Wings of Wonder

In anticipation of the 'Best Wings in Lakewood" competition to held on June 18, 2006 at Lakewood Park, I thought it might be appropriate to give some information and insight on that staple of bars and pizzerias, the "Buffalo" wing. Credit for discovering this tasty treat is generally given to the Anchor Bar, in (where else?) Buffalo, New York. While there are a number of versions to the legend, my favorite version starts on dark and stormy Friday night in 1964. A number of Catholic patrons of the Anchor Bar were waiting for the stroke of midnight when they could once again enjoy meat and asked for a snack that could be passed around. Cook Terresa Bellisimo was trying to figure out what to do with a shipment of chicken wings the bar had received by mistake, and decided to cut the wings in half, so they'd be easier to eat. She deep fried them, and whipped up a mixture of Frank's Hot sauce and margarine to coat them. Left over celery and the Anchor's house dressing (blue cheese) rounded out the snack platter. I don't know the truth of the legend, but frankly who cares how the Buffalo wing came to be; let's simply be thankful that it's here.

Like so much of our foods, the Buffalo wing has seen a good deal of change and modification in the pat 40 years. It seems that the one constant, no matter where you get your wings, is the accompanying celery and blue cheese (although at some establishments, those are an "extra"). People have not avoided attempts at improving the original coating of pepper sauce and margarine. Everyone is always trying to create a better mousetrap, so in addition to levels of sauce heat, based simply on the ratio of pepper sauce to margarine, we now have an incredible array of flavors. Wings can now be found sauced in flavors ranging from barbeque to Szechwan; from Cajun to Thai, and just about everything in between. It is enough to cause a Buffalo wing purist to cry "uncle", before someone concocts a green curry and coconut sauce. Not that the varieties are bad, they just aren't Buffalo wings.

But regardless of whether you're a purist trying to recreate the Anchor Bar's classic taste, or you like the sauce variations now available, there are still two overriding concerns which are common to excellent wings. As in any cooking endeavor, the end result is highly dependant upon the ingredients used. Plump, meaty and fresh wings are far preferable to frozen. The fresh wings should be divided at the joint and the wing tip cut off. Poultry shears or a sharp cleaver will do the job in no time. Next, the wing pieces should be thoroughly rinsed, patted dry and allowed to drain, overnight, on paper towels in the refrigerator. Since authentic wings are deep fried, make sure they are patted dry again, just before cooking. Which segues into the other important concern.

Buffalo wings are deep fried, which means, in essence, that they are boiled in oil. But beyond assuring that the meat is dry before immersing in the oil, it is also critical to maintain the proper cooking temperature to assure that the end product is virtually oil free. The mistake that is likely to occur is the result of a lack of patience. We want those wings now, and so we plunge several pounds of wings into a small pot of hot oil. In so doing, the oil temperature plunges, the pot is overcrowded and instead of the meat being sealed by the high oil temperature, and fried to a crispy brown, it soaks in tepid grease, absorbing the oil. Always deep fry in small batches and while it is best to serve the fried food immediately after draining, there isn't a huge sacrifice in quality if a batch rests in a warm oven while the remaining food is cooked. A thermometer is a real help so that the oil remains at 350 degrees.

After the wings are fried, they should be briefly drained on paper towels, then tossed in the hot sauce mixture to evenly coat. Properly prepared wings will not leave a pool of excess sauce on the plate and if more spice or heat is desired, do not increase the amount of sauce used to coat, but rather the ratio of pepper sauce to margarine. The traditional accompaniments are cold crisp celery sticks and blue cheese dressing. For those who love their wings in the suicidal range, it is important to remember that water (or beer) only spreads the capasin oils further and makes the burn worse. Bread will absorb the oils and turn down the furnace. I'm also told that milk relieves a spicy burn, but somehow, as a purist, a glass of milk with my Buffalo wings just doesn't seem right.

Recipe for "original" Anchor Bar Buffalo wings

30 chicken wing pieces
6 tbsp (3 oz) of FRANK'S Louisiana Hot Sauce (now Durkee's)
4 tbsp margarine (not butter!)
1 tbsp of white vinegar
1/8 tsp of celery seed
1/4 tsp of Cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp of red pepper
1/8 tsp of garlic salt
A dash of black pepper
1/4 tsp of Worcestershire sauce
6 cups peanut oil for frying

Prepare the wings for deep frying, as described above. In a sauce pan, melt the margarine, and when bubbling, whisk in all the remaining ingredients. Turn down to a very low simmer to maintain warmth while the wings are frying. Fry the wings in samll batches, in 350 degreee peanut oil for 12 to 15 minutes until golden brown and crispy.
Drain briefly, and toss in the prepared sauce just to coat. Serve along with cold celery sticks and chunky blue cheese dressing.
Read More on Chef Geoff
Volume 2, Issue 11, Posted 10:10 AM, 05.20.06