Whatever You Do, Don’t Fry Your Chicken Wings

Slate's Culture Blog
Jan. 29 2014 11:13 AM

You’re Doing It Wrong: Chicken Wings

2915211-buffalo-wings-are-stacked-up-before-the-competition
These Buffalo wings, from the 12th Annual Wing Bowl in Philadelphia, are doing it wrong.

Photo by Jeff Fusco/Getty Images

This year, some Americans are observing the 50th anniversary of the original Buffalo chicken wing. And this Sunday, Americans are expected to consume 1.25 billion chicken wings, according to the National Chicken Council—more than 100 million pounds. Only chips and dips beat wings in popularity on Super Bowl Sunday.

I’m not a football fan, but chicken wings have been one of my favorite foods since childhood, and I long ago began experimenting with different ways to cook them.

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Though the label “Buffalo wings” is thrown around frequently, a lot of what you see today under that name—breaded wings drenched in syrupy sauce—bears little resemblance to the dish first whipped up by Theressa Bellissimo in 1964 at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, N.Y. A local favorite for years, Buffalo wings burst onto the national stage with a New York Times Magazine recipe in 1981—four years after a day in June was declared Chicken Wing Day in the city of Buffalo—and they caught on quickly.

But even the original Buffalo wings squander the true potential of chicken wings.

According to the classic recipe, Buffalo wings are deep fried and coated in a sauce made of butter, vinegar, and Frank’s Louisiana Hot Sauce. My beef with Buffalo wings isn’t with the sauce—it’s delicious, though I often eat my wings with plain old ketchup. It’s with the deep-frying.

Chicken wings have a higher ratio of skin to meat than any other popular cut of chicken. It’s why they’re so flavorful. Deep frying makes them crispy, to be sure, but it obliterates the nuanced flavor of the skin. Roasting, on the other hand, caramelizes the skin and renders the fat, creating more complex taste. I like my wings well done, with very crispy skin and meat that’s so chewy it’s almost—but not quite—like jerky, so the slow roasting works perfectly.  And if you prefer yours juicy, you can just take them out earlier.

Whether you fry or roast, however, take care to serve the wings with sauce on the side. When you let the wings sit in the sauce, all that beautiful, crispy skin just turns to rubber.

Roasted Chicken Wings With Buffalo Sauce
Yield:  4 to 5 servings (20 pieces)
Time: 1¼ to 1½ hours, mostly unattended

Oil for greasing the oven rack
10 chicken wings
Salt and black pepper
¼ cup (½ stick) butter
2 tablespoons Frank’s Red Hot Original Cayenne Pepper Sauce or other hot sauce
1 tablespoon white vinegar

1. Heat the oven to 450°F. Lay a sheet of aluminum foil on the lowest rack of the oven. Remove the middle oven rack and grease it with oil.

2. Cut off the small tip of each wing; discard or keep for stock. Cut through each wing bone at the joint to separate it into two pieces. Season the wings with salt and pepper.

3. Arrange the wings on a microwave-safe plate. Microwave on high for 3 minutes. Turn the wings over and microwave on high for another 2 minutes.

4. Arrange the wings on the greased oven rack so that they aren’t touching. Return the rack to the middle of the oven—making sure there’s foil beneath all the wings to catch their fat—and lower the temperature to 350° F.

5. Roast the wings for 40 minutes. Turn them over, then roast for another 20 minutes.  At this point, they will be golden, crispy, and still juicy inside. If that’s how you like them, remove them from the oven. If you like them well done, roast for another 15 to 20 minutes.

6. Put the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. When it melts, stir in the hot sauce and vinegar. Serve the wings with the Buffalo sauce on the side.

Mary Mycio is a Slate contributor. Her most recent book is Doing Bizness: A Nuclear Thriller, about Ukraine’s nuclear disarmament in the 1990s.

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