More than four decades later, the buffalo wing has become an American culinary icon.
But those years haven't always been kind. All manner of over-fried and stale-tasting frozen fowl limbs get passed off as the real deal. Some are so bad they are almost an insult to the beer and football they pair so nicely with.
"People are like, 'Oh, it doesn't matter. They are just chicken wings,'" and they buy bad chicken, says Food Network Iron Chef Michael Symon.
But bad chicken will produce bad chicken wings, no matter how good of a cook you are, he says.
Ready to forego a takeout run this year? Here is what you need to know.
The flavor of the chicken is central to the perfect wing, so avoid the grocer's freezer case. Frozen poultry retains moisture, and moisture produces soggy, overcooked fried food.
"You want fresh wings, not frozen, because it affects taste," says Ivano Toscani, who has served as general manager of Anchor Bar for 35 years. "Fresh wings don't produce as much water.
And if you can, pony up for the good stuff. Most national and private label brands will work fine, but free-range and organic birds often sport more tender meat. And that produces a better wing.
All too often, the skin becomes rubbery, instead of crisp, says Symon. The reason? The skin is filled with water, which steams the bird instead of frying it when it hits the hot oil.
The fix isn't quick, but it is easy. Coating the wings with kosher salt overnight draws out some of this moisture. It also helps tenderize the meat and is a good chance to flavor the chicken by adding seasonings to the salt, says Symon.
The right oil and temperature will create the right balance of crispy skin and tender meat.
"When you bite into a chicken wing, it should fight back a little bit, but it should be tender like a rib," says Symon. "You want it to be tender, but you don[[OpenSingle]]t want it to fall right off the bone."
Start by selecting your frying medium. Technically speaking, any oil but extra-virgin olive (which has too low a smoke point) will work. But for the best flavor, you[[OpenSingle]]ll want an oil with a neutral flavor, such as canola or all-purpose vegetable.
Traditionally, wings are fried only once for several minutes between 365 and 375 degrees. But this can result in wings that either aren't well crisped outside, or aren't nicely cooked inside.
To fix this problem, we borrowed an Asian technique for frying chicken twice. With this approach, the wings take an initial oil bath for several minutes at 275 degrees.
"You're not trying to crisp the skin," says Symon. "You are just trying to poach the meat."
The wings then are removed from the oil and the heat is increased to 375 degrees. The wings then go back into the oil, during which they are quickly crisped.
As with all frying, don[[OpenSingle]]t crowd the pot. This can lower the temperature of the oil and result in soggy wings. It's also good to keep the wings moving in the oil (a wooden spoon is ideal) so they don[[OpenSingle]]t stick together, Toscani says.
Everyone seems to have their own potion for a tangy, sweet and spicy coating.
A vinegary hot sauce whisked with a little sugar makes the base for most sauces. We opted for a mix of honey and Sriracha, a spicy chili sauce available in the Asian food aisle of most grocers.
Soy sauce adds a nice savory, salty undertone, and melted butter offers a smooth texture. A few tablespoons of finely chopped cilantro to finish deepened the flavors and added fresh notes and colors.
Be sure to coat the wings while still piping hot. This helps the sticky sauce cling to the skin.
Salting the wings prior to frying helps rid them of excess moisture in the skin, which can cause the finished product to be rubbery rather than crispy.
The Asian-inspired twice-fried method helps ensure tender meat and crispy skin.
As with all meat, be sure to leave the wings out at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes before cooking. Cold wings will drastically reduce the temperature of the oil. And cool oil doesn't crisp well.
Best buffalo wings
5 pounds chicken wings and drummettes (20 to 25 pieces)
4 tablespoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons Sriracha (Asian hot chili) sauce
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
4 cups canola oil
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
Blue cheese dressing (for dipping)
Celery sticks and carrot sticks (traditional accompaniments)
Place the chicken in a large bowl, then sprinkle with the salt. Toss to coat. Transfer the chicken pieces to a baking sheet, arranging them in a single layer. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 12 hours.
When ready to cook, remove the chicken pieces from refrigerator and pat completely dry with paper towels, brushing away any salt. Let the chicken sit at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the Sriracha sauce, honey, butter, soy sauce and cilantro. Taste to check the heat level. If the sauce is too spicy, add honey. Set aside.
Place the oil in a large Dutch oven fitted with a thermometer. Heat over medium until the oil is 275 degrees.
Divide the chicken into 4 batches. One batch at a time, fry for 8 minutes, transferring each to a clean plate or baking sheet when done. Once all the chicken is done, increase the heat to medium-high and heat oil to 375 degrees.
Again working in batches, fry the chicken for 2 minutes, then transfer to a baking sheet lined with paper towels. The skin should be brown and crunchy and the meat should pull away from the bones with just a bit of resistance.
As each batch is transferred to the baking sheet, season it with salt and pepper. Transfer the chicken to a large bowl, then pour the chili sauce over it. Toss to thoroughly coat all the wings, then transfer to a serving platter.
Serve these wings with the traditional blue cheese dressing, sticks of celery and carrots.
Makes 5 to 6 servings.
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