Caramel Kuli Kuli Chicken Wings
inspired by Chuku’s
This pandemic has well and truly killed the buzz of a restaurant opening.
Being one of the first customers to try new dishes, to be guinea pigs for orders of service and staff training – that used to be an amazing experience.
But after the past six months with opening, closing, opening again, closing again. All with constant adapting and retraining to fit different guidelines. Some of the excitement has gone out of it, hasn’t it?
Every restaurant across the country have staged multiple reopenings over the past six months. Each with new menus, new orders of service, new dining room layouts or added outdoor areas.
Not to mention the wet led pubs that have served food for the first time. Totally reinventing their trade.
Plus all the click and collect and delivery services that businesses now offer.
It’s been all the work of opening a new business, but simply to keep going.
So whilst we wait to see when hospitality is next allowed to open, let’s think back to last year. To a proper restaurant opening in February 2020.
This time last year the team behind Chuku’s were about to open their first permanent site. After four years of pop ups they had successfully crowdfunded over £30,000 in 30 days. Then the really hard work began.
And at the end of January last year I was walking past their restaurant, wondering what was happening inside.
I was working across the road, so at the beginning and end of my long twelve hour days I would see the team working (even longer days) to get the site ready.
Even more excitingly the next time I worked at the theatre they were open and doing their soft launch. I would longingly gaze across the road as I was dashing out on my lunch break for a sad supermarket sandwich, wishing I had more time to go and find out what was going on. It looked like everyone in the restaurant was having an amazing time. It looked so much fun!
I swore I would be back. That next time I would make time to go and eat there. Then everything stopped in March and I’ve not been back that part of north London since.
There’s tentative plans to be back at the theatre in the spring. I’m not only hoping my work goes ahead, but that it does when Chuku’s is back open so I can finally try their food.
So in the mean time I’m going to try and create one of their Nigerian tapas dishes at home.
One small problem is I know practically nothing about Nigerian food.
I have a look at the menu.
Lots of things I recognise, but there’s plenty of ingredients I don’t. Suya, cassava, chin chin. I have no idea. But of all the dishes there is one that stands out….
“Caramel Kuli Kuli Chicken: Sticky chicken wings coated in a caramel infused with Kuli Kuli – a Northern Nigerian peanut spice mix”
Sweet, nutty, spicy chicken wings? Yes please!
So off I go to google Kuli Kuli, to find out how to make it.
Turns out it’s a kind of dried peanut snack, so it’s something I need to buy, not make.
In more normal times I would head off in search of a Nigerian food shop. But with staying at home being the order of the day I do something new.
I order something edible on eBay.
A few days later a parcel of Kuli Kuli arrives in the post. Now what on earth do I do with it?
I read lots of blogs and recipes online. The most helpful is My Diaspora Kitchen, explaining that there are different ways to make a suya spice mix, and that in parts of Nigeria they use kuli kuli instead of ground peanuts.
I follow the spice mix recipe as best I can. I don’t have onion powder, but I add a little all purpose seasoning, as I know it contains onion powder, to show willing.
The trickiest part is trying to make a fine powder from the Kuli Kuli.
I try breaking it into pieces and blending. But my food processor is having none of it.
In the end I have to grind it bit by bit in a pestle and mortar and then pass it through a course sieve to get out any remaining lumps that I’m too tired to crush any more.
I divide the peanut powder in half. Some I keep in an airtight container, for the caramel later on, and the rest get’s added to the spices.
Once the spice mix is combined (and my arms have recovered) I rub most of it over the chicken wings (which I have separated into wingettes and drumettes) and put in the fridge to marinate overnight.
The remaining suya spice is kept safe, ready to be brushed over the meat before roasting tomorrow.
Next day I get the meat out of the fridge an hour before cooking, in order to come back to room temperature.
It’s only at this point that I realise I have never cooked chicken wings before. Something I would order in a restaurant. I wonder why I’ve never thought to try them at home?
So it’s back online to work out cooking timings. I find a great Suya Chicken Wings recipe from My Active Kitchen which I refer to as I cook. I’m going to cook them for 45 minutes, turning every fifteen.
I spread the chicken wings out on a wire rack ready for roasting. I mix the remaining suya spice with some vegetable oil and brush it over the meat. Into the oven it goes.
After 15 minutes I turn the chicken and brush with more of the spice mix. Back in for another quarter of an hour.
Time to make the caramel.
I heat some sugar and water until all the sugar has melted and is beginning to turn a lovely golden colour.
I add the rest of my kuli kuli powder (saved from yesterday) and stir to combine.
Once the chicken has had 15 minutes on both sides I take it out and turn again. This time I brush it with the caramel and put it back in the oven. In the end I decide to turn it once more, so each side has a caramel coating.
Once out of the oven they look delicious. Sticky and caramelised. A sprinkling of crushed peanuts completes the dish.
The chicken wings are everything I hoped they would be. Sweet and spicy and wonderful nutty.
Let’s hope it’s not too long until I’m back in north London, so I can go to Chuku’s.
I have a sneaking suspicion that it will also be everything I hope it will be. And much, much more.