When it comes to poultry, we adore our breasts and thighs, but in the temple of all things tasty to come from a bird, we're huge fans of the simple, humble wing. Whether they are from chickens, ducks, turkeys, guinea fowl, poussin, or even quail, there's nothing quite like tucking into a juicy, savory wing using only your hands, and tearing the meat away from the bones with your teeth. There's something primal, elemental about the process that reminds us just how omnivorous we humans really are. It's a distinctively powerful feeling, after you've finished your meal, to look down at the plate and see nothing but a pile of stripped-clean animal bones. Not to mention the myriad pleasures to be found in their flavors and textures.
Foremost in our minds when we hear the mention of wings, naturally, is the famous Buffalo chicken wing. Even its lore is intriguing: culinary historians argue to this day which restaurant in the upstate New York town created the spicy, savory fried chicken wing so beloved throughout the country today. The most popular story is that they were invented at Buffalo's Anchor Bar as a cheap (the wings were usually reserved for stock, or -- the shame! -- discarded), quick snack when the owner's son unexpectedly returned from college with a gaggle of hungry friends. An alternate version has the wings first cooked up for peckish Catholic patrons at midnight during Lent, when they were allowed to once again indulge in meat. Another account holds that a man named John Young invented fried chicken wings in "mambo sauce" for his Buffalo restaurant in the 1960s.
Whichever story you believe, the modern recipe remains delicious, inexpensive, and startling simple to prepare. While many restaurants bread their chicken wings and drummettes, the official Buffalo fashion is to fry the wings without a bread coating. The sauce is paramount, and consists of three simple ingredients: Frank's Red Hot sauce and melted butter (in equal parts) and a packet of dry Italian salad dressing seasoning. Mix together, slather on the wings after frying, and you're in business. A deep fryer is of course always best for snacks of this variety -- what Chef Anthony Bourdain refers to as the "Fry-o-lated arts" -- other recipes hold that wings are just as delicious when baked in the oven. Whichever you prefer, by all means don't forget to serve with plenty of blue cheese sauce and celery sticks.
This, naturally, isn't the only way to enjoy wings. If you decide to veer from the traditional wing path, here are a couple of suggestions that we enjoy.
Duck WingsRatchet your recipe up a bit by substituting duck for chicken, and you'll find yourself wing-deep in flavor country. Duck meat possesses a distinctively dark, rich flavor, and that applies to the wings as well as all the other parts of the duck we love best. You might use the classic sauce described above with black truffle butter instead of plain butter.
Asian-style WingsKorean fried chicken wings have exploded in popularity in recent days, and it's not difficult to see why. Dressed in an easily-assembled sauce of soy, ginger, sesame oil, scallions and garlic, Korean wings explode with flavor. You can also finish your wings with a sweet teriyaki sauce, Japanese-style, or dress as you would a Vietnamese banh mi sandwich, with butter, chili sauce and cilantro, and served with pickled radishes, carrots and cucumbers on the side instead of the traditional celery stalk.
BBQ Turkey WingsA favorite at fairs in the deep south, the large wings of a turkey are well suited for apple or hickory smoke over low heat, mopped with a mustard or molasses-based BBQ sauce and served with braised greens, black eyed peas and corn bread.
HOT WingsOf all foodstuffs, it seems as though chicken wings are the most beloved by those chefs seeking extreme heat. If you're into the spicier side of life, wings are a wonderful way to experiment with different combinations of chile peppers. Whether you’re using fresh or dried chile peppers, just make sure to wear gloves when you're preparing them!