Note to Self:

Thursday, July 17, 2014

When Buffaloes Fly...recollections of chicken wings


By now most of you reading this know that I was born, raised, and in fact still live in the great city of Buffalo, NY. I moved away a couple times but have always found my way home. And while we (as a city) have an incredibly rich culinary tradition, we are—for better or worse—known for chicken wings. In Buffalo they of course are not known as “Buffalo wings,” just simply wings. I didn't think of them as a regional specialty until I was in my early twenties when I had moved away and someone first referred to them as such. You may have heard these stories before—in person or in print—as I've previously told them, but I made wings for staff lunch a couple days ago and I thought of this again.

Anyhow, the first time I had heard of them referred to as Buffalo wings I was in a music store in Nashville, TN. It was the mid-1980’s and I was buying a cassette (remember them?). Noticing my “yank accent,” the clerk asked me where I was from. When I told him Buffalo his eyes lit up and he asked me two things: if I was familiar with the band The 10,000 Maniacs and if I liked Buffalo wings. It sounded odd to me because I had never heard of them referred to as such. I'm sure I was smirking a little when I told him that I did. It hadn’t occurred to me that chicken wings—as a fried food—were unique to our region. I just assumed everyone ate them, like fries or hot dogs or hamburgers.

A couple years later I landed a job as cook at a French restaurant in New Orleans. One day the house butcher brought me a bowl of raw chicken wings. Normally they went into the chicken stock but this day he had saved them upon the sous-chef's request. The sous-chef, who I feared more than the chef (primarily because the chef never spoke to me, or screamed at me like the sous chef), wanted me to make the staff wings for lunch. He knew I was from Buffalo. Most of the kitchen crew were Cajun and loved the spiciness of the sauce.

“Take some to the chef, he’s in his office,” suggested one of the cooks. Terrified, and with hands shaking, I walked into the office with the sous chef and set down a plate of steaming wings, complete with celery, carrot, and made-from-scratch blue cheese dressing. I rarely had the opportunity to talk to the chef let alone feed him. “Qu'est-ce que c'est?” he inquired. The sous-chef told him in his native French that I was from Buffalo (pronouncing it boof-ah-loh) and that these were our delicacy. The wings, he told him were tossed with sauce piquante monté au beurre (spicy sauce mounted with butter). He also warned that they were trés piquant. Speaking in English (a language, I was told, he detested and spoke only in necessity) the chef told me he’d been to Niagara Falls, then picked up a drumstick and bit in. About 10 seconds passed before he pushed the plate away, and in what seemed like desperation, chugged the remainder of his ever-present glass of wine. Panting, he questioned “Shit, why so #!&¢!# hot.” Hey, I thought, he was warned they were trés piquant, and I only made them medium.

At any rate, I feel I don't need to mention the origin of this simple food as it has been in the media countless times, but the recipe for them is about as simple as one can get...simply deep fry some chicken wings (no flour nor seasoning required) and toss them in a mixture of melted butter and Franks Hot Sauce. Sure there are going to be people who claim to have a “secret recipe,” but there really is no such thing...butter and hot sauce are all that are required (though additions of garlic or onion powder or a plash of vinegar are tasty enhancements). 

Traditional Wings 

Preheat enough vegetable oil to 375 degrees Fahrenheit to fry as many wings as you see fit. While the wings are frying melt a good sized piece of whole butter in a large bowl and swirl in Frank’s Hot Sauce. When the wings float and are crispy and cooked throughout, remove from the hot fat. Drain them and toss with the butter and hot sauce. 

Urban Simplicity.

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