2011 January: Chicken Wings – Too Hot to Handle!

2009 June: Give Me My WingsNo doubt that chicken wings are a perfect add-on sale. Chicken wings should fly out the door regularly with every pizza delivery order.

Chicken wings are great finger food and fun food for children and adults. And the increasing flavor options –– hot, mild, atomic, smoked barbecue, teriyaki –– all add up to an increased check average.

There are two basic ways to cook chicken wings — frying and baking. Alternatively, there are several suppliers that will sell you all the wings you need that are ready to finish off –– or simply reheat, so you are good to go (as in delivery). You may end up paying a bit more for wings that are ready to fly, but factor that cost against your in-house labor costs, necessary storage and spoilage and see where you come out.

Hot Wings

Yield: 1 serving
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1/3 cup unsalted butter
½ cup vinegar-based hot sauce
1 teaspoon black pepper
12 whole meaty wings (chop off the tips and discard or use for soup), cut apart at the joints and pat dry with paper toweling

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, paprika, and cayenne pepper.
In a saucepan melt the butter, the hot sauce and a pinch of black pepper. Keep the sauce warm.
Toss the wings in the flour mixture to coat. Deep fry the wings (375 F). For about 10 to 12 minutes. Drain. Toss the fried wings in the hot sauce to coat. That’s all there is to it. Serve the wings with a bleu cheese or ranch dressing, and celery sticks on the side.

Following the same procedure as above, you can bake the wings instead of frying them.

Arrange the chicken wings (tips cut off, cut apart at the joint, patted dry) on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake in a 400 F oven for about 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Now toss the baked wings in the hot sauce, return the pan to the oven and bake for an additional 15 minutes or until the edge of the wings crisp up.

One thing to watch out for: if the wings are too wet (if they came in frozen and were holding too much moisture), the flour mixture will not adhere properly and the cooked wings will have a gummy texture –– and they’ll be even gummier by the time they are delivered. The solution is to make sure you pat the wings dry, turn them, pat dry again. To ensure proper and thorough cooking, make sure to completely defrost the wings (in the cooler if not using them right away).

Now that I have addressed that part, let’s take a look at wings in general and some ways you can get those wings to the customer without compromising quality.

Do not dump the wings into a take-out container as soon as they have finished frying or baking. Let them cool a bit, this step will enhance the crispiness and eliminate the possibility of sogginess.

Do not attempt to jam too many wings into too small a container. The residual heat will affect the texture of the wings and cause gumminess.

To that end, spend a few bucks more for extra-strong, quality, take-out containers. First, determine how you plan to offer your wings. The typical

order for chicken wings start at six pieces, with the average across the board being 10 wings and rising from there. So when sampling packing for delivery, determine how many wings you can fit in a certain size container, keeping in mind, of course, that quality containers can cost a good penny and then some. Factor this in when ordering to-go containers and what price you will end up charging.

It has been my experience that baked wings hold up better than fried wings for delivery. Another term for this is “oven-fried,” which sounds better than baked.

If the delivery container is large enough, you can add small cups of extra sauce –– hot, mild, barbcue, etc. –– in with the wings. This extra touch will add flavor as well as favor with your customer.

I have used the “Birds on a Wire” technique for delivery, and it works exceptionally well, because it keeps the wings separated and that helps eliminate sogginess. To do this, simply use a wooden skewer and push it through the meaty part of the cooked wings. I get about four wings on a skewer that is six inches in length. Also, what this does is offer better eye appeal when the customer opens the container.

Another method that works well is to punch small holes in the plastic top of the delivery container. While this might make the wings lose some of their heat, it will help to prevent an incubator effect, which can cause the wings to get soggy.

And, while I am at it, the trend in some places right now is to
offer both regular wings and “boneless wings.” Boneless wings are not chicken wings at a ll. Rather, they are large chunks of breast meat, cut this way or that.

The procedure for cooking boneless wings is pretty much the same as the real thing. Most places will charge more for boneless wings, but I have found that the customer will not object to the higher price. Also, it seems to me that boneless wings travel (as in delivery) better than standard chicken wings. But in the long run, it all boils down to a good product, good packaging and common sense.

Pat Bruno is Pizza Today’s resident chef and a regular contributor. He is the former owner and operator of a prominent Italian cooking school in Chicago and is a food critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.