I spent last weekend on a pleasant journey to the Niagara Falls area, enjoying blissfully perfect midsummer weather on both sides of the U.S. and Canadian border as I sampled excellent wines - including Ontario's rare and pricey ice wines - and, of course, the region's most famous food tradition, Buffalo wings.
But they're still best at the source, and all but unbeatable at blue-collar Italian-American bars in Buffalo and environs. I made a pilgrimage to the old Anchor Bar years ago. On this visit, I joined my pal Howie and a group of friends to sample the wings (and pizza, too) at a Niagara Falls venue almost as historic: La Hacienda, an Italian beer-and-pizza joint built in 1947, inexplicably decked out with Old World Spanish decor including bullfight paintings, where the pizzas were loaded with pepperoni, tangy sauce and plenty of olive oil, and the wings were fine.
Now I'm working on an effort to duplicate the authentic Buffalo experience at home, working from a combination of lip-smacking memory and a little Web-surfing.
The fundamentals, of course, are simple: Cut a bunch of chicken wings into joints, discarding the tips. Deep-fry them. Drain, and coat the crispy golden-brown beauties in a fiery blend of hot sauce and butter. Serve, with a ritual garnish of crisp celery sticks and blue-cheese sauce to douse the fire. And plenty of cold beer.
(Yes, I did say deep-fried chicken wings, with the skin, doused in additional butter. This is not a healthy dish. But it is addictive. And if you want to save a few calories, it's OK to bake the wings instead.)
The following recipe combines a wings procedure provided by the company that markets the original Anchor Bar's wings sauces in bottles, with my own keep-it-simple approach to the sauce, which would be easy to gussy up with herbs and spices to suit your fancy.
INGREDIENTS: (Makes two dozen)
THE HOT SAUCE
1. Cut the wings into three sections each, discarding the tips, so you have 12 "drumettes" and 12 two-bone sections. Pat them dry and deep-fry them in vegetable oil at 350F (175C) for 10 to 12 minutes or until fully cooked and crisp. Drain on paper towels. (OPTION: If you don't want to deep-fry the chicken, bake the wing sections on a lightly greased cookie sheet at 425F (220C) until crisp.)
2. While the wings are frying or baking, peel and smash the garlic cloves and put all the sauce ingredients except the salt into a small saucepan. Bring it just to the boil and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes or until the butter is melted and the flavors have had time to blend. Check for seasoning and add salt only if needed; the sauce will probably be salty enough from the hot sauce and Worcestershire. Note that the level of spicy heat can easily be adjusted from hot to AAAtomic by altering the amount of hot sauce and adding cayenne and black pepper if you dare. To make it milder still, increase the amount of butter.
3. Put the cooked wings in a large bowl. Remove and discard the garlic cloves and pour the sauce over the wings, gently stirring and shaking the bowl until the wings are well coated.
4. Serve 'em up sizzling hot, garnished with the celery sticks and a quick sauce made by blending the crumbled blue cheese into the mayo with a fork.
In more non-commercial realms, you might enjoy a somewhat tongue-in-cheek, and not terribly academic, social-anthropology report on Buffalo wings as an icon of popular culture in the American Northeast. John E. Harmon's "On the Wings of a Buffalo or 'Mother Teressa's Wings'," from the Atlas of Popular Culture in the Northeastern United States, is online at
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Thursday, Aug. 11, 2005
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