Ed’s Low-Down on Buffalo Wings

Much like the ubiquitous pork belly, which seems to find its way onto every upscale menu at an exorbitant price these days, chicken wings were once considered very much a poor man’s pick when it came to buying meat. Chicken wings then more often than not found their way into a stock pot, but sometime in the late 1970s, a recipe for chicken wings came out of a beautiful old city on Lake Erie that took the nation by storm, and has since become a fast-food/tailgate/late-night staple. Nowadays, chicken wings cost more than any other cut of chicken in the supermarket, and more than most beef or pork; $3.10 a pound today in my local meat department. I’ve known my friend Ed Komara, a native of Buffalo, for a very long time, ever since he was the curator of the Blues Archive at the University of Mississippi, so I asked him to give me his low-down on chicken wings, and here it is, in 7 points (no less):

1. REAL Buffalo wings are not battered, but rather deep-fried as-is. After frying, the wings are then shaken in a container with butter (or margarine) and hot sauce (in the cheap places, usually Frank’s Hot Sauce).

2. The main effect of a true Buffalo wing is the immediate sharpness of the spicy heat, then a quick lowering of that spice.

3. By contrast, the Rochester, NY version is battered and deep-fried, so as to hold more of the hot sauce (in a sticky/honey sort of variant) and make the spicy burn last for a long time in one’s mouth. (This is especially true of the wings made at Country Sweet in Rochester).

4. In Buffalo, historically speaking, there are two main places for wings: the Anchor Bar, and Duff’s. The Anchor Bar was where wings were first served in 1964, to the owner’s son and friends as late-night munchies. The bar is located near the Allen Street, aka “Allentown” which is the bohemian arts section of the city. By 1990 when I went there, the “bar” became more like a restaurant serving some killer Italian food (including the richest pizza I’ve ever tried).

5. Duff’s began offering wings in 1969. It is located conveniently on Sheridan Drive (on the cusp of city and suburb) for those who don’t really want to go all the way to Allentown for the Anchor Bar.

6. There may be a missing link between the Anchor Bar and Duff’s. My dad remembered sometime in the 1960s that a couple of Buffalo Bills football players were partners in a chicken wing stand that brought wings to city pop-culture attention beyond the Anchor Bar. But I haven’t seen that documented anywhere.

7. I don’t know where the heck the idea of including celery and blue cheese dressing with wings came from or why. It’s as gratuitous as applesauce with potato pancakes.

“Wing stands are pretty common in Buffalo,” Ed says. “Much less often seen are places serving beef on weck, the other distinctive Buffalo bar food. The ‘weck is short for kummelweck (or as the locals pronounce it, “kimelwick”), which is a salty bun. The one place among my haunts that served it was Anacone’s Inn (now closed, alas), which always seemed to have run out of beef on weck every time I arrived there (usually at 1 a.m.).

Here is the purportedly “original” sauce recipe. I used Crystal hot sauce and butter. I jointed the wings before deep-frying them until the skin was crispy-brown and tossed them in the sauce while hot.

8 tablespoons Louisiana hot sauce (Frank’s is the brand used in Buffalo)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter or margarine
1 1/2 tablespoons white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
salt to taste

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The Necessity of Lying

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Death on the Menu

Funeral foods abound; here in the South, people of a certain age are known to have casseroles in their freezers ready to pop into the oven when told of the death of a friend or relative so they can rush them over hot to the designated home after dressing, coiffing and putting on an appropriately soulful demeanor.

But foods associated with one’s own death are exceptional, the most notable examples being the last meals of the condemned, which range from the anticipated extravagant to the unexpectedly mundane or bizarre. In the first category, we have such foods as steak and lobster, ordered by such as Ted Bundy, Allen Lee “Tiny” Davis and Ronnie Lee Gardner. Sacco and Vanzetti had soup and meat with toast and tea. John Wayne Gacy had a dozen fried shrimp, a bucket of original KFC (with fries) and a pound of strawberries. Timothy McVeigh had two pints of mint and chocolate chip ice cream. The last federal inmate executed in the United States before the moratorium on the death penalty following Furman v. Georgia had a single olive (black, with pit).

Then you have this unique example of a dish reputedly used by a condemned man to delay his own execution. The unfortunate unknown was sentenced to be hanged in Placerville, California, which is a little over 100 miles northeast of San Francisco. For his last meal, he ordered oysters and eggs, knowing that the oysters would have to be brought inland by wagon over rough roads, delaying his execution by several days. Other versions of the origins for hangtown fry exist, but the poignancy of this tale resonates.

Hangtown fry is nothing more than an oyster omelet or frittata. Bacon is a traditional addition; others include onions, sweet peppers and ham, reminiscent of a Denver omelet. Somehow I find hangtown fry appropriate to serve on a cold, rainy Sunday night.

 

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Cymru am byth!

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Morning Market Flowers

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Joe Ann Goes to the Hoka

Jere and Joe Ann Allen are pillars of the Oxford community and its art scene. Some years ago Joe Ann passed this story along, one which captures not only the spirit of a time and a place, but her own special brand of wit and wisdom.

Jere and I always enjoyed taking artists who were visiting the University of Mississippi Art Department to the Hoka for dinner. They always had one of two reactions: either, “I’ve never been in a place like this before!”, or “Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve been in a place like this?”

On one such night, quite late, as the dinner conversation turned to art business, I watched the frat boys, their spirits and testosterone levels high, lug their coolers of beer into the theatre for the late show porno flick. After the movie started, we could hear them hooting and hollering like crazy over the lurid images projected on the screen. After a while, I became bored with the art talk and noticed that the ticket-taker had abandoned his station. So I eased around the curtains into the theater and stood in the back to see what all the commotion was about.

The name of the movie has long ago faded from memory, but I do remember that this particular flick had something of a storyline: high school cheerleaders needed to raise money to go with the team to The Big Game. It wasn’t Shakespeare, but it was something you could hang a hat on. I sneaked in just in time for the grand finale, the cheerleaders doing it with the football team in the locker room shower. I remember wondering how they kept the camera lens from steaming up. Soon the activity on the screen and the hooting and hollering in the theatre reached a fever pitch. Then all of a sudden the screen was filled with an extreme close-up of the old “in-and-out.” Now, I have been cursed from birth with what my Granny termed “a weak stomach,” and that close-up just didn’t sit right with me. I felt my gag reflex start up and turned to leave, but just as I did, out of the corner of my eye I caught the sight of a big pimpled ass spread out across the screen and “GAK!” there I went. I just couldn’t help myself.

Then came another “GAK,” but this time it wasn’t from me. It was some guy right in front of me. Well, that was enough to start me gakking again. Then from down in front came a BIG “GAK”, then another “GAK” from a middle aisle seat, which started me and the guy in front of me gakking all over again. Soon enough the “GAKS” in the theatre were louder than the moans and groans on the soundtrack. I managed to stagger out of there before anybody caught me. When those frat boys dragged their coolers out of the theater, they were as limp as dishrags and as pale as dishwater. And there I sat with my group, half-way listening to the conversation, pushing a pickle around on my plate and trying not to look at the mayonnaise on the tomato.

 

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Sister’s Green Tomato Pickles

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