. They are, in effect, like butter (I mean: buttah).
So as a baseline, just putting salted wings on a sheet pan in the oven at a fairly high temp and letting them roast until the fat has rendered and the skin is crisp will reward you highly, and you will have done nearly nothing to deserve it.
But we do like to cook, and for the most part, we don’t like to fry. Here that’s more about mess than good health, because we don’t eat wings because they are good for us, no? Cauliflower buffalo-style these are not.
I’ve landed on my mom’s oven-fried chicken method for the wings, by dusting them in highly seasoned flour (in which a lot of salt is key; taste the flour and keep adding salt until you can taste it) and then just barely coating the wings in a little neutral oil on a sheet pan before baking them for nearly an hour.
Finishing these bad boys is an exercise in personal creativity. You can just stir them up right there on the pan in their own juices and go. You can put the warm wings in a bowl and douse with your favorite hot sauce. Throw in some butter and you’re back to buffalo-style.
Or you can go Lebanese, without sacrificing heat at all. Hit your za’atar however hard you can handle with cayenne; start easy, stir, taste, and adjust. Like anything with za’atar, it takes a lot to get that real za’atar flavor, so stir a few heaping spoons of za’atar with the warm wings.
As for sauces, I’ve mostly abandoned them. I notice that nobody really dips in. A wing is self-sufficient, it seems. But if you want one, try cool laban (plain yogurt) swirled with crushed dried mint, lemon, and salt. Some blue cheese crumbles don’t hurt that.
Don’t miss the little crispy delights that form on the well-baked chicken sheet pan. These salty savories are the cook’s treat, one my brother Dick got me into when we were kids and Mom made oven-fried. Now I’ve got my nephew John asking every time if I saved the chicken crispies for him. Those things, he says, are like buttah.
Oven Fried Chicken Wings with Spicy Za'atar
If your grocery only sells whole wings, ask the butcher to cut them into drummettes and wings, discarding the little tips. Be sure to bake the wings long enough to render most of the fat and crisp the skin.
- 3 pounds chicken drumettes and wings
- 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Neutral oil, such as canola or safflower
- 3 tablespoons za'atar
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more or less to your heat-liking)
Pat the chicken dry and season with salt and pepper. Bring to room temperature. Place the oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a heavy sheet pan with Silpat, nonstick foil, parchment, or nothing at all. Pour 3 tablespoons of canola oil in the center of the pan.
In a bowl, mix the flour with paprika, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Taste a touch of the seasoned flour to be sure there is enough salt, adding more until you taste it. Dredge the chicken in the seasoned flour just before baking. Shake excess flour off each piece and place on the sheet pan, running them very lightly through the oil as you go.
Bake for 50 minutes, or until the chicken is deep golden brown.
In a small bowl, combine the za’atar with a pinch of cayenne, adding more until desired heat is achieved. Place the warm wings in a bowl and spoon the za’atar over them, stirring to coat. Serve immediately.