Alice Yang fries up a batch of her famous chicken wings in the kitchen of Club Star Palace, where she works as a manager.

Chicken Alice

Die-hard fans yearn
for the spicy wings she
fried up a decade ago

Attention all you chicken-wing wackadoos -- the dozens who have called, written and e-mailed in search of Chicken Alice and her priceless recipe.

I figure your numbers increase exponentially once we factor in all those who wanted to ask but never did, plus everyone else who just really, really misses those wings. We'd end up with a wackadoo count in the thousands.

But to get to the point: Chicken Alice has been located, and was more than willing to tell you how to make her slightly spicy, very crispy chicken wings. Keep reading.

Alice Yang came to Hawaii from Seoul 30 years ago as a college student with an interest in business. She started with a bar near the University of Hawaii, then in 1980 opened the Korea House bar on Keeaumoku Street, in the land mass now occupied by Wal-Mart.

Although her mother owned a restaurant in Seoul, Yang didn't build up a cooking background. "I never thought I was going to have a restaurant. I guess it's destiny. Or fate."

But she wanted a finger food she could give her customers -- thus were her famous chicken wings born, the perfect accompaniment to cocktails.

The wings proved immensely popular, so, in 1982, Yang opened a restaurant in their honor, Chicken Alice's on Kapiolani Boulevard just outside Ala Moana Center. She sold takeout Korean dishes, too, but it was the wings that cemented her success.

"Busiest day is Super Bowl day," she recalls. "Super Bowl day we open 6 in the morning. We're taking orders for several days before. ... A lot of people have a lot of memory for that."

The place was a hit, and Yang expanded with outlets in Kailua and Pearl City. But it was too much. After five years of trying to service all three restaurants every day, Yang shut down the outlying locations, which never did as well as the first. "Sometimes too much, no good."

The old Chicken Alice's restaurant closed in 1995, but loyal fans still wax nostalgic for the crunchy, spicy wings. Yang makes them on occasion for her best customers at Star Palace.

In 1995, facing competition from the Ala Moana food court, she closed her flagship, as well. "Things start slacking down. They asked me to open in Ala Moana. I should have."

Instead, '95 began a long dry spell for her faithful customers.

These days, Yang cares for her 94-year-old mother by day and manages a bar called Club Star Palace six nights a week. She hasn't ventured far -- Star Palace is a short hop from the old Chicken Alice's, and just across Keeaumoku from Wal-Mart, site of Korea House.

For her best customers, she'll occasionally make a batch of her wings.

The Chicken Alice recipe has been among the Top 5 requests sent to this column for years. My predecessor, Kekoa Catherine Enomoto, also fielded her share.

A typical plea: "They had THE BEST spicy Korean chicken wings that were virtually red with all the chili peppers," wrote Dianne Lu, now of Chicago. "I really miss those chicken wings."

Yang was lying low, although she says she was aware people were looking for her.

Finally, a one-time faithful Chicken Alice customer recognized Yang during a visit to Star Palace. "Aren't you Chicken Alice?" he said, then secured her telephone number and sent it here. Last week, both of us sat down with Yang at Star Palace over a plate of wings.

Now, as for these wings: They are battered in a simple mixture of flour, water, salt and garlic. The key ingredient is Parks brand kim chee sauce -- made locally and used primarily as the base for kim chee. It includes chili peppers, fish sauce, paprika, garlic and ginger -- and turns the batter pink.

"We buy from the factory, by the bucket, 5 gallons," Yang says of her Chicken Alice days.

Parks brand kim chee sauce, found in Asian markets, is critical to Chicken Alice's wings.

The sauce is available in Asian groceries -- I found it, for example, at Daiei and at Palama Super Market. It sells for about $3 for 8 ounces, although Palama has 1- and 2-pound jars as well. Look for it in the refrigerated section, near the kim chee and tofu.

Yang marinates the wings in the batter for a few hours, then fries them. The recipe is simple, but technique counts for a lot. By that I mean skillful deep-frying. Yang's wings are nice and crunchy on the outside, juicy and perfectly cooked inside. If you don't fry a lot, you'll probably have patchy results until you get the hang of it. Oil temperature needs to be a consistent 350 degrees so you don't burn the outside before the inside is cooked through.

I did pass some wings around to people who remember Chicken Alice's. Their across-the-board comment was that these rekindle memories -- but they just don't seem as spicy.

Well, taste buds do dull with age, but if you do want more sizzle, that kim chee sauce is powerful stuff. Add more.

Yang says she's so far only given this recipe to friends. But the people of Hawaii have made her feel welcome, she says, and sharing her recipe is her way of giving back. "I give it away to state of Hawaii people," she says. "I hope they like it."

By the way, how much do you really miss these wings? Enough to put your money where your mouth is? Yang is ready to open another restaurant; she's looking for a financial partner.

Until then, do it yourself:

Chicken Alice's Wings

5 pounds chicken wings
Vegetable oil for deep frying (Wesson brand preferred)
» Batter:
1/3 cup Parks brand kim chee sauce
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons salt
2-1/2 cups flour
2 cups water, or more, as needed

Rinse and dry chicken. Cut off and discard wing tips. Cut through joint to separate drummettes from other half of wing.

To make batter: Combine kim chee sauce, garlic, salt and flour. Add water gradually, enough to make a thick batter, about the consistency of pancake batter.

Add chicken pieces to batter, mix well and marinate in refrigerator 2 to 3 hours.

Heat oil to 350 degrees. Deep-fry chicken pieces about 10 minutes, until chicken rises to surface and coating is deep brown.

Note: Find Parks kim chee sauce at Asian markets such as Palama Super Market or Daiei, in the refrigerated section near the kim chee.

Approximate nutritional analysis, per serving: 160 calories, 11 g total fat, 3 g saturated fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 160 mg sodium, 5 g carbohydrates, no fiber, 1 g sugar, 10 g protein.

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