Lauren S. asks: What do you eat at home the most when you really want a good dinner?
Dear Lauren: Good question — I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that before. Like every home cook, I have a repertoire of can’t-miss dishes, nearly all of them formulated after having eaten something similar in a restaurant.
In Senegal, I tasted the national dish of cheb, and couldn’t wait to get home to work on the recipe, using my own memories and a French-language paperback cookbook I’d picked up in Dakar. But the original used so much palm oil that I was afraid to re-create it precisely at home, and not just because of the cost.
I make a mean fried chicken, based on the bird stylings at places like Mitchell’s in Prospect Heights, and a spud recipe I invented called Potatoes Tracy that has lots of grease and cheese melted on top at the last minute. I also love to make vegetarian soups based on tomatoes that I canned upstate at a friend’s summer house.
But the thing I like to make best at the moment is a retrofitted Buffalo wings recipe. It came about through research on the Web in which I learned the original way these delicate bar morsels were made.
You can source them low or high: Sometimes I go to one of the Western Beef stores and get a zillion wings for only a few dollars. Sometimes I go to a high-end boutique sustainable-meat provider and get them, for a stiffer — but still relatively low — amount of money. Either way, butchering them is the most delicate part of the recipe. You have get to know the wings and their intimate secrets to do this.
Every wing consists of three parts, and you must carefully cut off the terminal third of the wing, which is basically just skin and tapering bone and cartilage. But don’t throw them away — these make an excellent light chicken stock, so throw them in a pot of boiling water for 20 minutes or so and save the stock for soup.
Next, cut the remainder right at the joint. I have a special carving knife with a flare at the end, which increases the leverage of the knife as you bear down on the joint. One must be very careful not to disturb the skin, because that’s the most important part of the Buffalo wing.
So, every actual wing divides into two parts, which every bar-food addict can easily identify — the “drumstick” and the “other thing,” which is more difficult to eat, but ultimately more rewarding.
Next, fill a non-stick fry pan — the bigger, the better — with peanut oil, and bring it up to almost-smoking heat. As the oil temp is rising, carefully sea-salt the wings on both sides, and also apply plenty of black pepper from a grinder set on “Coarse.” This is one of the secrets of the original recipe: The heat of the wings is bivalent, coming from both red pepper sauce and freshly ground black pepper.
When the oil is hot enough, put the winglets in the skillet and fry until both sides of each wing are dark brown. It’s likely to take a differing amount of time for each wing, since, like human beings or pigs, every individual is different. Put the finished wings on newspapers or paper towels to drain.
Next, prepare the dip. As in the original recipe, you want to use butter. The only other component is hot sauce, but not any hot sauce. Using Tabasco is always a big mistake because it contains too much vinegar, and the sourness completely eclipses the other flavors. The only acceptable hot sauce is Frank’s (formally, “Frank’s RedHot Original Cayenne Pepper Sauce”), which you can get at most NYC supermarkets. Made in Parsippany, New Jersey, since 1920, it’s less vinegary and slightly less hot than Tabasco.
Put equal amounts of Frank’s and butter in a small saucepan and heat until the butter is melted. Swirl the butter and hot sauce roughly together. Turn the heat way down, and, while the mixture is still hot but not bubbling, dredge each individual wing in the saucepan, making sure the solution has a chance to penetrate every nook and cranny of the wing.
Serve the wings with a little extra sauce pooled on the side, and a log-pile of carefully manicured celery sticks. Try using Chinese celery for its extra pungency and firmer texture. Serve a dipping sauce composed of one-third blue cheese and two-thirds mayo if you so desire. You’ve never had better Buffalo wings — I guarantee it.