February 28, 2009

F5 #4: Wings!

This has to be a first: I managed to finish something on this blog that I started - and on time, too.)

I love chicken wings. They are, bar none, my favourite finger food. They are my one weakness; my Achilles' heel, as it were. This year's F5 seems to be a bit of a palindrome: food followed by popular entertainment followed by popular entertainment - so it seems only appropriate to close out the month with another food post.

A few years back, when I was dropping a not inconsiderable portion of my salary at Local Heroes, a local sports bar that specializes in wings, I began to wonder, could I not do just as well myself, and for half the cost?

Thus, last summer, I regularly cooked up a batch of chicken wings and began the quest for the perfect Buffalo wing sauce. Starting with a basic mixture consisting of half a cup of Louisiana hot sauce and a couple tablespoons of melted butter, I mixed, baked, fried, ate, enjoyed, and evaluated, tweaking the recipe here and there. Finally, all that horrible, thankless kitchen slavery culminated in the following:

  • 1/2 cup Louisiana hot sauce (i.e. Frank's Red Hot or equivalent)
  • 1 teaspoon habanero sauce
  • 1 teaspoon red chile flakes
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a small mixing bowl and whisk it with a fork until it is well mixed.

I use the regular variety of Frank's Louisiana hot sauce, or a generic equivalent from President's Choice that's just as good - plus it comes in really big bottles that are cheap as tap water. This is a Good Thing, since I go through a lot of it in my kitchen. If you want more heat, you can substitute Frank's Xtra Hot, but I find that makes the wings too spicy. I don't mind hot dishes by any means, but I prefer flavour to heat! (If you don't like Louisiana hot sauce at all, of course you may substitute a base of your choice. But that would be a completely different recipe, so you're on your own.) Since Louisiana sauce is based on cayenne pepper, an extra dash of cayenne adds a little more kick without altering the flavour. At one point, I had added some Tabasco sauce; later, I substituted a habanero sauce and decided I liked the nice finish it put on the mixture. I buy Grace red sauce, an inexpensive and fiery Caribbean brand that is available at regular supermarkets as well as ethnic ones.

For an interesting varation that gives your wings a nice smoky flavour, substitute a minced chipotle for the chile flakes, or a chipotle sauce for the habanero l;- or both, if you like.

I find this recipe makes just enough sauce to coat about two pounds of wings nicely. Your mileage may vary, so adjust the amounts accordingly.

Meanwhile, cook your chicken. I prefer to bread my wings, partly for the crispy coating, but mainly because the breading absorbs more sauce. Proper breading is a bit of a black art that I can't claim to have mastered. It involves dredging the meat in seasoned flour, then dipping it in an egg wash, and finally rolling it in breadcrumbs. While this seems needlessly overkill, there's a rationale behind it: breadcrumbs don't stick to meat, but flour does, and egg sticks to flour, and breadcrumbs to egg. I have a tendency to bread my fingers as much as my food, so I won't pontificate on the proper technique; whatever one you prefer. And not having a deep fryer handy, I also bake my wings. It takes longer, but is probably better for me anyway. Spread two pounds of wings out on a baking sheet covered with parchment, and bake them in the oven at 300-350 degrees for about one hour, turning them over at the half-hour point.

Finally, take the finished wings out of the oven and toss them in a mixing bowl with the sauce to coat them completely. Serve with raw veggies, ranch or blue cheese dressing, and of course your favourite beverage that rhymes with "beer."

I often close blog posts with this word, but this time I can almost promise it it: Enjoy.