Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The guilty pleasures file: perfecting chicken wings

If I had to rank my favourite food indulgences, chicken wings would certainly make the top five. They certainly count as one of those foods that come with a host of associations: pubs, beer, time out with friends. They also count as food you don't want to consume frequently (though really, any pub food falls into that category).

Your standard pub wing is dusted in flour and deep fried, then tossed in your sauce of choice. This is how they are both wet and sticky and crunchy—which is important, because the texture of a wing contributes a great deal to how good it is. However good the sauce happens to be, if it's soggy it just doesn't do the same thing.

That's all well and good for pubs and restaurants, who have industrial fryers constantly on the go and therefore don't have to think twice about throwing a basket of wings in to crisp up. But if you're like me and love to cook, making wings at home can be an issue ... especially if you're also like me and (a) get nervous about having a pot of hot oil on the stove, and (b) hate the cleanup afterward.

The solution is to bake the wings, which actually works rather well. If you dust them in flour and bake them at about 400 degrees until golden brown, the chicken fat does much of the work that the fryer does otherwise. Then, make your sauce and toss the wings in it, and you're good to go.

Of course, I was never happy to leave it at that, and after much experimentation have arrived at the ultimate no-fry homemade chicken wings recipe.

The two secret ingredients here are panko breadcrumbs and buttermilk. Submerge your wings in buttermilk and let sit, the longer the better. Overnight is great, but at least an hour or two will suffice.

For the breadcrumbs, I like to mix in some corn starch to add to the crispness factor; some garlic powder, paprika, chilli powder, and cayenne. Really, any other herbs you want to add—it's up to you, but that's what I use. Mix the seasonings in thoroughly, and dredge your buttermilk-coated wings in the coating. Space them out evenly on a rack resting on a cookie sheet, and put them in an over preheated to 400 degrees.

They should take 30-45 minutes. They'll be cooked through in a half hour, but I recommend leaving them in longer so they have a nice, crunchy crust. I usually wait until they are a few shades darker than golden; the buttermilk keeps them from drying out.

Now, the sauce: I have experimented with dozens of variations on wing sauces, and tried several store-bought ones, but must come back in the end to the classic Buffalo sauce. It is so simple as to be criminal: equal parts Louisiana hot sauce and melted butter (the second part of this equation is also why you don't want to make these a regular meal).

Seriously. You simply cannot do any better than the original recipe, invented by some genius bar owner in Buffalo so many years ago. I favour Frank's Red Hot, but any variation on the classic Louisiana hot sauce will do. If you prefer spicier wings, you can ramp up the heat by adding Tobasco.

A tip: I have found that the best way to make the sauce is to put the butter in a small pot on an element, but don't turn it on. The heat from the oven will do the job for you, and when you're about five minutes out whisk in the hot sauce.

Get yourself a really big, cheap plastic bowl. Put the wings in the bowl, pour the hot sauce over them, and toss the wings until completely coated. Serve with baby carrots and blue cheese dressing. Invest in a box of wet wipes. The wings go well with a pale ale or dry white wine.


Some Student said...

Knew there was a reason I kept checking this blog. Aside from reading about vampires killing each other, anyway.

Geoff Meeker said...

I have been baking wings for 25 years, and my recipe - though not that different from yours - has always been a work in progress. Just when I think perfection has been achieved, I sample a new variation and veer off in that direction. I recommend you try some chopped, fresh cilantro mixed into the sauce; it adds a touch of sweetness and complexity that is irresistible.