As chicken wings celebrate 50th anniversary, New York chefs reinvent Buffalo’s most-famous export
Anyone can deep-fry chicken wings and slather them with hot sauce. But it takes a New York chef to lead a wing revolution.
So as the rest of the world celebrates the 50th anniversary of America’s favorite finger food, the Daily News found four gustatory gladiators to completely reinvent the Buffalo wing in Gotham’s image. And given that “Buffalo” has become its own taste — and not just for chicken, but for pizza, popcorn, potato chips and even mac and cheese — it’s clearly time for a fresh flavor.
As a born-and-bred Buffalonian, I have no tolerance for inadequate imitations of the dish that put my hometown on the map. Some New York restaurants already have wild wing variations, like the Buffalo chicken lollipops at Lure Fishbar and the Buffalo taquitos at Taquitoria — but we found other top chefs who are giving a bona fide boost to Buffalo’s most famous export:
Harlem gets saucy
The secret to a wing’s success is usually the sauce. But instead of the beloved Frank’s RedHot, two Harlem chefs sought something singular.
“I wanted to give it that ‘wow’ factor,” says JJ Johnson of The Cecil, who created a sauce of ginger, pineapple and a heavy dose of bird’s eye chili.
His “spring wings” are sweet and savory, with a light, refreshing aftertaste unusual for the often greasy goods.
Next door at Minton’s, chef Banks White touted the tastes of Thailand for his Pad Thai chicken wings.
White minced the meal with shallots, ginger and lemon grass, and then coated his concoction in brown sugar, soy sauce, fish sauce, peanut butter and chili sauce. He topped it off with cashews, scallions and cilantro.
It made for a different kind of munchable, tangy, sticky, delicious mess.
A wing and a flare
Anyone can invent a wing flavor. But David Burke reinvented the appendage altogether.
At his Fishtail restaurant in the Upper East Side, Burke turned run-of-the-mill wings into Buffalo chicken dumplings.
Burke’s hors d’oeuvre is comprised of pureed chicken mousse made from thighs and broth; Tabasco sauce; blue cheese; and eggs in a wonton wrapper that is deep-fried. The chicken bones are recycled as skewers.
It made for the most effortless wing-eating I’ve ever experienced — no sticky fingers, no need for both hands. It was easier than ever to gorge to gut-busting glory.
“You can’t eat chicken wings at a cocktail party with a drink in your hand,” Burke said, suggesting that the dumplings would make five-star foodies “more inclined to dig in.”
Watch out, Buffalo — this idea could take flight.
A batch of wings with no sauce — one that isn’t even deep fried — would be heresy in my hometown.
But Dale Talde honored India’s heritage, rather than Buffalo’s, with his Tandoori chicken wings marinated in yogurt, cumin, coriander and cardamom. For extra sweetness on the side, he swapped blue cheese for a cool ranch raita.
“Chicken wings are very Americana, and I like mixing popular American culture with very ethnic tastes,” says Talde, owner of the eponymous Park Slope restaurant where Andrew Del Vecchio is the chef. “Yogurt-based sauces are very popular in India, so we wanted that flavor.”
It was as close as chicken wings could come to candy. These luscious wings had a light, enticing kick that teased the tongue without weighing down the stomach.
A brief history of sublime
Chicken wings put the city of Buffalo on the culinary map, but they were an accidental achievement.
At Buffalo’s Anchor Bar restaurant, leftover chicken scraps usually got trashed, but one night in 1964, they were fried, buttered, coated in Frank’s RedHot sauce and served as a proper meal.
There are several stories about the invention, but the identity of the culinary Kandinsky has been lost to history. Even so, the Anchor Bar still sells a ton (an actual ton) of wings every day, and will ship its frozen digits around America for a hefty fee. (Hefty? How about 100 wings for $189.)
Today, wings soar high as a national icon. For perspective, chew on this: Americans ate more than 1.25 billion wings on Super Bowl Sunday alone.
“Buffalo wings have transitioned from a novelty to being on par with pizza and burgers,” says Adam Lippin, founder of the Atomic Wings chain, mentioning two All-American foods with roots elsewhere.
Indeed, wings are America’s truly original contribution to the world’s gustatory heritage — even though their primal pleasure harkens back to humanity’s first bites.
“There is something about wings that taps deep into our caveman roots, about sitting around a pile of meat and eating it with our hands,” says Dan Pashman, host of the Cooking Channel web series, “You’re Eating It Wrong.”
“We are hard-wired to enjoy that.”