2013 February: Take Flight

It’s true that chickens can’t really fly, but their wings have been flying out the doors of pizzerias for a couple of decades now increasing in popularity year after year. We’ve seen the emergence of restaurants dedicated to wings like Wild Wings, Buffalo Wild Wings, Wing Stop, Wing Street and so many more. Going back 40 years, when I was a little boy in California, my dad would take my brothers and I out for a special night and we’d get chicken wings. I remember we could order them about a half dozen different ways. Today’s customers have even more options. We see gas prices rise during heavy holiday traveling time because of the demand. It’s the same way with chicken wings and the Super Bowl. Although other great foods have become part of our spread, wings remain a main attraction of our party feast!

There are different ways to buy and cook your wings. You can purchase wings either raw or cooked. You’ll find wings whole with the wing tip on or cut with the tips removed, which is my preference. Getting your wings raw is pretty basic. You have a choice in size and you can get them fresh or frozen. Then you need to decide whether you want to marinate them or just toss them in seasoning and a light breading before you fry them. When I was 16 as a fry cook in a Chinese restaurant, they marinated the wings for 24 hours and would drain them very well and then give them their first fry (no coating). This would fully cook the wings and we would then refrigerate them, but they’d still be pretty white in color. To order, we would fry them again fairly quickly and they’d get a nice crispness to them. Baking the wings is a good alternative to the first fry.

When considering purchasing cooked wings instead of raw, the variety is nearly endless and can be a bit overwhelming. When I bought my pizzerias in 1998, the original owner didn’t have any fryers but still sold a lot of oven-able wings. He bought three different varieties –– mild buffalo, spicy buffalo and teriyaki. I immediately switched to buying plain but mildly seasoned cooked wings, and when they came out of the oven we would then toss them in the same flavor choices we offered before and we added BBQ sauce as well. By doing this, we brought our inventory down to just one type of wing and were able to increase our offerings. You can toss your wings in wet marinades or sauces and can even use some dry rub style seasonings like lemon pepper or ranch seasoning. I’m always looking for great new ideas in the culinary world, especially new flavors to toss wings in, so I pay attention when I’m going out to eat –– especially when I travel –– so I can see the great innovation of other chefs.

Of course I love garlic –– after all, I named my restaurant the Garlic Clove. I was so delighted to find the best chicken wings I’ve ever had (next to my favorite sticky Chinese chicken wings) when I traveled to the Del Ray Beach Garlic Festival a year ago. Although the festival was great, I heard from someone at the festival about a restaurant around the corner called Bru’s Room Sports Grill who had on their menu grilled “Triple Threat Wings.” If you ever get to Del Ray Beach, you’ve got to try them, but if you don’t, no worries. As a chef of many years, I have learned to dissect flavors and reassemble them in my kitchen duplicating what I’ve tasted. They seem to blend their buffalo, BBQ and teriyaki sauce equally, throw in a hearty teaspoon of freshly chopped garlic and then toss in the wings. The flavor combination is just amazing, but if you’re on a date, just make sure you both have them or have some mints on hand! Just know they are worth it. It also affirms what I’ve shared with you over the years about mixing ingredients you already have to create something brand new.

You should determine what type of wings to purchase based on the size of your operation, especially when it comes to your refrigeration. Uncooked wings should always be less expensive, but handling raw poultry is one of the most critical ingredients you carry and must be stored under refrigeration at the lowest possible level (off the floor of course). Having to cook wings from a raw state can also pose problems, such as serving undercooked wings (very dangerous). Also, the possibility of over cooking them renders them undesirable.

Great, pre-cooked, lightly seasoned wings are a little more expensive. But, in the long run, they should be easier to handle and process. Offer glazes and coatings like Mild Buffalo, Spicy, Teriyaki, lemon pepper, ranch, BBQ, Honey Chipotle BBQ, Sweet and Spicy Chili glaze. Be innovative. Come up with some of your own unique flavors and make it happen. One more tip I want to share is that not everyone wants to mess with bones, so use some awesome fried tenders and glaze them in the same way to make a great alternative. Many places call them boneless wings. The opportunities are endless.

Jerk Chicken Wings

24 chicken wings, wing tips cut off, halved at the joint
½ cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic
½ teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup minced jalapeño peppers
1 teaspoon black pepper
8 drops hot sauce
3 tablespoons soy sauce
½ cup vegetable oil

In a food processor, combine all of the ingredients except the chicken. Pulse to puree and liquefy.

Arrange the chicken wings in a single layer in a baking pan. Pour the marinade over the chicken. Let marinate, covered and chilled, for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Place the wings in one layer in a roasting pan. Spoon some of the marinade over the wings. Bake in a preheated 450 F oven for about 30 minutes, or until cooked through. Serve with celery sticks and trimmed whole scallions.

Jeff Freehof owns The Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia. He is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today and a speaker at the Pizza Expo family of trade shows.

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