Chicken Wings for the Soul

Chicken wings hit the financial news headlines recently when McDonalds announced their plan to introduce them to their American menu.  It’s expected that the worldwide demand for chicken wings will increase by about 250 million wings in the next 3 months, or an anticipated 11% increase in the Chicken Wing Index.  (Oh, yes, there is a Chicken Wing Index.  Who knew?)

My personal obsession with chicken wings began when I first ordered them in the Elephant & Castle diner in Temple Bar, Dublin many years ago.  I remember celebrating my 30th birthday there with the same wings. And some friends. It wasn’t JUST me and the wings. (Although, if I’d had to choose…)  Being my birthday, I ordered them for my starter AND my main course, although the waiter refused to serve me more for dessert – something about not being able to balance the candle in there safely.

Elephant & Castle’s wings used to be the best Buffalo Wings to be had in Dublin. In the 1990s they were the only Buffalo Wings to be had in Dublin, and back then I spent many hours trying to work out just how they were so tangy and hot and goddam fabulous.  I mixed all sorts of concoctions on the stove in my first apartment, producing some super-nice wings, but never E&C standard.

Then something weird happened.

On a trip to visit my friends in Boston, I got chatting to a nice local guy in a pool bar. He’d spent a few years in Dublin he told me. Working in a restaurant in Dublin. In Temple Bar. The Elephant & Castle. Had I heard of it? His claim to fame was that he had introduced them to Frank’s Hot Sauce and Buffalo Wings.

I. Swear. To. God.  True story.

A couple of days later in New York, I found it. Frank’s Hot Sauce. In a small little deli. Just sitting innocently on the shelves. Those little bottles of orange fabulousness.

This was pre-9/11, so happily I was able to bring as much as I could carry (six bottles as I recall) back with me on the plane. (The thought of one exploding in my main luggage was just too scary, or I would have bought a few dozen bottles.)

And so it began. For about six months, I was able to recreate real American Buffalo wings in Dublin, Ireland.

Then my stash of Frank’s ran out.

Safe to say, there were some difficult months until Frank’s Hot Sauce became available in the supermarkets here in Ireland. Now it’s sold in the same volume as milk every week. Ok, maybe not quite at that level. But lots more people are making Buffalo Wings at home these days.

And the country is a better place for it.

So I have very little bad to say about Elephant & Castle chicken wings. The blue cheese is good (much improved in recent times), and the portion size is generous. They’re a little on the pricey side, considering how cheap they are to produce, and they can be over-cooked and dry on occasion (send them back if so). But when they are good, Elephant & Castle’s wings are definitely worth battling the Temple Bar stag/hen parties for.

Other restaurants with above average Buffalo wings include Tribeca in Ranelagh (although their insistence on serving them on tissue paper is beyond me), Bodega in Waterford, DeVilles in Dalkey and Hartley’s in Dun Laoghaire who get a massive thumbs-up for only serving free-range wings.  Many of the new gourmet burger restaurants around the country are offering quite acceptable versions also, most notably Bó Bó Burgers in Dublin.

Wings can of course be served in other ways – they’re given a lovely Buffalo/chili sauce twist in The Wild Boar in Stepaside, County Dublin for example.  But good wings are always free-range, crispy (no ‘human skin’ please), smothered in sauce, and served with a cooling blue cheese.  And there is no excuse for miserable, wilting matchsticks of celery.  The celery must be fresh, crisp and in sufficient quantity to off-set our calorie-guilt at eating a full bowl of the wings.

Like the celery accompaniment, blue cheese dip is a must with Buffalo wings.  It is so simple to make, it amazes me how restaurants get it so wrong so often. Like when it has the consistency of dried cheese powder reconstituted in milk…seriously…you know who you are…

Of course, not every blue cheese is the same – the lovely Irish Cashel Blue from Co. Tipperary tastes wildly different to Stilton. And Gorgonzola has another flavour all its own. And of course, they are only cow’s milk blues. What about Roquefort? Or bleu de chevre?

My own personal favourite for dip to accompany chicken wings is Stilton, but try different cheeses and see which suits your palate the best. So here goes. It ain’t rocket science.

Blue Cheese Dip

50g blue cheese crumbled

1 generous tablespoon creme fraiche (or sour cream for slightly inferior results)

1 generous tablespoon mayonnaise

Mix them together et voila. Chill until you need it. The dip too. It should be creamy, almost thick, not runny, so when you dip a wing in there, you don’t have a trail of dip/wing sauce between the bowl and your chin. That’s just not pretty.

Okay. I had better just get it out there. My main recipe for Buffalo Wings. Of course, I have many recipes for wings, but this is THE BIG ONE. The go-to. The best.

Buffalo Wings

500gr happy (free-range) chicken wings
1 tablespoon plain flour
150mls Frank’s Red Hot Sauce
50g butter
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

I cut the wings in two for easier cooking and eating. I also cut off the long tips and discard them. (No, I don’t keep them to make stock out of.  Shoot me.) You can try brushing the wings with oil and oven baking them at 200 degrees C for 20 minutes, but the best wings are tossed in the flour and deep fried at 180 degrees C for ten minutes.

Melt the butter and add the Frank’s Hot Sauce and the vinegar and combine over a medium heat.

Toss the fried wings in the sauce and you are good to go. (Literally.  Go.  Go and hide at the end of the garden with the bowl of wings. Why should you share?  You made them.)

The wings won’t suffer from being kept warm in the oven for a little while. Nor will they taste bad eaten cold. For breakfast. The next day.  Oh yes.

So go ahead.  Don’t wait for the Golden Arches to scratch that itch.  Grab yourself a bottle of hot sauce and, well, wing it.

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