But 50 years ago chicken wings were barely visible on America’s culinary landscape. Chefs used them – if at all – for making stock. Wings only appeared on dinner tables as parts of chicken dinners – fried, roasted, barbequed, etc. They were always served whole, the tip folded behind to made a triangle
The ascendance of wings mystifies some longtime farmers. “I don’t get it,” Paul Gebhardt told me once. Gebhardt was one of central Illinois’ first to use organic farming methods and sell pastured chickens; he mentored others beginning to farm sustainably. But he couldn’t understand why people would pay more per pound for chicken wings than a whole bird. “There’s just no meat on ’em,” he said, shaking his head.
America’s love affair with chicken wings began one Friday night in 1964 at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, N.Y. Dominic Bellissimo was tending bar late when a group of ravenous friends walked in. As the clock struck midnight, Bellissimo’s all-Catholic buddies wanted something to break their meatless Friday fast. He asked his mother, Teressa, to fix something, but there was little in the kitchen besides chicken wings she’d planned to use for soup. Teressa cut them into sections (undoubtedly reserving the tips for soup stock), deep-fried them and then doused them with melted butter and hot sauce. Buffalo Wings were born.
Bellissimo fried the wings, but they taste just as good, though slightly less crispy, when roasted in a 375 oven for 45-60 minutes. The classic version uses a hot sauce such as Frank’s or Louisiana-style; others are used to crank up the heat level. I like to add minced garlic to the sauce. And there are countless variations.
Worldwide, chicken wings have long been valued, partly because cuisines of poverty utilize every bit of meat, and partly because wings’ ratio of meat to skin makes them especially succulent and flavorful.
One of my favorites is Mekong Café’s caramelized wings. Cooking meat and fish in caramel sauce is common in Southeast Asia. But I’ve never found a recipe or caramelized fish/meat restaurant preparation to equal Mahnee’s, or been able to duplicate his. The wings are fried, then tossed in a caramel sauce that’s slightly sweet, salty and savory with fish sauce, garlic, shallots and black pepper. They’re absolutely addictive.
My recipe file has plenty of other wonderful wing recipes, though. Here are some favorites.
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Apricot lime chicken wings
These sweet-tart wings are a hit with both kids and adults.
- 8 lbs. chicken wings
- 1 c. fresh lime juice (approximately 8 to 10 limes)
- 1 c. apricot preserves
- 1 c. soy sauce
- 1/2 c. honey or dark brown sugar
- 1 T. minced garlic
Preheat oven to 375F.
Cut off wing tips, reserving the tips for stock. Cut the wings in half at the joint. Arrange in a single layer on two large roasting pans or rimmed baking sheets. Use non-stick pans or line with parchment paper sprayed lightly with cooking spray to prevent the wings from sticking and for easier cleanup.
Roast the wings for 30 minutes. While they’re roasting, purée the remaining ingredients in a blender or food processor. Place in a heavy saucepan, bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and cook until the mixture has reduced by about half and has thickened to a light glaze-like consistency.
After the wings have roasted 30 minutes, remove them from the oven. Either brush each wing generously on all sides with the glaze or place the glaze in a large bowl or pot, add the wings and toss gently to thoroughly coat them. Either way, they should go back on the pans in a single layer and continue to roast for another 30-45 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and the glaze is sticky. Serve warm.
Spicy wings with eastern Mediterranean flavors
An eastern Mediterranean riff on traditional Buffalo wings, this is adapted from a recipe of Iron Chef Michael Symon’s.
- 5 pounds chicken wings, tips removed, then halved
- 2 T. coriander seeds
- 1 tsp. cumin seeds
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 2 T. kosher salt
- 2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup Sriracha chile sauce, available in most grocery ethnic sections
- 6 T. unsalted butter, melted
- 1/3 c. chopped cilantro
- Finely grated zest and juice of 2 medium limes
- 3 quarts oil for frying, optional
Coarsely crush the coriander and cumin seeds with a mortar and pestle or back of a heavy skillet. In a large pot, toss the wings with the coriander and cumin seeds, cinnamon, kosher salt and olive oil. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
Preheat the oven to 375. Spread the wings in a single layer on rimmed baking sheets. Roast for about 30 minutes, until firm but not cooked through. If you don’t want to fry them, roast for an additional 15-30 minutes, or until crispy and golden.
Wash the bowl. Add the remaining ingredients (except the oil).
In a deep fryer or large pot, heat the oil to 375.
Fry wings in batches until golden and crisp, about 5 minutes; drain, shaking off the excess oil. As each batch is finished, add the wings to the sauce and toss well. Transfer to a platter, leaving remaining sauce in the bowl for the next batches. Serve hot.
Grilled Southeast Asian wings
Though this recipe comes from New Orleans chef Emeril Lagasse, it utilizes classic Southeast Asian ingredients.
- 3 lbs. chicken wings, tips removed, then halved
- 4 scallions
- 2 T. roughly chopped garlic
- 1/4 c. chopped shallots
- 1/4 c. chopped fresh ginger
- 1/2 c. roughly chopped lemongrass bottoms
- 1/4 c. packed light brown sugar
- 1/3 c. fish sauce
- 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 3 tablespoons peanut oil
- 1/4 cup dry-roasted peanuts, chopped
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- Reserved scallion greens
Place wings in a large resealable plastic bag.
Thinly slice the scallion greens and reserve. Coarsely chop the scallions’ white parts. Combine with the remaining marinade ingredients in a food processor; process until smooth. Pour over the wings, squish out the air, and seal the bag. Refrigerate overnight.
Preheat a grill to medium. Remove the wings from the bag, reserving the marinade. Place on the grill and cook, turning occasionally and basting with the marinade for about 20 minutes. Continue grilling until the wings are cooked through, about 10 minutes more. The wings can also be broiled.
Garnish with the peanuts, cilantro and scallion greens.
Grilled mexican wings, Sinaloa-style
This lusciously herbaceous-orange marinade comes from the Mexican state of Sinaloa by way of Chicago’s Rick Bayless.
- 4 lbs. chicken wings, tips removed and reserved for stock, cut into individual sections
- 1 c. coarsely chopped white onion (NOT super-sweet)
- 8 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 1/2 c. orange juice
- 1 tsp EACH dried thyme, marjoram and oregano, or use all oregano
- 6 bay leaves, crumbled
- 1 T. kosher or sea salt
- 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Place the chicken in a large resealable plastic bag. Purée the remaining ingredients in a blender or food processor and pour over the wings. Squeeze the air out of the bag, seal and refrigerate at least overnight and up to three days.
About 1 1/2 hours before grilling, remove the wings from the refrigerator to come to room temperature. Thirty minutes before, put them in a colander or on a rack to let excess marinade drip off.
Grill the wings over a medium hot charcoal or gas fire until done, about 30 minutes or more, depending on the fire’s heat.