Right up there with my record mile time sits an equally important record in my mind: the number of Buffalo wings consumed in one sitting. That would be 75. I still harbor some degree of bitterness from the closer inspection of my high school friend’s wing remains, as he excused himself to vomit in the T.G.I. Friday’s bathroom. Some of his 100 “eaten” wings still had meat on them, dammit. Not only did I not vomit, but I ate every last piece of meat and skin, thank you. But he paid his price and, well, I had the opportunity to eat several empty Coca-Cola pitchers’ full of Buffalo wings.
You could say that Buffalo wings were the first food I had a passion for, even surpassing pizza and nachos. And let me state off the bat that when I say “Buffalo wing”, I mean actual Buffalo wings, not some pansy, honey-barbecued, phony nonsense or some plain, fried wing. These are “chicken wings”, not “Buffalo wings”. There is only one real Buffalo wing, and that is the chicken wing with a red, tangy, peppery sauce, composed mainly of vinegar, pepper, garlic, and salt. In other words, the ingredients in a bottle of Frank’s RedHot. Some strict Buffalo Wing Constitutionalists may even reject any non-RedHot wing, given the sauce’s role in the original Buffalo wing produced at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo. I would concede in deference to that holiest of shrines. (Yes, I did make a pilgrimage.) Nevertheless, my own definition leaves room for any tangy red pepper sauce. And did I mention they need to be served with blue cheese dressing, not ranch?
Since Saturday was the date of the Manny Pacquiao / Antonio Margarito fight, it was a perfect occasion for wings. Imagine my dismay, after realizing I had the date of the boxing match wrong by a week, that my first batch of truly homemade Buffalo wings would instead be unveiled during a showing of (500) Days of Summer. (And I agree with the caption at the beginning of the movie: Summer was a bitch.)
I decided to wing it on the wing sauce. I felt confident in doing so because I had made hot sauce from scratch once before (though that entailed letting the sauce ferment), and I thought my experience making a basquaise would help. In terms of ingredients, I must have eaten three or four hundred kinds of hot sauce by now (seriously), so I know the usual combinations. My goal was to saute the peppers until they were very soft (“almost melting”, as Eric Ripert said in the cod basquaise episode of Avec Eric); that way, I figured the sauce would blend nicely. The main thing I wanted to avoid was creating something that looked like a finely chopped salsa. I had made one of these a long time back while following a recipe that didn’t require the peppers to be cooked. Major mistake. And since a RedHot or a Tabasco sauce involves some amount of aging (aging peppers in the case of RedHot, aging the whole sauce in the case of Tabasco), I knew I couldn’t screw around if I was planning to serve the sauce the same day.
Our local grocery store had some “long hot peppers”. For some reason, grocery stores never feel the need to specify the type of hot pepper, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say these were cayennes. And although I’m generally not a huge fan of sweet sauces, I thought a same-day pepper and vinegar sauce would need a little sweetness to offset the acid, so I picked up one red bell pepper and a mango.
I sauteed two finely sliced cloves of garlic with half a finely diced carrot. I added the carrot because I’ve always liked it in Caribbean habanero sauces, and thought it would help integrate the flavors a bit. After softening the garlic and carrot, I threw in a pound or less of deseeded and finely chopped hot peppers, along with half a red bell pepper. I added enough white wine vinegar not quite to cover the mixture, but to generate a nicely sludgy texture. Salting from the beginning, and throughout, is always the right thing to do, and I did so while everything softened. I added less than half a chopped mango later in the process, on the assumption that the fruit wouldn’t require as much cooking. All throughout, I added white wine vinegar to keep the mixture wet. If I had to guess, I’d say the entire amount was a cup and a half or so. But see the photo for an idea of how much liquid I tried to maintain. Keep salting, but little by little so you don’t overdo it.
Here are the measurements:
- 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1/2 carrot, finely diced (or grated)
- Approx. 1 lb. hot red peppers (such as cayenne), finely chopped
- 1/2 red bell pepper, finely diced
- 1/2 mango or less
- White wine vinegar to nearly cover mixture throughout cooking (about 1 1/2 cups in total)
- 1 tbs. butter
- Sugar to taste (about 1 tsp.)
Normally, I don’t add butter to my RedHot when making wings, but I thought this needed it to bond the sauce. Once the mixture was nice and soft, I put it all in a food processor and blended until smooth. Maybe I could have added more mango, because it needed a bit more sweetness. I added a teaspoon or so of sugar. The consistency ended up quite thick, but since it was tangy enough, I didn’t want to add any additional vinegar. Plus, a thick sauce would stick to the wings well.
As usual, I put the wings in a 425° oven. Depending on how many wings you’re cooking, your cook time will vary. But I cooked 18 wings and left them in for a good 35 minutes at least before turning them over. The total cook time is about an hour, but make sure they’re browned and crispy.
While the wings were cooking, I made the blue cheese dressing. Our town has a great cheese shop, so I had my pick of lots of blue cheeses. I asked to taste two types, the Gorgonzola and the Maytag. The Maytag was both saltier and crumblier, so that was my choice. I mixed it with sour cream and a little salt, and added a spoonful of mayo to pull it together.
In the end, there was exactly enough sauce for 17 of the 18 wings. (Leftovers, cool.) As to the taste, the critical reviews said it all. And keep in mind that my wife does not throw out complements lightly:
“I just want to suck all the sauce off of those wings.”
I always consider such language positive.
Personally, I thought they could be spicier, and maybe I’d add some other components next time. (More carrot, onion, black pepper, maybe a dried habanero or chipotle.) But all in all, I think they came out quite nice for a first effort. A same-day Buffalo wing sauce is definitely doable.