On Valentine's Day, say it with wings.
This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in February 2016.
With Valentine's Day soon upon us, we asked ourselves: How can we show our loved ones how much we care without resorting to palm oil-riddled cheapo chocolate and a limp bunch of roses?
The answer: chicken wings. Not only are they the world's greatest food to eat in between yelling at a sports bar television, they also wordlessly communicate the depth of our feelings about our significant (and even not-so-significant) others. In other words, wings say it all.
With that in mind, we spoke to some of the world's greatest experts on chicken wings about how and why you should eat them, and why they are one of the greatest inventions on Earth. Are you a Frank's-RedHot-and-butter kind of person? Should you brine the wings, boil them before frying, or just roast them all? And what's up with crudités—are celery and carrots just an excuse to wipe your greasy, hot sauce-lubed fingers onto something? We asked, and the experts answered. Herewith, the MUNCHIES Guide to Chicken Wings.
On Cooking Wings:
Michael Briones: "We brine our wings so that they taste seasoned internally. I think that's a huge deal. We then fry them—I don't do batter or any kind of stuff on the outside. I like the brine we use because it makes them caramelize on the outside when they hit the deep-fryer just a little bit. I love eating crispy skin. A lot of restaurants will steam or boil them before they put them in the fryer, but I think doing that kills a lot of the flavor. Our wings are small, organic guys, so they cook at a respectable rate. Using a smaller wing really helps things out, and using organic ones makes them taste more like chicken."
Gregg Brickman: "We're currently frying our wings. Before we fry the wings, we wash them in ice water, and it really seems to make the skin crispy. If you get it breaded, we toss it in the flour at least a half hour before we fry it so the flour really adheres to the chicken. And then it's quite simple. We just fry it for nine minutes and then toss it in your favorite sauce.
"We're also testing smoked wings. We marinating them for 12 hours, [followed by] a 30-minute smoke process. We cool them and then reheat them up for service in the oven, so these ones never go inside a fryer at all. They're actually really good. They're super-crispy, and [they're] about half the calories of the fried ones."
Mark Dempsey: "The original wing, when we invented it back in 1964, was deep-fried. And we continue to deep-fry our wings to this day, the exact same way. We fry 'em up the same way: about 15 to 18 minutes in a 375-degree [Fahrenheit] fryer to get 'em nice and crispy. Crispy is the key, right?
"Boiling tends to rubberize the skin and the entire chicken meat, so you want to stay away from boiling. Another popular way to cook wings, although we don't cook our wings this way, is to barbecue them. Barbecuing cuts down on the fat. It doesn't have as much flavor, but it does cut down on the fat. It's nice when you slap some barbecue sauce on there, get the caramelization going with the sugars in the barbecue sauce on the skin. It makes for a pretty tasty wing, but we still love frying them."
On Wing Sauce:
Michael Briones: "The spicy butter sauce that we make comes from Adam Shepard, who used to run a restaurant where I worked called Taku. [Our sauce is inspired by] the classic thing—Frank's-hot-sauce-and-butter combo—and rethinks that a little bit. I think that Frank's RedHot is too acidic for me. I like my wings to be a bit more buttery. At Suzume, we use rice wine vinegar, but a lot less, so that rice vinegar note just blooms the rest of the flavors. I think that the vinegar note in general, when used sparingly, makes everything brighten up. It makes the sriracha and sambal olek and butter that we used in the sauce come out. I've loved sambal olek every since I discovered it while working at Mr. Chopsticks in Denton, Texas in 1991. That was an ah-ha moment for my first dishwashing job. We opened up a big gallon of it and facing it for the first time was mind-blowing."
Gregg Brickman: "The original [Hooters] sauces were the hot, mild, and medium [Buffalo]. And over the years we came up with different sauces, so the Daytona Beach sauce is a great example. Now we're up to 17 different sauces, and we come up with more each year, and try them out with limited-time offers. But we try to keep it real basic, real simple. I like spicy, so I like the spicy garlic [sauce]. It's got a kick to it. Or I like the chipotle honey. Those are my two favorite go-to sauces."
Mark Dempsey: "Our original sauce was hot sauce and melted butter. The melted butter could kind of control the amount of heat that was there. But we've perfected our sauce over the years, adding garlic and vinegar, salt and pepper, and some different seasonings. But the true Buffalo wing is a hot wing. The spice level is your own—we make about ten different types of Anchor Bar chicken wing sauce.We've got Hot, Mild, Extra Mild, Medium—and the Medium is kind of the original sauce. That's the heat level that was served back in 1964. The Medium will give you a nice, solid Buffalo flavor—some heat to it, but not too much. It just has an awesome flavor to it."
Blue Cheese vs. Ranch:
Michael Briones: "Ranch, absolutely. We use a ginger yogurt dressing for our wings, but ranch is wonderful. It's fresher and lighter to me than blue cheese. Ranch is the ultimate dipping sauce. Dipping pizza in ranch is awesome."
Gregg Brickman: "[At Hooters] you can get a sauce of blue cheese or ranch, or people will sometimes ask for barbecue. I'm a blue cheese fan, but most of the guys I work with are ranch fans."
Mark Dempsey: "Around the Buffalo area … we only serve blue cheese. We wouldn't even think about serving anything else. We do have some people come from outside the area who do request ranch, and we're more than happy to give it to them. The whole idea of serving blue cheese and celery is to cool your palate off between the hot wings. But out West, and some places down South, they do love their ranch. When we opened our first location in Las Vegas this past summer, we had to take a step back and ask people, 'Blue cheese or ranch?' Close to half the people were asking for ranch out in Vegas."
Michael Briones: "When I eat wings, I'll ask them not to put celery and carrots on my plate because I'm a disgusting monster. I just want to stuff my face with wings. I don't want anything between me and the wing. I just want to stuff my face and drink beer. Maybe [the celery] is there as the finger-wiper for your plate, [in addition] to the wet nap. I don't know."
Gregg Brickman: "We serve celery. We took off the carrots a few years back. People just didn't want the carrots anymore—I felt bad for the carrots, too. Actually, for me personally, they were one of my favorite parts. But now we just do celery."
Mark Dempsey: "We only serve celery with ours, like we've done since day one. Carrots are an option, but celery is mandatory. It's gotta be celery."
Any Final Wing Tips?
Michael Briones: "I like the crunchy wing skin. I love skin. Skin is nice."
Gregg Brickman: "The big thing for me is keeping the chicken wings super cold before you fry them. I also don't like heavy sauce—I like light sauce. I like to actually get the flavor of the chicken and the blue cheese dressing."
Mark Dempsey: "There's gotta be a little heat in there. You've gotta be able to wash them down with an ice-cold beer. What's better than that? In Buffalo, it's Labatt Blue. It's kind of regionalized, but Coors goes well [with wings] too. And you shouldn't feel bad if you eat 20 wings. I think anybody could handle ten wings, but if you can handle 20 or 25 wings, more power to you."