Alton Brown on the History of Buffalo Wings

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According to the National Chicken Council, Americans will consume some 1.25 billion chicken wings on Super Bowl Sunday. Our food expert Alton Brown tears into the meaty history.

• On a dark and stormy night in 1964, Frank and Teressa Bellissimo were closing up the Anchor Bar in Buffalo. Suddenly, the front door flung open. In walked their son Dominic and a gaggle of his friends. And they were hungry.

• Teressa rose to the challenge, frying some chicken wings and tossing them with margarine and hot sauce. She served these up with some of their blue cheese “house” dressing and celery sticks taken from a leftover antipasto platter.

• Although the Bellissimo family later told different creation stories, the divergent tales align upon one point: Teressa was the mother of this invention.

• A wing is made of three sections affixed by two hinges. The section containing the humerus bone is referred to as the “drumette” because it looks like a mini drumstick.

• Although the next section, the “flat” containing the ulna and radius, delivers less meat mass, some argue that the flavor is more intense, perhaps thanks to a higher concentration of fat and therefore succulence.

• A regional sauce called Frank’s RedHot was used that fateful night back in ’64, and it’s still the choice of wing-oisseurs. Maybe it’s the subtle sweetness, maybe it’s the full mouth burn, or maybe it’s the bright, not-quite-natural neon-orange hue that kicks salivary glands into overdrive.

• In Buffalo, wings typically come mild, medium, or hot, depending not on the type of sauce but amount used.

• But the hot sauce doesn’t stand alone. Fat must be added to provide a quality coating and keep the heat in check. Although Anchor has never revealed its recipe, I feel a 2:3 ratio of hot to butter does the trick. And yes, I said butter. I know that Momma T used margarine, but I don’t do margarine—simple as that.

• Blue cheese dressing is critical. For one, it’s salty. Also, cheese contains a fair amount of dairy fat, which is efficient at cooling the fires stoked by the chemical capsaicin. Water and alcohol only spread the burn.

• Celery seems about as useless in this dish as mud flaps on a Ferrari. I suspect the real purpose of the vegetation is to make up for the fact that so many wings don’t offer the “crunch” that American eaters crave.

• And finally, what of the cooking? Deep fat frying is the norm because it crisps the skin and renders out most of the subcutaneous fat that can make wings taste flabby, thus necessitating all that darned celery.

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February 3, 2013 - 9:31am
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