We love Trader Joe's as much as the next cheap wine-swilling, Candy Cane Joe-Joe-snarfing American (except when they're shafting tomato pickers), but some things, even God shouldn't touch. Kyochon's chicken wings, to be precise. Where angels fear to tread, Trader Joe's wades in.
Perhaps you've heard the radio ads touting Crispy Spicy Chicken Wings with Soy Garlic Sauce, boasting that they're flash-fried then cooled then baked in an oven. Hmmm, sounds familiar.
The Trader Joe's product page makes it even clearer:
"Next stop, Korea. And boy, are we glad we decided to add some Korean-style cuisine. We'll admit that we didn't discover these wings in Korea; rather, experiences in several restaurants in Los Angeles' Koreatown led us to wonder if we could possibly recreate wings like these so that you could enjoy them at home. Yes we could. And we did."
Sorry, Trader Joe's. You couldn't. You didn't.
Kyochon's chicken wings are perfection. They're a double-fried wonder, crisp beyond belief, succulent on the inside and miraculously light.
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Found in the frozen foods aisle, the ersatz Trader Joe's wings are heavy, breaded more like the fried chicken at KFC and they require far longer than the recommended 20 minutes to become even moderately crisp.
Where Kyochon's sauce has a piquant sweetness, attained (if we're to believe Saveur) with the help of strawberry jam and soda pop, Trader Joe's sauce is a boring blend of soy and garlic with a dose of heat. Take out the sesame seeds, add some chile and you'll have a sauce that tastes like Soy Vay Veri Veri Teriyaki, which TJ's sells (or used to sell). You're better off dipping Trader Joe's chicken wings in barbecue sauce, but even then, they're not good.
Maybe for folks in Peoria (why is this poor Illinois town the avatar limited opportunity?) who can't head over to Koreatown at 11 p.m. on a Tuesday night and order up a couple dozen wings, Trader Joe's Crispy Spicy Chicken Wings with Soy Garlic Sauce are a treat. If you live in Los Angeles, and you've ever loved Kyochon's chicken wings, then the Trader Joe's imitation feels sad, even a little insulting.